Tag Archives: Music Theory

Autumn Acorns A C E



Autumn Acorn ACE

The popular composer and piano pedagogy teacher Elizabeth Gutierrez suggested in her Piano Camp for Piano Teachers  workshop a few years ago that learning the notes A C E on the staff is one of the easier ways for beginners to learn note names. So I don’t want to take credit for this idea, although it is a good one! Instead of having to remember a lot of acronyms and guide notes, students just learn where ACE is located on the grand staff. As a bonus, they learn skips, too, and the student can play the ACE position on the piano as they learn the notes. After learning A C E, they can branch off and learn the notes above and below. Line notes are hard, but it is easier if you always know where A C and E are!

I just want to mention that in my experience, no matter how well a student knows the names of notes, that does not ensure he or she will be a good sight reader. I think we all have students who get A’s on theory tests and are very zippy with flash cards, but not so good sight reading music at the piano bench.  So many people don’t seem to realize that the two are very different skills that use different part of the brain. And everyone’s brain is wired differently. A student does not have to be a good sight reader to be a good musician, although it is a wonderful skill.

If learning the names of notes confidently doesn’t always mean the student is going to be able to read music well at the piano, why bother? Here are some reasons, and you probably have some you can add to the list!

  • It gives students confidence that they are musicians.
  • It helps students jump around to different notes on the piano.
  • Even if students can’t sight read that well, they can work through the music in their own comfort zone at home.
  • They can learn music theory, which is rather impossible if you don’t know what the notes are!
  • They can compose and write their music on staff paper.


Filed under Note Identification, Steps and Skips, Worksheets

Autumn Rhythm Tic Tac Toe

Autumn Rhythm Tic Tac Toe

Autumn Rhythms Tic Tac Toe

Today I am posting a seasonal game to review note values such as dotted quarter notes and eighth notes.  I included stems going up and down to help students become familiar with that.

This game is  played like Tic Tac Toe using bingo chips. It is for two players, but it is easily modified for more students and played like Bingo.

Regular readers will notice this is similar to the Bats and Cats Rhythm Game. However, I remade the small cards to include more patterns and I changed the levels some.  Now I need a year round theme so I’m taking suggestions!

There are two levels included. The second level  is a great game to reinforce dotted quarter notes. Some children don’t know how to add fractions, so adding 1  1/2  +  1/2 is too much for them.  Of course we all have those students who seem to understand anything related to math without the teacher having to explain it!  They like this game, too.

There are 5 pages in this PDF document: a game board, 2 levels of cards to cut out, and the backs for each level.

I advise printing the backs to the small cards to help you quickly distinguish the levels for fast set-up.


  • To quickly add beats in rhythm patterns


  • Bingo tokens, a different color for each player. [Suggestions for tokens include inexpensive colored erasers or pieces of cut out construction paper. Colored bingo chips are available online. ]
  • One game board for two players. If playing in groups, 1 card for each player.
  • Calling cards with the appropriate level for the student.


  • Print the game board on card stock or photo paper and laminate, if desired.
  • Print one page of the calling cards. Turn the page over and print the “back” of  the calling cards. Check out my FAQ for hints on how to do it.
  • Cut the calling cards along the dotted lines. Place in a stack face down.
  • The calling cards contain notes and/or rests worth 1, 2, 3, or 4 beats (in 4/4 time.) The game board has squares with one note or rest worth 1, 2, 3. or 4 beats.
  • Player one draws a calling cards and counts the notes/rest value. He places a bingo chip on a square with that note value.
  • This is repeated by the second player, with a different colored bingo chip.
  • Play continues in this manner until a player has a chip on 3 squares in a row in any direction, including diagonally, as if the players are playing Tic Tac Toe.
  • An alternate way to play is to give each player a game board. Players take turns drawing a card and putting a bingo chip on the correct square. The object is to be the first player with all their squares covered.
  • Note: If a player draws a card that has no note left with that rhythm value, he is not able to place a chip on the board and it becomes the next players turn.

Why I like it:

This is a simple game and it’s easy and fast to play. But it really works and you will see your students improve their ability to count rhythms and to quickly add them up. One teacher, Louise, who played the Halloween version, left this message a few years ago:

Thank you so much for this game, Susan. I have played it with my Grade 2 students and found that although they were hesitant at first, when adding up the dotted notes and the grouped semiquavers and quavers, after a couple of games they were seeing at a glance how many beats were in the groupings. Such a useful game. I may bring it out even when it isn’t Halloween!


Filed under Games, Holiday Activities and Worksheets, Rhythm

Fifteen Keys – A Key Signature Game

Fifteen Keys

 Fifteen Keys

In our state theory test, students in the 6th grade need to know all of the major key signatures.  Minor keys are added in the 7th grade.  Like many teachers, I show them how to use a chart to help with accuracy and possible careless mistakes.

