Category Archives: Steps and Skips

The Doughnut Mystery: It’s “D” Day!

The Doughnut Mystery

The Doughnut Mystery

I decided to make a series of songs, worksheets, and games focusing on one note at a time. Today I am posting The Doughnut Mystery, D for dog and D for doughnut. If you have ever played a one note song, I must mention that it is a lot more fun with the duet. At least that is what one of my intermediate students said, who saw it in my studio and wanted to try it out. (Actually he said it was a boring song, but the duet made it fun, so I took that for a compliment!) Fortunately, younger students are not as hard to please.

If we teach young children, we know that some students need to take the scenic route when learning to read notes on the staff. It is so satisfying to see the feeling of accomplishment on their face, rather than frustration.

If you have followed my blog for a while, you probably know that I do not teach reading by “typing in” the names of each note. I don’t ask my students to say note names out loud as they play music from their books. That takes all the joy out of playing piano and made my own children cry. I learned so much about teaching piano from my own children.

Instead, we learn to read music by intervals. Cards like the ones I posted recently really help to learn to play by steps and skips. I’m reposting them below, and on my website you can find some older ones that are larger and not as fancy. I was worried that these cards would confuse students who are also learning to read notes on the staff, but that has not happened to my students.

Notey NoteheadsNotey Noteheads

Prereading step and skip flashcards

Pre-reading Cards

With that disclaimer, I do think children should learn the names of notes, because how can they learn theory if they don’t know the names of notes? Plus, students need the confidence to move around the keyboard, or to find the starting note. Learning to read music has three parts: learning to sight-read by intervals and patterns to the best of the student’s ability, learning to quickly identify all the notes on the staff, and knowing where these notes are on the instrument.

How I Introduced D

After I showed the student middle D on the staff, I placed large size flash cards around the room. Some of them were D, and he searched all around the room and collected them. Next, we got out the big floor staff and played games. Then, we drew D’s on a large staff (to the best of his ability). We also identified D’s in a method book. I also made a new game to find D, and we played that.

Finally, I decided we were ready to play middle D on the piano. He was so excited! First we learned the words to The Doughnut Mystery and “drummed” and chanted them on the piano cover. Then we practiced changing fingers on the piano cover, making doughnuts with the fingers. After he could play it by himself, I played the teacher duet, and it was perfect! He loved it!

To reinforce reading by intervals, I followed that up with some of the pre-reading cards posted above.

The next week he came back and told me the D note fell off, that’s why it’s on the bottom and the dog ate it. That let me know that he has internalized the location of D on the staff.

If you teach 4-6 year old children or have a learning challenged student, you might want to try this out!


Filed under Note Identification, Pre-reading, Preschool Music Resources, Steps and Skips

Whole Step Half Step Game


Whole Step Half Step Game

This is the time of year when students learn about whole and half steps so they can construct scales, which is a requirement for many theory tests.

If you have ever used little tokens or figures on the keyboard to construct scales and noticed it was confusing to some students, I think you will find placing the W’s and H’s behind the keys is a big help.

This has turned out to be a great success for my “hands on” learners, as well as students who have trouble understanding the entire concept of scales. Students who were very frustrated with  theory worksheets quickly caught on using manipulatives and these cards I designed to be placed behind the keys.

I made many sizes and styles of cards before I settled on this design. I wanted the cards to be big enough for children to handle, but small enough to see the W and H when placed behind the piano keys.

I am so happy to report how much it has helped my students who were confused. My philosophy is that if they don’t understand what you are teaching, change the way you teach. The student is not going to change!

You can use these cards in a game or simply as a way to visually show scale patterns. Be sure to use sturdy card stock and laminate the cards so they will stand up behind the keys. For major scales, consider using the sentence “We Were Happy When We Were Home.” I’ve noticed my students and I say this continually as we play. All the W’s and H’s are hard to remember, especially for some students.

The inexpensive, colorful pencil erasers in the photo above can be bought in bulk this time of year. Go look now while all the school supply material is on sale.  I bought a large pack years ago and  I use them all the time, especially with an older child who who might be insulted with all the cute toys I have collected. They are also good for the easily distracted child, or the child who takes 5 minutes to decide if they want a kitty or a puppy.

I am posting some of the ways I use these cards, but I would like to emphasize that after you have tried them, adapt the activities to fit your needs. If you have a better idea, please leave a comment. My students have really enjoyed learning scales this way, and I hope yours do too!


  • Whole Step Half Step free printable from my website, cut into individual cards
  • Pencil erasers to use as game tokens
  • Piano keyboard
  • Optional: W W H W W W H written on a chart for student reference

Directions for playing as a game with two players

  • There are two color backgrounds, making it easy to separate the cards for two players. Each player receives 8 cards of one color. However, when I play against a student, I often do not give myself a “wild card” because students really enjoy winning and love to beat me.
  • Place the cards on the piano book stand, with the blank side up.
  • Decide which scale you are going to construct. C major is  good because the half steps are so easy to see.
  • Both players put an eraser (or token) on the first note of the scale.
  • Player one draws a card. If it is a “W”, place it behind the D on the piano keyboard, because that is the first whole step. The student also places a token on the D key. The first whole step has been completed.
  • If the player draws an “H”, the player discards the card by putting it in the back of his stack on the piano stand. No token is placed on the piano.
  • If a “Wildcard” is drawn, the student can place it aside to use later and draw again, or he can use the wild card immediately. The wild card can be turned upside down to be either a “half” or “whole” step.
  • The second player then draws and plays in the same manner as above.
  • Play continues between the players. The game is over when one player completes a major scale.
  • An alternate version for younger students is to let the student (but not the teacher) draw again if they draw the wrong card. Obviously the objective is to learn how to construct the scale, not for the teacher to win.

