The Improv Duet Game

Most of the kids love improv, and this activity has the advantage of developing their sense of beat and musicality at the same time.

What You Need:

  • A spinner (or 2 dice if you prefer)
  • A blank piece of paper
  • Coin for tossing (optional)


  • If you are using a spinner, place it in the center of your page and section off the paper (see the picture). In each section, write one way to change up an improv. For example, change dynamic, change accompaniment pattern, change articulation, change key signature, change tempo, teacher’s choice, student’s choice, spin again, etc.
  • If you are using dice, write down the numbers 2-12 and assign each number one of the ways to change up an improv.

How to Play:

  • Explain that this improv game is going to use a chord progression: I – IV – V  – I if the student’s had enough music theory to understand that or Cmaj – Fmaj – Gmaj – Cmaj if they haven’t. Each chord is going to get one full measure, so the improv will be a four measure improv. Play each of those block chords as whole notes for the student. That is how long they have to create an improvised melody and return to the home note (or tonic).
  • To start with the most basic improv, the teacher will play those four measures while the student improvises a melody. You can do this several times if the student needs help understanding when to wrap up the melody.
  • After that it is time to mix things up. Have the student spin the spinner or roll the dice. Whereever they land, they need to follow those instructions (change the dynamic, tempo, etc.). If they land on change the accompaniment, move out of block chords into some other pattern, like arpeggios, oom-pa, etc., but keep the chord progression the same.
  • Repeat as many times as you have time for.
    • Depending on the level of the student, you can either make each new spin a fresh improv or you can make the changes cumulative so that you end up playing, for example, in D major, presto, and fortissimo all at the same time.
    • Also depending on the level of the student, you can flip the coin each time to determine who is on melody and who is doing the accompaniment.



The Flower Game (Note Review)

I made this game up years ago when I had a small studio and all the students were girls. If I were doing it again, I’d probably go with a more gender-neutral theme, but the idea works well.

What You Need:

  • A game board (see the picture below). I made mine out of tile samples, so I don’t have a downloadable, but you could easily print a blank board game like these and create this in a couple of minutes. The main features are:
    • Each tile labeled with one of the note names (A through G in order)
    • An occasional tile that has a special color (in my picture, they’re pink)
  • Game pieces
  • Note flash cards
  • Special flash cards which are not note names. You could use rhythms, dynamics, symbols, whatever.


  • Place two game pieces on Start.
  • Shuffle both decks of cards.

How to Play:

  • The first player draws a note flash card. After naming the note, he can move his game piece up to that letter on the game board.
  • If the game piece lands on a tile that has a special color, he can draw from the pile of special flash cards. If he can correctly identify or explain whatever is on that card, he can move up two extra tiles.
  • The second player takes the same turn. The first person to reach the end wins.
  • As teacher, I play under several disadvantages. I always go second. I sometimes make a “mistake” in naming my note. If the student catches me, I don’t get to move up. If I land on a special color, the student is still the one who gets the special flash card and the two extra spaces. Also, my special flash cards include a few cards that say “Teacher loses a turn.”


  • To make it easier, identify notes on the keyboard instead of using flashcards with staff notes, or limit the flashcards to those notes the student knows how to read.
  • To make it harder, require intervals. For example, the student should move to the tile that is a third above whichever flashcard he draws.



Paint Chip Board Game (How to Drill Anything)

Paint Chip Board Game


The problem with most music board games is that they are so specific to one concept that at any given time, they aren’t appropriate for most of my students. Here’s a generic one that is practically free, takes about 10 minutes to make, and can be tailored on the fly for any student.

To Create the Board:

  • Paint chips with three obviously different colors. I did yellow, green, and blue.
  • Card stock in a contrasting color
  • Sharpie Marker

Cut out the paint chips so you have stacks of squares or rectangles in each of your three colors. Mine range from pastels to brights, but as long as each stack is identifiably one of your three colors, it’s fine. Glue your squares onto the cardstock in alternating colors. The layout should make a wavy line (see the picture below). With the Sharpie, label the first one as Start and the last one as Finish. To add interest, draw a few arrows from certain squares to shortcut either forward or backward. In a couple of squares, write things like “Teacher loses a turn,” or “Go Again” or “Bonus Question (move forward two more spaces if you get it right).” When you’re done, I suggest laminating the cardstock to make it more durable, but you could also just slip it in a sheet protector.

