“Baby, Take a Bow!” Part 1

Before our first performance this past October, we had a group lesson to rehearse our pieces, and practice playing for an audience. Sounds like it could be a bit boring, doesn’t it? Not in this performance class – it was a riot, and both the students and I had a great time.

candyPreparation for this is pretty minimal. All I did was go to the grocery store, and buy lots and lots of candy. Not the little Halloween-type bars, but the normal-sized good ones. I only bought candy that was on sale, and happened to hit it when there was a lot of candy for 25 to 33 cents each. Before the class, I put all the goodies in a big basket with a lid on the piano. Times like this make me glad that I charge a registration/materials fee at the beginning of each year. 🙂

The theme of the class was “Baby, Take a Bow!” There is nothing I like more than a professional, well-executed bow at the beginning and end of a performance, and I wanted to drill that into everyone’s head. So, to start the class, I stood up from my chair, rambled up to the piano bench, didn’t look once at the audience, plopped myself down on the bench, and gracelessly stuck my hands on the keyboard. Without playing anything, I asked the students to tell me how my performance was going to sound. Not surprisingly, there was not a single positive comment! I told the students they were horribly unfair to me – they judged my playing before they even heard a note!

Then, I did it again. This time, I “walked like a princess” to the piano, looked at the audience, bowed, sat nicely down on the bench, and made sure I was at a comfortable distance from the piano. I collected myself for a moment, then gracefully placed my hands on the keyboard, ready to play. When I repeated the question of how good of a pianist I was, responses were all glowingly positive. I told the students people judge the kind of pianist you are from the moment you stand up, before a single note is played.

Silly BowNext, it was time for our first game, known as “How Bad Can You Bow?” I had each student make a grave bowing error, such as bowing with feet apart, looking at the audience while they bowed, not making eye-contact with the audience, the bow-while-still-walking-to the-bench, and anything else the students and I could come up with. Everyone took a turn executing their “bad bows.” We were howling with laughter with some of them. We had a very informal vote, involving cheering and applause for the best “worst bow”. I declared us all winners, and had the students gather around the basket of candy. Their eyes almost popped out of their heads when they saw all that candy! Each student picked one candy bar.

Good BowNext, we played “How Good Can You Bow?” First, we practiced how to bow as a group. Then, each student walked elegantly to the piano, bowed, and sat down, and played one note or chord. The audience clapped, and the student bowed and walked elegantly back to their chair. If their bow needed attention, I had them fix it. Most were fine, though.  We clapped thunderously for the great bows, I declared us all winners, and each child picked another candy bar.  We listened to some classical music from the composer of the month while we feasted on our junk food.

This was a really good activity for the students, because they saw the difference between a polished pianist walking on stage as opposed to “just some kid playing a song in a piano recital” type of thing. They also got to see why I insist on properly executed bows. People often judge books by their covers, and pianists by their walk to the piano bench.

More about this amazingly fun group lesson to come soon!

Musical Alphabet Blocks

Have you seen Natalie’s great post about making scale blocks? Well, we must be thinking along a similar wavelength. I love my scale blocks, but wanted to have more to use in group classes. Unfortunately, the budget wouldn’t allow it. Then I thought back to elementary school and those cool 3-D shapes we used to cut out and glue together. A quick internet search, a bit of finagling on the computer, and here is the result – paper scale blocks! Easy to assemble, and inexpensive enough that the students can even take them home. Use cardstock for best results. Use them for learning the musical alphabet, steps, skips, intervals, scales, chords, and anything else you can think of!

Musical Alphabet Blocks

Musical Alphabet Blocks






Lets Have a Spelling Bee!

This is another of Sharon’s great ideas. I used Natalie’s list of words that can be spelled with the musical alphabet at musicmattersblog.com to make these cards. One side is the word spelled on the staff, and the other side is the word written out. All words are spelled in both clefs. The lines of the staff don’t look perfect on my computer screen, but they print out beautifully.

Line students line up in 2 teams and have students try to say the word before the other team. Another variation is to show the word side of the card and have students write the word on staff paper or a white board. They could work individually, or race against each other. This would be a great game for a group lesson.  To use in an individual lesson, have students play the words that are spelled on the keyboard.  Maybe they could use a couple of their favorite words to begin their own composition.

Post any other ideas of how to use the cards in the comments below!

Word Flashcards

Word Flashcards





Great Games for Note Reading

This idea came from Natalie on the Yahoo Piano Teacher’s List, and I just had to post it here as well. These are some great ways to teach note reading that I can’t wait to try with my students. Read on for Natalie’s instructions:

“I just learned how to make note reading FUN! Kids forget it’s theory
and learn quickly through enjoying the game.

Are you dreading teaching identification of notes on the staff? How
would you make that fun?

