Pumpkin Bowling (How to Drill Anything)

Pumpkin bowling was used with great success during my final lesson before Thanksgiving. We used it to choose variations on “For Health and Strength,” but it could be used for anything.

What You Need:

  • A mini pumpkin
  • Flashcards with whatever you want to drill
    • These could be official flashcards with notes on the staff on them, or they could be scraps of paper that say phrase 1, phrase 2, phrase 3, etc., or practically anything else.
  • Something to use as bowling pins
    • I don’t have actual bowling pins, but I have used stacks of plastic bowls, larger pumpkins, paper towel rolls, anything you have several of and will not break.


  • Place a flashcard under each of your makeshift bowling pins.


How to Play:

  • The student rolls (not throws), the mini pumpkin toward the bowling pins. Whichever one they hit, do the flashcard under it. (If it’s something heavy like a large pumpkin, it won’t actually fall over, but it’s okay just to bump it.)
  • Replace the bowling pin with a new flashcard.
  • Repeat.




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.


Halloween Rondo (Composition)

We rounded off October with Halloween Rondos. A rondo is a musical form where one main theme keeps coming back again and again.

What You Need:


  • If you’re using a spinner, arrange the Halloween pictures in a circle with the spinner in the middle. Don’t include the cards that say “A” and “Coda.”

How to Play:

  • The student spins the spinner. Whichever card they end up with becomes Theme A, the one that will be repeated in their rondo. If you’re not using a spinner, just shuffle the cards and have them draw the first card.
  • The student should compose two measures in 4/4 time to be the A section, which the teacher transcribes onto the staff paper. (I thought about making the kids do this, but it would just take way too long.)
    • I recommend placing the hands with the lowest finger on an A. That way they are automatically playing in the key of A minor, and it will sound spooky without much extra effort on their part.
    • Depending on the picture, we talk about how to represent it in music. Should it be fast or slow? Loud or soft? Legato or staccato? In a high octave or very low?
    • I do insist on exactly two measures in 4/4 time. Part of the reason for doing this is to learn to compose reasonable phrases.
  • When the A section is defined, put it on the music stand, and spin again. The next card becomes section B, which should also be two measures of 4/4 time.
  • When the B section is written down, put it on the music stand to the right of the section A card. Afterwards place one of the cards that says “A” to the left. For example, you might end up with this sequence: Jack-o-lantern, Witch, A. The cards are there to remind you and the student that the Jack-o-lantern measures come back after the Witch measures have been played.
  • Spin again for section C. Continue as before until you run out of cards or out of time.
  • Every rondo should finish with a Coda. The coda can be as simple as a long low note quietly fading away or a loud, high note to represent a scream or it can be a further two measures just like all the others.
  • Play the final composition for the student and enjoy. Most of my students were not actually capable of fully reading and playing back their compositions themselves. There is nothing wrong with this: Composers who write symphonies certainly can’t play every instrument themselves. It’s good to have an imagination that stretches beyond our current abilities.

You can listen to my students’ creepy compositions here.


Halloween Rondo

A rondo is any piece of music, in which the opening section returns again and again. Great composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and my piano students have all composed rondos.

Unlike their more famous counterparts, these kids had only about ten minutes in which to perfect their rondo. All of them captured the creepy sound we were going for. These will sound best if you imagine you are walking through a haunted house while you listen.








Jacob’s “The Scream of a Ghost”



Sarah’s “Creatures of the Night”


For more details on how we composed these, check out this post.

Happy Halloween!

Performance Prep (Halloween Style)

Our fall recital is this weekend. On the last lesson before a performance, I always like to record the kids several times and watch it with them. It’s extra practice for them, but even more importantly, it gives them a good opportunity to analyze their own performance and talk about what went well and what still needs work. I find that students tend to fall into one of three categories:

  • Those who think their performance was perfect, when it definitely wasn’t.
  • Those who think their performance was terrible, when it was actually pretty good.
  • Those who stare at me blankly and have no idea what went well or what needs work.

When I listen to their analysis, I start to understand why their home practice isn’t always very effective. How can you make progress if you can’t tell what needs to improve? It’s definitely something we need to work on.

At any rate, we always need this to be a little fun, and here’s this year’s incarnation.

What You Need:

  • These Halloween numbers, printed on orange cardstock
  • Plenty of memory on your phone
  • A pen and/or Halloween stickers


  • None

What to Do:

  • Talk about what Take One, Take Two, etc., means in movie-making. (Most of my kids didn’t know.)
  • Record Take One by starting the camera on the orange number One. The student can start playing at any point after that.
  • After Take One, ask for two things that went well and one thing they could improve. Many of them will need help with that.
  • Record Take Two and repeat the process. If there is time, record Take Three and Four. If not, stop with two.
  • Watch the recordings. When the student has determined the best take, allow them to draw or add a Halloween decoration to that Take Number.

By the end of the week, the kids are all playing well and my somewhat plain Halloween numbers had a lot of delightful additions. Most of my kids preferred to draw rather than using my googly monster eyes or Halloween stickers.