This year I made a board game to give students some guided practice in using a chart and learning key signatures. First we downloaded a blank chart and filled it out. You can get it below.


Blank Key Signature Chart

I encourage you to use this chart with the game, too, unless your students are very experienced in key signatures. One good thing about this game is that by using the chart, even beginning students can play.

I had fun making the cards for this game.  Some of the cards have silly riddles and puns on the word “key.”  I hope your students enjoy the humor. I thought of more riddles after I made the cards, and if you think of any, let me know!  The answers to the riddles are here.*

This game is similar to the Nine Keys Game that I posted a few years ago, except that this one has all new cards,  and the Nine Keys Game only has, well, 9 key signatures, rather than 15! Nine Keys

There are 7 pages in this PDF. The last page is an optional back to the cards. You will need to print the cards separately because I formatted the cards  for a business card template, such as this one on Amazon. First, I printed just the game board on card stock. Then I inserted the business card stock and printed the cards. Finally, I reinserted the cards and printed the backs. If you don’t have business card stock, connect the short lines and cut them out. But I am so happy to use the business cards! [I also found the business card stock at Sam’s for less.]

I’ve played this two ways. The longer version has the tokens moving all over the game board, backwards and forwards, which makes it fun, but takes a little longer to finish.


  • This game is for middle school students, but I’ve successfully played it with younger students.
  •  Remove the minor key cards from the deck to play with students who are learning only major keys.
  • The game is also good for group lessons or music camps.
  • It helps if students have a basic understanding of key signatures, but it is not a requirement if they use the chart.


  • Fifteen Keys, the free printable game board from my website.
  • Key signature chart, or Circle of Fifths chart
  • The cards, cut or separated.
  • A small game token for each player.
  • If you don’t know how to print individual pages of a PDF, go here and scroll down.


Fast version

  • Place the key signature chart in full view.
  • Players take turns drawing a game card. Depending on the card, they either move forward to the key on the card, or answer the question and follow the directions. Students can look at the chart to find the names of the key signatures.
  • If they draw a key signature that is not located past their token, they do not move to a key they have already passed, but draw again.
  • The game is over when a player lands on or moves past “win.”

Slower version

  • Place the key signature chart in full view.
  • Players take turns drawing a game card. Depending on the card, they either move forward to the key on the card, or answer the question and follow the directions. Students can look at the chart to find the names of the key signatures.
  • If it is a key signature card, the player moves to the closest key signature specified on the card, even it they have to move backwards to a key they have already passed by.
  • The game is over when a player draws the exact number to land on “win” or when a player moves past “win.”


  • To learn to quickly identify all the major and/or minor key signatures.
  • To learn how to draw and use a key signature chart.

This game works on identifying key signatures. However, I have also made some worksheets for writing key signatures. If your students have trouble learning how to draw key signatures on a staff for written tests or composing, these are a lot of help!

Simple Sharps

Fearless Flats

Down a 5th, Up a Fourth

Up a 4th, Down a Fifth

The Noteboys Circle of Fifths Poster


  • 3 things that need a key: House, car, scale, door, music, etc. 
  • What barnyard bird can open doors: Tur”key”.  (or Turn”key”)
  • Key signature’s favorite dance: Ho”key” Po”key”
  • What jungle animal loves key signatures? Mon”key”
  • What barnyard animal sings off key? Don”key”
  • When you are slow you may be called: Pokey
  • What kind of key can you type on: Keyboard
  • Another name for the tonic is: the Keynote



Filed under Games, Group lesson ideas, Intermediate Students, Music Printables, Texas State Theory Test

Color Coded Rhythm Pattern Cards

Rhythm Strips-3

Rhythm Cards Set 1

Rhythm Cards Set 2

Rhythm Cards Set 3

I’m back from a wonderful piano camp with Elizabeth Gutierrez and the nicest group of teachers you could ever want to talk to! I am so glad I got to meet them and to visit San Antonio again. Today I am posting a set of rhythm flash cards that are *color coded* so that I can quickly pull out the ones I need. That really helps me save time.  The flash cards start at primer level and progress up to intermediate. The levels below are not meant to go along with any specific method book, but are simply the progression I made the cards, especially at the later levels.

  • Red = Beginning Set
  • Aqua = Set  2A (8th notes)
  • Green = Set  2B (dotted quarters)
  • Purple = Set 3 (6/8 and triplets)
  • Yellow = Set 4 (16th notes)
  • Blue = Set 5 (dotted eighths)
  • Magenta = Set 6 (5-note tuplet and quarter note triplet)

These cards are in 3 separate PDF files to make it easier to print just the levels you need. There are 2 cards to a page. (My web go-to guy told me not to make my PDF files too big because it might cause the site to crash.) Remember to set your printer in landscape orientation. I can think of about 50 ways to use these cards, but that is a future post. I bet you can come up with lots of ideas!


Filed under Rhythm, Teaching Aids, Texas State Theory Test