Directions for other ways to use the cards

  • With one player, the student draws all the cards, continuing until a scale is completed. This is a good way to explain how to construct scales to beginners.
  • The cards can also be used to simply explain whole and half steps, placing the cards and erasers randomly on the piano keyboard and not constructing a scale.
  • In a group lesson, 3 or more players can play. You will need to print out more cards.
  • Younger children love to use my collectible erasers of cute animals instead of the erasers in the picture above.


  • To learn how to construct major or natural minor scales.
  • To learn half and whole steps on the piano keyboard.


  • Elementary to middle school, depending on the scale and the student’s abilities.

Why I like this activity

  • There is only one page to cut out!
  • It is colorful and students like color.
  • Students like the games and activities we use with these cards.
  • Students tell me the WWHWWWH cards really help to understand how to write scales.
  • When we get to natural minor scales, a light bulb comes on as they change the order of whole and half steps.
  • It really works.

I wish

  • I wish I had room on the printable to add a  “step+half step” card to construct harmonic minor scales.
  • I wish I had made a matching WWHWWWH chart.
  • I wish I could remember the sentence for the natural minor scale pattern! Can anyone help me?


Filed under Games, Group lesson ideas, Steps and Skips, Texas State Theory Test

Jewel Notes

Jewel notesJewel Notes

 I like to use a variety of seasonal grand staves in private and group lessons for dictation,  learning note names, steps and skips, etc.

Recently my husband presented me with these stones he found. My husband is not a musician, but he loves all my games and is always trying to help me think of new ones.  I was so excited to get these stones because I love the color and they feel so good in the hand. I promptly made this staff and called it Jewel Notes. The stones are flat on the bottom and sit very nicely on the paper.

I used it in various ways with my group lessons. With one group I played a short group of notes that were stepping,  skipping, and repeating and the students took dictation using the stones. For older groups I made the dictation more difficult.  With another group I had students come and play a short pattern and the students wrote it with their stones. My students shared my enthusiasm for the stones!

There are hundreds of ways to use a grand staff, because, after all, if you don’t understand the staff, you can’t read music. You can use this to find landmark notes, learn the name of notes,  take music dictation, and even just to learn lines and spaces. It can be used with beginners to high school students. This is a great way to review for the ear-training portion of the Texas State Theory Test.

If you want to use this, print it in landscape and laminate it. If you don’t have any little glass stones, make some with construction paper or find something creative. I think it would be fun to have different colors of “jewels” and let the students choose.

On my website I have grand staves for various holidays as well as a plain black one. The idea is you can use seasonal items, such as candy, for your notes. This one doesn’t look much like October, but there is one on my website that is orange and you can use Candy Corn as the notes.


Filed under Note Identification, Preschool Music Resources, Steps and Skips, Theory

Table Top Keyboard

Kebyoard_table_sizeTable Top Keyboard

I have some large colored bingo chips that I bought at Staples in the teacher supply section. This paper keyboard is large enough for those chips. Print it out in landscape on card stock, cut it out, laminate it, and tape it together. Then you can spend some off-bench time with your student learning the names of keys, steps and skips, and intervals. Children need to get away from the piano some, especially children with different learning styles. Children who learn kinetically do a lot better if they can place a manipulative on a keyboard and move it around.

If you don’t have any bingo chips, cut out some colored paper into circles that will fit this keyboard.

This graphic can also be used by young children to write the names of the keys. If you do this, you can print it with  economy mode  of your printer on inexpensive paper or even the back of paper you’re discarding. I never throw away a piece of paper if I’ve only used one side!

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Filed under Note Identification, Steps and Skips

Floor Keyboard


Today I am posting a large two-octave Floor Keyboard that you can print, cut out, tape together, and use on the floor for games. If you tape it together with a good strapping tape, you should be able to fold it for easy storage. There are 5 PDF pages, and be sure to set your printer to landscape. Use card stock for the best results. The white keys are about 3 inches wide, to give you an idea of the size. In case you are wondering, I made the black keys gray because I am trying to save some printer ink. If that bothers you, get a marker and make them black. I haven’t found it a problem with students.

Tomorrow I am going to post alphabet cards to go with this keyboard if you want to play a Game By Cecilly™ for beginning students to toss a bean bag to identify keys on the keyboard. Check back tomorrow for the cards and the rules to Cecilly’s game. However, I’m sure many of you will think of clever ways to use this floor keyboard!


Filed under Preschool Music Resources, Steps and Skips