Takenoko (Music Twist) (How to Drill Anything)

My daughter was given Takenoko for Christmas and she loves it. It’s a fun game about a panda eating bamboo and a gardener growing it. I quickly co-opted it into the studio, and we have played it every day this week. To make it possible to use in a lesson, I have simplified/changed the rules considerably, but it is a fun game either way. My rules will likely not make sense unless you are looking at the game and have played it the normal way, but I’m preserving them here anyway. I have no relationship with the company that makes Takenoko. We’re just a family who enjoyed using it.

What You Need:

  • The board game Takenoko
  • Three stacks of flashcards
    • For most of my students, I used treble clef notes, bass clef notes, and intervals.
    • For some of my students, I used key signatures by name, key signatures by staff, and intervals.
    • Naturally, you can use whatever your student needs to review.


  • Find the pond tile. Place it out in the center of your space with the panda figure and the gardener figure on it.
  • Make a stack of the hexagonal tiles to draw from.
  • Lay out your three sets of flashcards and assign a color to each (pink, green, or yellow).
  • Separate the stacks of goal cards by color. The student will need the purple panda set. The teacher needs the red gardener set. Using the blue tile set is optional.
  • Each player should start with three cards from their respective deck. If you are using the blue tile set, one of the three should be a blue card.


How to Play:

  • The student goes first.
  • A typical turn has three components:
    • Draw a hexagonal tile and play it. It should immediately grow a piece of bamboo that matches it’s color.
    • Draw a flashcard from the pile that matches the color of the tile and answer it.
    • Move the panda (or the gardener, if it’s the teacher’s turn) in a straight line in any direction. When the panda lands on a tile, she eats one piece of bamboo from that tile. When the gardener lands on a tile, he makes bamboo grow by one piece, not only on the tile he’s on, but also on all adjacent tiles of the same color.
  • Once the panda has collected the right bamboo pieces to complete the goal on one of her three cards, she can show that card and gain the points from it. Same deal if the gardener completes any of the bamboo groves on his card.
  • If a card is played and points are earned, that player can draw another goal card to replace it, so that three goals are always possible.
  • Play until you run out of time, and then count up the points to see who won.

A Few Notes:

  • The panda cards are easier to complete than the gardener cards, which is why I am always the gardener and the student is always the gardener.
  • If students catch me answering wrongly on a flashcard, they get a free panda move wherever they want to go.
  • In this version, we ignore all the little symbols on the tiles. No need to worry about irrigation, fertilizer, no-panda-zones, or any of that. It’s a fun game with it, but it would take the whole lesson time to explain it all. As it is, it’s a little heavier on explanation than I generally like. But it was a big hit, and several of my students really needed the review to be in a fun format, so it was worth it.



Christmas Gift (How to Drill Anything)

‘Tis the season. I used this for sight reading, but it could be used for pretty much anything.

What you need:

  • Cards for whatever you want to drill
  • A game piece (I used Christmas ornaments)
  • Dice
  • A box or basket filled with a Christmas gift
    • I used leftover Halloween candy because I’m desperate to get rid of it.
    • I typically don’t like giving out food. You could also use party favors, erasers, printable Christmas jokes, whatever.


  • Put your flashcards face down in a circle around the box.

How to Play:

  • Place the game piece on any random flashcard. The student rolls the dice and moves the piece that many flashcards ahead.
  • Remove the flashcard the student lands on. They should play (or answer) that flashcard.
  • Roll again and repeat. Since you are steadily removing flashcards, the circle will get smaller and smaller.
  • The game ends when all the flashcards have been removed. The student can choose one gift out of the box as a reward.





Pluck the Turkey (Note Review)

What You Need:

  • A turkey body, plus a lot of feathers
    • I cut mine out of scrapbooking paper so they were already in cute patterns.
    • If you want to be able to reuse it for multiple purposes, laminate everything. Otherwise, don’t bother.
  • Flashcards with the notes of the staff.
  • Some kind of timer (only needed for version 2)


  • Write on the back of the feathers. (Use a whiteboard marker if you laminated.)
    • About three should say “Teacher Loses a Turn”
    • About three should say “Freebie”
    • Half of the rest should say “N” for name the note.
    • All of the rest should say “P” for play the note.
  • Lay out your turkey on the floor.


