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 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?