Spin the Bottle on Lead Sheets

Everybody loves Christmas music, but some of the students just aren’t ready for reading them. Here’s a fun way to incorporate a lot of Christmas music into a lesson, regardless of the student’s level. Naturally, you could do this at any time of year with other lead sheets.

What You Need:

  • Christmas lead sheets, such as:
    • Angels We Have Heard on High in CG, DF
    • Deck the Halls in CG, D, and F
    • Jingle Bells in CGD, or F
    • Oh, Come All Ye Faithful in C, GD, and F
    • Silent Night in C, GD, F
    • We Wish You a Merry Christmas in CG, D, and F
  • A bottle

Setup:

  • Lay the lead sheets out on the floor in a circle, with the bottle in the middle.
    • I put out a stack for each song, with all key signatures in the stack, but that’s optional.

How to Play:

  • Have the student spin the bottle. Whichever page it points to is your lead sheet for the round.
  • Depending on the level, you can do one of the following:
    • Student plays root note only. Teacher plays the melody.
      • Teacher may need to point to each measure to keep the student on track.
    • Student plays root chord only. Teacher plays the melody.
    • Student plays a basic pattern, such as oom-pa-pa or Alberti bass. Teacher plays the melody.
    • Student makes up their own accompaniment pattern. Teacher plays the melody.
    • Student sight reads the melody. Teacher plays an accompaniment.
    • Student plays the melody with root chords below.
    • Student plays the melody with an accompaniment pattern below.
  • When you’ve gone through the song, spin again for another one.

Variations:

  • Most of the variation comes in what part you have the student play, but you can also make it harder or easier by controlling the key signature. My beginners played only in C major. My more advanced started in C major, but if they spun the same song twice, the second time I changed the key.

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Trim the Tree (Note Review)

I’m using an outside resource this week. It involves more cutting and laminating than I usually like, but all these little circles with notes on them could be reused in other games, which is why I was willing to do it.

The resource is Trim the Tree from Pianimation. Since I teach private lessons only, I had to adapt the rules slightly.

For my version, I first gave the students 1 minute and 30 seconds to see how many ornaments they could correctly get on the tree. That establishes a baseline. Then they try again to see if they can beat their own score.

Variations:

  • To make it easier, sort out the notes the student should know and use only them. Or separate out treble from bass clef.
  • To make it harder, don’t have them match the note itself. Specify an interval (such as a 3rd) and have them match the ornament to a spot that is a 3rd above the note.
  • To cheat and make sure the student does actually improve their score, sneakily pause the timer while they are working to give them extra time.

 

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Christmas Fortunes (Intervals)

Here is another use of external resource. Today I am indebted to Teach Piano Today for the Christmas Fortune Teller.

I used it more or less as described on their website on the keyboard, but we then moved down to a giant staff on the floor and did it on the staff as well. It is good for students to see the connection between what they do on the piano and what they see on the page.

The only note I would like to make is that the chances or winning are entirely based on luck and there is not an easy way for the teacher to manipulate it to make sure the student wins, which I always like to do. On the plus side, it’s so short, it’s possible to play multiple games in a lesson, so that they have a chance to win even if they lose at first.

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Sailing the Seas (Intervals)

I developed this game for Thanksgiving, but I have very deliberately kept anything purely seasonal out of it, so it can really be used at any time of year.

What You Need:

  • These cards, cut up and possibly laminated.
    • Note that the two cards with ships should not be cut along the dotted line, so you can fold there and then stand them up.
  • A die
  • A game piece, coin, or other manipulative
  • A grand staff (optional)
    • This can be on blank staff paper, on a whiteboard, on poster board, whatever you’ve got.

Setup:

  • Shuffle the interval, storm at sea, and tailwind cards together. Lay them out face down on the floor in a line or squiggle. Place the Old World at one end and the New World at the other (face up).
  • Add the icebergs on top of any three random interval cards. (I let the student do this.)
  • Place the ships on the Old World.
  • If you are drilling intervals on the keyboard, place a game piece (or coin) on Middle C. If you are drilling intervals on the staff and you have the right manipulatives, place a whole note on Middle C. If you’re using staff paper or a whiteboard, draw a whole note on middle C.

How to Play:

  • The first player rolls the dice. Move that player’s ship forward that many spaces. Move the note marker on the staff or keyboard by the interval specified on the card.
  • If the teacher strikes an iceberg, she goes all the way back to Start. If the student strikes an iceberg, he must answer an extra challenge of the teacher’s choice to see if he can navigate around it successfully.
  • The first person to reach the New World wins.

Variations:

  • To make it easier, use only the smaller interval cards.
  • To make it harder, use only the larger interval cards.
  • To make it shorter, don’t use all the cards, even if you choose them at random.

 

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Motif Game

A musical motif is a device that most of my students don’t arrive at naturally. It needs explanation, and here is a great way to do it.

What You Need:

  • These cards, printed and cut up
  • A die
  • Game Pieces

Setup:

  • Remove any cards you don’t want to use.
  • Starting with “Start,” lay the cards out face down on the floor like a board game. You can make loops and swirls and short cuts to make it more interesting. End with the “Finish” card.
  • Place your two game pieces on Start.

How to Play:

  • First explain the concept of a motif.
    • A motif is a very short musical idea. (Two measures maximum for this game.)
    • For example, the first line of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” the first measure of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, etc.
    • Our ears like repetition, but they also get bored. Composers use motifs to create melodies by modifying their motif just enough that it stays interesting, but not so much that we can’t identify it as the same motif.
  • Both the student and the teacher need to come up with a motif in the key of C major. Keep it simple. Make the student play their idea several times until they can remember it consistently. When he can reliably play it back, he’s ready to play.
  • The student rolls the die and advances his game piece that many cards forward. Then he needs to return to the piano and play his same motif, but with the modifications specified on the card (i.e., with a different key, tempo, rhythm, etc.)
    • Some modifications are easier than others. You can keep score by assigning points for difficulty. Or you can ignore scores and just play to see who gets to finish first.
  • The teacher takes a turn with her own motif.
  • The first one to the finish line wins. (Or the one who collects the most difficulty points wins, if you are playing with points.)

 

Variations:

  • To make it easier, only place out the easiest cards, such as dynamic changes and changing one note.
  • To make it harder, remove the easier cards, such as dynamic changes and changing one note.
  • To make it spookier, create your motif in A minor and remove all the cards that have major key signatures.

Motif Game