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

 

 

Black Cat Strut (Improv)

The black cat strut is not my own activity. It comes from 88 Piano Keys. My students enjoyed it so much this year, I wanted to remember it, plus a few notes from my experience.

  • As she recommends, I didn’t show my students anything. It was entirely done by memory and ear.
  • For the youngest students, you can give them just three melody notes: C, D, E.
  • More advanced students can handle all the ones she mentions in the instructions.
  • If the student hasn’t learned dotted quarter note rhythms yet, just explain the left hand pattern as a dotted half note and a quarter note.
  • I don’t have iRealPro, so I didn’t use her recorded drum beat. It’s a great improv even without it.

 

Spider Web (How to Drill Anything)

The specific board I use for this game is created by Hatch Patch Creations. It is intended for a church lesson on honesty for kids, and I did originally use it for exactly that purpose. But I am all about repurposing, so here it is again in a different form.

What You Need:

  • A printable spider board game
    • Basically, it just needs a spider web and some numbers going around it. See the picture below.
  • Die
  • A few plastic spiders
    • Mine were rings in a previous life
  • Two small items to use as game markers
  • Flashcards for whatever you want to drill

Setup:

  • Place your game markers in the middle of the web. The goal is to escape it.

How to Play:

  • Have the student place the plastic spiders on any numbers they choose.
  • The student rolls the die. In order to advance, they need to correctly answer a flashcard. If they get it wrong, they stay where they are.
  • The teacher takes a turn. Repeat.
  • Whenever anyone lands on a number with a plastic spider, that is a wild space which could mean different things, such as:
    • Double or nothing: move forward twice
    • Teacher loses a turn
    • Go back to start
    • Write your own flashcard
      • I was drilling rhythms, so my spiders meant you had to write your own rhythm.
  • Whoever escapes the web first wins.

Variations:

  • To make it easier or harder, just vary your flashcards.
  • To make it shorter, declare whoever is ahead the winner.

 

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Poison Rhythm Game

Poison Rhythm Game

 

The poison rhythm game is commonly done in group settings, but here is an adaptation for a private lesson.

What You Need:

  • Paper
  • Writing utensil
  • Drums or other percussion instruments (optional)

Setup:

  • None

How to Play:

  • Write out one measure of rhythm in 4/4 time and place it where both players can see it. This is the poison rhythm.
  • The teacher plays a measure in 4/4 time (not the poison rhythm). If you’re not using instruments, just clap the rhythm. The student should listen carefully and play or clap it back.
  • Repeat the call and response rhythms as many times as you like.
  • At some point, the teacher should play the poison rhythm. The student should NOT play back the poison rhythm. If they stop and do nothing, they have earned a point. If they are not paying attention and do play it back, the teacher earns a point.
  • Write a new poison rhythm and go again. The game ends whenever you run out of time.

Variations:

  • To make it easier, use only basic rhythms, count out loud, and give the student multiple chances to play back each rhythm.
  • To make it harder, use more complicated rhythms or make each rhythm two measures long.
  • To make it more creative, switch roles so that the student is generating all the rhythms.

 

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.

Setup:

  • 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.

 

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