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.



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.


  • 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.


  • 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.




Race to the Top (Note Review)

Yet another way to drill note names, with the added bonus that it drills intervals too.

What You Need:

  • A large grand staff
    • Mine is on a whiteboard, but a paper version would work just as well.
  • Writing Utensil
  • One Die
    • I made up a special die with the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and *, but you could make it work with a regular die.


  • None

How to Play:

  • Each player should draw a whole note F hanging below the bass clef staff. That is the initial starting point for the race.
  • Let the student roll the die. That number specifies her interval. She needs to draw in a whole note which is that interval directly above her starting F. For example, if she rolls a 2, she should draw in the G, which is a second above the F. If she rolls a 5, she should draw in the C, which is a fifth above the F. She should name the note as well as draw it in.
  • The asterisk side of the die means different things depending on the age and ability of the student. It could mean roll again, teacher chooses the interval, student chooses the interval, or teacher loses a turn.
    • If you are using a regular die, use the number one for this, since no one wants to draw in a unison anyway.
  • Teacher takes a turn and draws the correct note above her own F.
  • Repeat the process, taking turns until someone reaches the G just above the treble clef staff. First one to the top wins.


  • For pre-readers, use a picture of a keyboard instead of a staff.
  • To make it harder, require the student to say whether a given interval is major, minor, perfect, etc.
  • To make it more likely the student will win, the asterisk can mean different things depending on whether the teacher or student rolls it. Also, I’ve found I can usually be careful where I roll the die and prevent the student from seeing what it says. Then I can make my intervals small enough to ensure I lose.




Interval Ice Cream

Interval Ice Cream

This is a good example of the kind of activity I don’t like. It requires lots of cutting, gluing, and laminating, and then it only appeals to kids of a certain age. But I created it years ago before I realized what a pain that kind of thing is, so I occasionally still trot it out.

What You Need:

  • It’s easiest to just look at the picture below, but you need to create:
    • 8 ice cream cones, labeled unison, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and octave
    • ice cream scoops in a variety of colors with an example of intervals glued on


  • Lay out the ice cream cones, face up
  • Make a heap of the scoops nearby, face down

How to Play:

  • The student chooses their favorite flavor of ice cream and adds the scoop to the ice cream cone with the correct interval written on it.
  • Repeat.
  • When all the scoops are on, we see which cone is the tallest or which one has the most appealing flavor combination.


  • To make it easier, don’t use all the possible intervals. Limit it to just seconds and thirds or whatever intervals the student has covered.
  • To make it harder, give the student a time limit, or require him to name whether each interval is major, minor, perfect, etc.



Winter Intervals

I have yet to have a student who can remember the definition of an interval (the distance between two notes). They sputter a bit, and I sigh and say, “Okay, play me a fourth.” That they can do.

Understanding intervals is not just great music theory, it also is enormously helpful in reading music. Your brain doesn’t have to process all the note names if it knows the relationships between the notes.

For this activity, I am indebted to Teach Piano Today for a great little free printable called Wintervals. It’s a lovely idea for private lessons in January, and their instructions are fun. I played it differently, in several different ways, as you can see below.

What you need:

  • The sheet Wintervals, printed from Teach Piano Today
  • One game piece to represent a snowman
    • I drew one up on cardstock in about 30 seconds. Teach Piano Today recommends a mini-marshmallow. Anything would work.
  • One die
    • I used a ten-sided one, but you could use a regular one.
  • Staff paper/pencil or giant staff/manipulatives (optional)


  • Place the game piece above the first square (“A”).

How to Play on the Keyboard:

  • Roll the dice. That number specifies what interval you need to play. The bottom note should be the letter on the square your game piece is on (A for the first turn). For example, if the die says 3, play A and C because that makes a third.
    • My 10-sided die included a 0. If they rolled that it meant teacher gets to pick the interval.
  • If the student plays the interval wrong, the game piece moves up one space. If correct, the student can choose between moving up one or two spaces. That choice is pretty important because if the game piece lands on a hot spot, she melts and goes back to the beginning.
  • Repeat until the game piece makes it to the finish line.
  • Talking points along the way, depending on the level of the student:
    • Which intervals sound pretty?
    • Which intervals sound harsh?
    • Which intervals are so important they have a special name? (1=unison; 8=octave)
    • Which intervals sound harsh but could be resolved into something pretty? (7th to 8th, 2nd to 3rd, etc.)
    • How many half steps are contained within the interval?
    • Is the interval major or minor?

How to Play on the Staff:

  • Follow the same instructions as above, but instead of playing the notes, draw them on staff paper or place manipulatives on a giant staff.
  • Talking points along the way, depending on the level of the student:
    • Odd numbered intervals always go from line to line or space to space.
    • Even numbered intervals have a line and a space.
    • Knowing intervals allows you to correctly place notes on ledger lines, even if you don’t know what the name of the note is.

How to Play Backwards on Either Keyboard or Staff:

  • Alternatively, you could also skip the number die entirely. Instead, have the student draw letters A-G out of a bag. Then they play or write the start note from the Wintervals sheet, play or write the note from the bag, and name the interval the two notes make.