2016 October Activities

I’m also always on the lookout for a good Halloween activity to keep our lessons interesting in October. Here is a roundup of the activities and games I’m using this year.

1. The Skeleton

This is a perennial favorite with me and the students. We do this every year. I printed, cut out, and laminated this almost life-size skeleton. Most of the time, I use it to drill notes. I show the student a note on the staff. If they name it correctly, they get a bone. Some students like to use the little human skeleton picture that comes with the set to arrange their human skeleton on the floor. Some students like to ignore the little picture and place their bones in some weird arrangement to build a monster. The point is, you can use this to drill anything: rhythms, key signatures, notes on the keyboard, whatever you need.

2. The Poison Rhythm

This is a classic rhythm game. Write out a rhythm in one or two measures. This is the poison rhythm. I like to give my students three spider rings to be their three lives in this game. Then I clap rhythms and they clap it back. If I clap the poison rhythm, they should stay silent. If they do clap the poison rhythm, one of their spiders dies. The object of the game is to still have at least one spider life left when we run out of time.

3. Ghost Notes

Print out a large staff on orange paper. Print out little ghosts for notes. Cut them out and laminate everything. Then you can use a whiteboard marker to draw either a bass clef or a treble clef on the staff and start composing, using the ghosts for notes.

4. Improv in A Minor

My early students mostly play in C major and G major, though they don’t necessarily know those terms. It’s easy enough to teach them to move their hands to A position, where both hands have their lowest finger on A. They are then playing in A minor, and they can improv their own spooky song.

5. Make It Scary

Pick a piece that the student has recently passed off. Make it scary by playing it in one of the following three ways, or use a combination.

  • Lightly write in the accidentals needed to make it minor instead of major. For most early repertoire, this means that Es become E flats or that Bs become B flats. It’s a good exercise to make the student find all of those notes in the piece.
  • Pick a note (without telling me which one) to add an accent, which is the musical equivalent of shouting “Boo!”
  • Play it very slowly, in a very low octave.


6. Are You Scared? (also known as Double or Nothing)

For this game I use a Halloween-themed board (see below) that I picked up as a free handout from a library in Germany. It would be pretty much impossible to get another copy, but you could use pretty much any game board or you could make your own Halloween-themed board with the help of free graphics on the Internet. As usual, the object of the game is to get your piece from Start to Finish quickest. On your turn, you roll the dice. If you answer a flashcard correctly, you can move that many spaces forward. As with the Skeleton activity, the flashcards can be anything you need to drill: notes, rhythms, major chords, etc. If you happen to be starting on a square with a number in it, you have the option of double or nothing. You still have to answer the regular question, but if you also answer a second flashcard correctly, you can move forward double the number of spaces. I usually make my second set of flashcards from a different category, like rhythm vs. notes. I also like to put that set of flashcards in a plastic jack-o-lantern. If you are using a different game board, you’ll need to find a different way to determine when double or nothing is an option. Or just make it an option all the time.


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Halloween Repertoire

Every year, I always spend a chunk of time looking for Halloween repertoire for my students. It’s a tricky business to find something that is exciting and challenging, but not too challenging, for each individual student. Ultimately, the goal is to find several pieces for each student to choose from. They’re usually excited about this music, and if we start in the first week of October and if they actually practice at home, we often do all of their choices throughout the month.

At any rate, the links for this year’s Halloween music are below, roughly in order of difficulty. My thanks to the other teachers out there who are posting their own music. The pieces that don’t have a composer listed below were written by me.

The First Noel

​”The First Noel” is a traditional English carol. It has an unusual structure which made arranging it a little difficult. It essentially only has one music phrase. That phrase is repeated twice in the verse, and then it is repeated again in a slightly different form for the chorus. All of this is just fine in a vocal setting where you have different lyrics to distinguish these phrases. It works well enough, that I had never even noticed how repetitive the melody is until I tried to set it for solo piano. Without words, it quickly verges on . . . boring.

My own arrangement has three verses: one with a simple arpeggiated bass, one with altered rhythm and meter, and one that is partially set in a canon. If you try to sing along the words you will find that my technique for avoiding boring was actually to mutilate the traditional structure. I don’t repeat the phrase before the chorus. Each verse is quite a bit shorter than it would have to be if it were sung.

Below is a typical English scene, except for the fact that it’s technically in Scotland. This was the park around the block from where we used to live, with a view of the parish church just across the hedge. I have no doubt that “The First Noel” has been sung there many, many times.​

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***This post originally appeared on my old site here.

The Giant Valentine – A Lesson Mashup

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I’m always on the lookout for ways to make lessons more interesting. Here’s what worked this week.

I cut out lots of hearts out of different colors of paper. On one page, I actually had a heart template, but I quickly discovered that it’s a whole lot easier just to make a random fold in your paper and cut hearts in random sizes.

On the back of each heart I wrote things like:

  • ​Sight Read
  • Improv
  • Student’s Choice of Past Song
  • Current Song – Right hand only
  • Current Song – Left hand only
  • Rhythm Challenge (this means they pick a random rhythm out of my rhythm cards and clap it back)
  • Note Challenge (this means we open a music book at random, I randomly place my finger on a note and they tell me what it is)

I also wrote some that were specific to each student, like a measure number or a phrase that was causing difficulty.

During the lesson, they picked hearts from the pile, do the challenge and tape it on to our Giant Studio Valentine, which formerly was just blank piece of poster board.. The picture above was early on in the week, but we ended up with it covered with hearts, and the kids enjoyed approaching the practicing in a new way.

**This post originally appeared on my other website here.