Well, I just figured out a great way and thought I would pass it
along to the rest of the teachers in the world!

Materials Needed:

1. Construction paper for cutting out quarter notes and half notes

2. Either a plastic table cloth (plain) or anything that the permanent
marker can write on and is large enough to walk on.


Draw a staff on your plastic table cloth with the permanent marker
large enough to fit your foot in-between the spaces and large enough
to see your feet standing together on the line.

Draw a treble cleff to resemble learning notes on the staff in the
RIGHT hand.

On construction paper draw quarter notes and half notes. Quarter
notes are in Black, half notes are in white. Or you can make all
notes quarter notes and just use different colors. Make notes large
enough to put on the huge staff on the table cloth. Write letter
names of the musical scale on each note. Laminate so they last longer.

NOW, there are three different games you can play with this:

GAME ONE: Jumping in spaces and on lines. Yell out a letter and both
of you jump on the right note. Say the corresponding word (ex.
E=Every B=Boy Etc.) Start at the bottom and go up, and then challenge
going backwords. If jumping becomes tiring you can just step. IF note
name is incorrectly given, you must start over from the beginning.
When student can get all the way through without your helf, a prize
will be given if wanted.

FACE rhymes with SPACE! Do the same thing as you would for the lines.

Make it challenging by mixing up lines and spaces.

GAME 2: Have student choose a note on the piano and then have them
find it on the huge staff. Have the pick up a quarter note or half
note out of the pile next to the staff (it has to have the right note
name) and place it on the staff. Then have them replay it. For young
children guide them to pick notes from middle C above. For older
students you can create a Bass staff as well as a treble staff and
they can choose notes from all over.

Winning Game 2: When all notes have been correctly placed a prize
will be given.

GAME 3: Make a song from the notes and then have student try and play it on
the piano. If all notes are placed correctly and student plays
correctly then they win!

These games are fun played in groups and children would love this
playing with their friends.

THIS WORKS!!! One of my young students already is extremely familiar
with the note names on the staff and ENJOYS this activity. You’ll
love watching the kids have fun and be excited they are learning it
so quickly.”

Thanks Natalie for these great ideas!

Cecilly’s Christmas Tree Landmark Game and Variations

OrnamentsThis GREAT game idea was posted by Cecilly on the Yahoo Piano Teacher’s List. I have made up some ornaments with landmarks, and several variations that you can use.



Ornaments with Landmarks

All Notes on the Staff

Key Signatures

Simple Intervals

Letter Names – including sharps and flats

Christmas Stockings with Letter Names – Just for something different!

Here are Cecilly’s directions:

Just a quick mention of another of my off the bench activities, this one to reinforce my Celebrate Piano student’s landmarks (Bass C, Bass F, Mid. C, Treble G, and Treble C).

It’s a “Swat the Landmark” game.

Materials needed:

1. Flashcards of each landmark note

2. Timer

3. Flyswatter (with a hole cut out of the center so you can see the card it’s slapped on)

To play: lay out all the cards face up randomly on the floor. Seat player on the floor in front of cards with flyswatter in hand. You control the timer. Set timer for 60 seconds (I use a 1 min. egg timer). At “go” you call out a landmark by name after which the student slaps at the corresponding flash card. If correct, a point is earned, if wrong a point is deducted. Immediately after a slap, call out “correct” or “error” then the name of another landmark. Names may be repeated. See how many points can be earned in 1 min. time. Slapping too hastily (and often incorrectly) will hurt the player’s total. Record their base score and then on subsequent playings, try to beat that score.

Just for fun during this holiday time, I’ve made a large simply
shaped Christmas tree cut out of green poster board. I’ve mounted it on my wall with poster putty, and then am going to mount the landmark cards randomly on the tree (like ornaments) also with poster putty. The student can then stand up to play the game. Fun fun.

Some other variations:

1. Play an interval at the piano and having the student “swat” the correct interval.

2. Show a flashcard of a note, chord, key signature, or whatever. Great for players of different levels.

Christmas Tree Folder Game

With it’s several variations, this is a great game for Christmas group lessons where students are of different levels. A Christmas tree is adorned with musical alphabet ornaments. “Decorate” the tree by matching either the note on the keyboard, bass clef note, treble clef note, or key signature to the tree. Can be played individually as well as in a group.

Christmas Tree Folder Game

Christmas Tree Folder Game





Christmas Rhythms

Mix up the rhythms from eight Christmas carols, and have students place them in the correct order. There is an assortment of rhythms from easy to more complex for many levels of students.

I also did up rhythms for two Hanukkah songs – My Dreidl, and Chunukah. For some odd reason, I made up these rhythms to read from the top of the first column down, then the second column down. Not that it matters, since they get all mixed up after they are cut!

Christmas Rhythms

Christmas Rhythms

Hanukkah Rhythms