Monthly Archives: December 2009

Add some fun to your lessons


What can we do this year to help our students become better musicians and renew our enthusiasm for teaching? Maybe you’re getting the winter blues and are wondering what you can do to perk up lessons in January. My next several posts will discuss some New Year’s Resolutions  to add some dash to lessons after the holidays.

Resolution Number One: Get off the bench

My studio was  quite intense this past semester and I didn’t get around to a short game with my younger students as often as I wanted. The first resolution I’m going to make this year is to play a game or get off the bench for a few minutes with every student except my older ones.

The reason I want to do this is because most students understand theory better when they have a “manipulative” to help learn a difficult concept. Maria Montessori demonstrated years ago that children learn with hands on activities so that learning is more like play.

What are the benefits?

  • Games add a fun quality to piano lessons and an element of surprise.
  • They help you to get to know the student and create a good relationship between you and the student.
  • Students will enjoy piano lessons more.
  • Laying things out, putting things in order, and giving a student a visual picture of difficult concepts, all go a long way in teaching music theory.
  • Games can teach valuable musical skills as well as being fun.
  • A short game can rescue a lesson that is starting to be stressful.

The difference between an activity and a game

A game is an activity done for amusement. Most of the time we think of a game as a competitive activity such as chess or football. Some games, such as singing and clapping games, do not have a winner but are done by children for entertainment.

My students are well aware that not all activities are games and become cynical when I call an activity a “game” so my advice is not to call every activity a game if it really isn’t. I will never forget the student who suspiciously said, “You’re not one of those teachers who call something a game when it is really work and not fun, are you?”

If I ask a student to take some cards and put them in order, that is not a game to me, it is an activity. If I tell him we’re going to play Six Skipping Snowflakes and I’m going to time how long it takes him to put them in skipping order, then I will call that a game. We can keep a record and watch as he improves each week.  Not all games are off the bench and not all off the bench activities are games;  there is a place for both in piano lessons. Every thing you do does not have to be a game or fun, because sometimes it takes serious study to learn a concept.

The qualities of activities in a piano lesson

  1. Games and off the bench activities in piano lessons cannot take up too much lesson time.
  2. The materials have to be affordable or teacher-made so they suit the  students’ needs, easy to assemble, easy to store, and easy to set up.
  3. The best activities are the ones you make up yourself or elaborate from ideas you get from other teachers. We should use activities that fit our teaching style and we need to be comfortable with them. Don’t worry if an activity another teacher loves does not work for you. Change it around to suit yourself or come up with something else that uses the same concept.
  4. Games in private lessons have to be either for the student only or with the student and teacher. Many group games and activities can be adjusted for play in private lessons. 
  5. If  it is a game, the student should succeed enough so they will want to play. If the game is too hard, it has to be modified for the ability of the student. A five year old will not play the same game as an 11 year old.
  6. My students love to beat me in games!
  7. Some students are not competitive with other students, but still may like to compete with himself to improve his score. Also, keeping a record will often help the student see that he is making progress.
  8. If you travel to the student’s home, think of easily transportable activities. One creative teacher in our association said he uses chalk on the student’s sidewalk to play games.
  9. Stop playing while the student is still interested so that he will look forward to playing it again.

If your are looking for ideas of games and activities, check out my links on the right, look at some of the great games from music publishers, or scroll through my web site.

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Faber Teaching Adventures Club

As I posted recently,  Nancy and Randall Faber  purchased the rights to all their music from FJH Music Company.   Maybe some teachers do not realize that when you are published by a music publishing company such as FJH, Hal Leonard, Fischer Price, Alfred, Kjos, Willis,  etc, they own the copyright to your work.  Copyrights can be bought and sold. Now  the Fabers will be able to make changes and publish what they wish,  if  it is financially reasonable.

This has to be an exciting time for them and I know it is for us as teachers.  They are extremely creative as musicians and pedagogues, so I look forward to their next developments.  One thing I would like to see is more exciting, motivational music by Nancy Faber at the elementary to early intermediate level. I hope that she has a few more ideas left that she can share with us! Is it just me, or does her music bring out the inner child in other teachers? Her music about dragons, horses, kings and queens, pirates, daydreams, all of that, reaches somewhere inside to fleeting memories, almost forgotten,  of the joys of my childhood. My students like it, too, so I don’t think today’s children are that much different than I was.  

Randall Faber recently had an announcement for their new release program.  I signed up and received a very nice email  that gave me permission to post the announcement here. If you are interested but are not sure what the cost will be, I suggest you call them up and ask the details.  Usually in new release programs teachers get a discount.  Here is the announcement:

Hello Teachers,

Thanks for your interest and excitement in Faber New Releases.

Our new release program is called the “Faber Teaching Adventures Club.”
This will be a Faber-only new release program. (This is NOT the Hal Leonard new release program).

Please call the Piano Adventures Hotline (toll-free) at
or email

Our upcoming releases will include updates in PreTime to BigTime, a sampling of the newly released Developing Artist Piano Literature Books with CDs, and new pedagogical materials in 2010!

We look forward to continuing the “teaching adventure” with you.

Happy Holidays!
Randy and Nancy


Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and prayers for my painful back problem. Finally it is getting better and I can sit for brief periods of time to type. But I still am not able to sit for hours and and draw graphics,  which I just love to do.  After hearing from some others about their health problems, I realize I should be thankful for the health I have! 

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Snowflake Keyboard Note Race

Snowflake Keyboard Note Race

It is the last lesson before  the holidays and you want to do something different. This is a fun game that is the same game as the  Shamrock Keyboard Race  game I posted last year except it has  a snowflake graphic. Maybe you never got around to playing it last year, so now you can play it before  the holidays and even into the winter months.

Print 2 pages of the cards and cut them out.  Give one set to the student and the other set to the teacher. Both players sit on the piano bench with their own set of cards, which have been shuffled.  Each player has a set of cards on his side of the piano.  Players take turns  drawing a card and moving a pawn to the key they draw.  The player on the right side always moves to the left and the player on the left side always moves to the right , with both players moving toward the middle.  The first player to pass the middle (either middle C or middle E; you can decide) is the winner.

You may run out of cards before you get to the middle, so you can turn the cards over and start again, or you can print out more cards and play past middle C and down to the other end of the keyboard.

I added an F# and Bb card to the deck, but I will not use it with beginning students. I included it just in case you play this with a student who is starting to learn sharps and flats.

If you have ever discovered that your student doesn’t know the names of the piano keys, this game will really teach it to him quickly!


Filed under Christmas, Note Identification

We Three Kings in a pre-reading version

We Three Kings

This is a pre-reading version of We Three Kings. I am using it with a student who doesn’t have the attention span to do two pages, so I only wrote the first verse and left off the chorus. Maybe you have a student like mine and can use this with her. To help with tracking I made blocks of color like I did with some of the other pre-reading music I posted this year.

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Filed under Christmas, Pre-reading, Preschool Music Resources