Staff Games for More Advanced Students

I generally try to drill notes on the staff for at least one week each month. This week we did Giant Staff—Twister (Music Twist)Giant Staff—Hopscotch, and Giant Staff—Bean Bag Toss.

However, some of my students have advanced beyond mere note drills. Some of them are old enough not to need an activity in the lesson at all, but several have not, and there’s nothing I dislike more than having to come up with more than one activity for the week. So this week, I’ve dreamed up a few ways to make note drills more useful for advanced students. These will work with pretty much any note name game.

  1. Set a key signature and then play the game as usual. For example, if the key is G major, all the notes would be normal, except any F would have to be named as F-sharp.
  2. Set an interval. The student must name both the note and the note that interval above (or below). For example, if the answer is C and the interval is a 3rd, the student must say C and E to get credit.
  3. Set a key signature. Then use solfege or the scale degrees instead of note names in the game.

Trim the Tree (Note Review)

I’m using an outside resource this week. It involves more cutting and laminating than I usually like, but all these little circles with notes on them could be reused in other games, which is why I was willing to do it.

The resource is Trim the Tree from Pianimation. Since I teach private lessons only, I had to adapt the rules slightly.

For my version, I first gave the students 1 minute and 30 seconds to see how many ornaments they could correctly get on the tree. That establishes a baseline. Then they try again to see if they can beat their own score.


  • To make it easier, sort out the notes the student should know and use only them. Or separate out treble from bass clef.
  • To make it harder, don’t have them match the note itself. Specify an interval (such as a 3rd) and have them match the ornament to a spot that is a 3rd above the note.
  • To cheat and make sure the student does actually improve their score, sneakily pause the timer while they are working to give them extra time.



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.