How to Play (Version 1, the competitive way):

  • The first player plucks a feather from the turkey and draws a note flashcard.
    • If the feather says “N,” the player should name the note on the flashcard.
    • If it says “P,” the player should play the note on the piano.
    • If it says “Freebie,” they get the feather for free.
  • Take turns until the turkey is completely plucked. Count the feathers to see who has the most.
    • The teacher loses a turn cards guarantee that the student will always have more. None of my kids picked up on this.

How to Play (Version 2, the timed way):

  • With input from the student, determine how long the student will need to completely pluck the turkey. (The amount of time varied from 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the level of the student and the number of feathers on the turkey.)
  • When the timer starts, the student plucks one feather at a time and plays or names the note. In this version, the teacher loses a turn feathers are just like a freebie feather.
    • (Occasionally, I surreptitiously stop the timer while they aren’t looking to make sure they finish in time.)


Monster Eyeballs (Note Review)

Here is a Halloween-themed way to review the notes while creating a decoration for your studio.  It’s sure to thrill kids. Except for my own daughter, who said it was creepy and she didn’t want to touch the eyeballs. Other than her, everyone loved it.

What You Need:

  • A set of monster eyeballs. These are available at dollar stores around Halloween.
  • A bag big enough to hold your monster eyeballs.
  • A clear vase, bowl, or other container.
  • Flashcards or a sheet of piano music.


  • Before the lesson, use a permanent marker to write note names on each of the eyeballs.
  • Put all the eyeballs in the bag.
  • If you’re using flashcards, lay them out face up, but not in order.

How to Play:

  • The student reaches in the bag and draws out an eyeball.
  • The student then looks through the flashcards or sheet music and finds a note that matches the letter on the eyeball.
  • If they correctly find the match, the student can add the eyeball to the vase to add to your Halloween decorations.


  • For pre-readers, have them play the note on the piano instead of looking for it on the staff.
  • For readers who haven’t yet learned all the notes, limit the flashcards to the ones they have learned. You may also want to use treble clef notes separately from bass clef notes.
  • For more advanced readers, use flashcards or music with lots of ledger lines, or you can require them to find not the note on the eyeball, but a note that is a third above that note (or a fifth or whatever).


Slash the Note Race

Here’s a game to practice note reading. It’s based loosely on any number of digital games where you have to slash, shoot, or twist a series of items before the time runs out.

What You Need:

  • At least two pages with notes on it. You can use copies of actual music, or you could use any number of note drills like this one from Making Music Fun or this one from Susan Paradis.
  • Sheet protectors
  • A set of cards with A through G on it, shuffled
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Timer


  • Put your pages of notes in the sheet protectors.

How to Play:

  • The student draws a card to determine what note to look for. If necessary, go over where those notes are on the staff, so they have it in mind. You can do this just by talking it through, or you can show them a flashcard with the note on it, depending on the age and skill level of the student.
  • Set the timer. I generally start with 45 seconds for the student.
  • When the timer starts, hand the student one of the sheet protectors with music in it. The student has 45 seconds to use a marker and slash through each instance of the note on their sheet.
  • As the teacher, I have to wait until there are only ten seconds left before I can begin slashing the notes on my sheet. (Having only ten seconds means I generally can’t finish the sheet, which brings my score down below the student’s score.)
  • When time is up, swap sheets for scoring. Both teacher and student get two points for each correct slash, but they lose one point for each note they slashed incorrectly or should have slashed and didn’t. There is also a four point bonus for having found everything on the page.
  • If time permits, play another round with a different note. Vary the amount of time according to the student’s ability.


  • To make it easier, use music that only has treble or bass clef on it and stays within one position. For example, music where the only C will be Middle C.
  • To make it harder, use more complicated music with lots of notes, including notes that are in harmonic intervals or notes where a key signature needs to be taken into account.
  • To make it harder or easier, give either the student or yourself a different amount of time to complete the task.