What You Need to Play:

  • Your game board
  • Two game pieces (you can use coins, erasers, paper clips, whatever)
  • One die
  • Three sets of flashcards, separated by subject
    • For example, treble clef notes, bass clef notes, intervals, key signatures, or rhythms.


  • Decide which set of flashcards corresponds with which color on your board.
  • Place two game pieces on Start.

How to Play:

  • The student rolls the dice and moves forward that many squares. She then draws a flashcard from the stack that corresponds with the color she has landed on and answers the question. (If she gets it wrong, I just give her enough hints so that she eventually gets it right.)
  • I take a turn. The only difference is that if I get it wrong and the student catches me, I have to move my game piece back to where I was before.
    • This encourages the student to pay attention during my turn and also ensures that they always win. If my dice throws happen to be luckier than the students, I just start getting a lot of questions wrong.
  • First person to get to the Finish line wins.


  • The difficulty of this game is entirely controlled by which flashcards you choose. To make it harder, just use progressively harder concepts, even if you don’t have exact flashcards for it. For example:
    • Draw a note flashcard and play the major (or minor or diminished or augmented) chord with that note as the root.
    • Draw a note flashcard and name the note that is a perfect fifth above it (or any other interval).
    • Draw a key signature flashcard and improv a melody in that key.



Zap It (Rhythm Review)

This is my spin on a traditional educational game listed on many places on the Internet. I use it for rhythm, but the principal can be used for anything. My version is a little different. It’s for two players only (teacher vs. student). The kids love beating me, and they have yet to point out that they always win. It takes a bit of prep work to create the game in the first place, but absolutely no setup during or right before each lesson.

What You Need:

  • Popsicle or craft sticks with rhythms (or whatever you’re drilling) written on one end
    • You can buy different colors or sizes to make different levels of rhythms.
    • All the rhythms are two measures long. I have mixed time signatures.
  • A few sticks with “Zap It!” written on one end
  • (Optional) A few sticks with “Instrument” written on one end, plus a selection of percussion instruments
  • An opaque container to hold your sticks


  • None

How to Play:

  • The student draws a stick. She identifies the time signature and then counts and claps that rhythm. If she gets it right, she keeps the stick.
    • In reality, I have the kids do it again until they get it right, so they always keep the stick.
  • As teacher, I draw a stick. I identify the time signature and then count and clap the rhythm. If I get it right, I keep the stick. If the student catches me getting it wrong, the student gets a chance to do it right. If the student gets it right, she can keep the stick instead of me.
    • I do this strategically, not only to make sure they are paying attention during my turn, but also to ensure they always win the game.
  • Alternate turns until someone draws a Zap It! stick. At that point, everyone counts their sticks. Whoever has the most sticks is the winner.
  • If someone draws an Instrument stick, they draw another stick to get a rhythm and can choose a percussion instrument to use instead of clapping. They keep both sticks at the end of the turn.
Zap It! (Rhythm Review)
Zap It! (Rhythm Review)

Halloween Practice

I always like being able to make one set of materials and use it in multiple ways. Most of my kids used these Halloween cards to compose a rondo, but one lucky girl also used it to work on her current songs.

What You Need:

  • These Halloween cards, printed and cut (you won’t need the second page)
  • Dice
  • A mini pumpkin or anything else you can use as a playing piece
  • A list of Halloween jokes. I have a little book of jokes, but you could also use these, either printed out or just available on a device.


  • Make a list of the pictures on the cards and assign them to things you need to practice. It’s okay to repeat, it’s okay not to use all the cards, and it’s good to include a few things in there that are more exciting. For example, here’s a sample list:
    • moon: current song, section A
    • raven: current song, section B
    • haunted house: current song, hardest phrase
    • jack o’lantern: current song, hardest phrase
    • skeleton: current song, hardest phrase
    • bat: review song
    • trick or treat bag: review song
    • cat: current scale or arpeggio
    • witch: current scale or arpeggio
    • spider: next step in the composition book
    • skeleton: Halloween improv duet
    • mummy: sing a Halloween song
    • ghost: sight read
  • Arrange the cards face down in a circle on the floor and place the pumpkin or playing piece on one of them.
  • Hide the jokes so the student can’t see them all at once.

How to Play:

  • Roll the dice. Advance the pumpkin that many cards, moving clockwise.
  • Flip the card. Spend a couple of minutes practicing whatever goes with that picture.
  • Keep the card just as it is and roll again, continuing the same pattern.
  • If you land on a card which has already been flipped over, you have earned a Halloween joke. Conveniently, the likelihood of getting a joke increases the longer you play.