I've been teaching violin and piano to beginners for a couple years now, and I'm starting to notice that piano tends to be a little less fun for my younger students. In violin I have several fun and active games to get the kids laughing when they can't stand still another minute. They also earn jelly beans for doing things right. But when it comes to piano, the only activities I can find outside their lesson book is stuff like flashcards and homework sheets. I'd be super glad for any suggestions on fun games to play with young pianists! Thanks.
Some of my favorite musical games for younger students:
- Flashcard composition (learning terms/symbols; improvisation; composition; repertoire exploration)
- The mistake game (reinforce learning of piece; listening and/or score-reading exercise)
- Get to the other side (practice technique)
- Level-up (practice technique)
- Musical conversation (improvisation; expressiveness; interpretation)
- Story time (improvisation/composition; expressiveness)
- Play like a ... (expressiveness; interpretation)
- Name that tune (not the game show) (listening exercise)
- Scavenger hunt (repertoire review/exploration)
Since you have flashcards ...
Game #1: Student draws 1 or more cards and creates a piece of music (or collection of sounds) that uses all of the cards. The student is or is not allowed to look at the meaning of the flashcard. Especially early on, I typically allow "cheating", because the application and repetition of the activity promotes eventual memorization.
Game #2: Student or teacher draws 1 or more cards, keeping it secret which were drawn. Whomever drew the card(s) then demonstrates the term(s), and the other person tries to guess which card(s) is/are involved. Note that guessing correctly is not especially important, because there is a teachable moment either way.
Game #2, variation: 2 or more cards are drawn, but not kept secret. Then student or teacher plays a piece (or set of sounds) that make use of some, but not all, of the cards. The guesser then indicates which cards were used (and, possibly, in which order).
In addition...: Rather than improvising songs/sounds, teacher can play a repertoire piece (from the student's materials or standard repertoire) that demonstrates the card(s). Similar a student can play (or find) an example from their or the teacher's materials. (This has been an effective way to get kids to explore my library and to open up and meaningfully look through books that would otherwise be far too advanced.)
The mistake game
Student and teacher take turns playing a familiar song (often, one that the student is currently practicing), but make an "on-purpose" mistake. The other person has to "guess" what the mistake is.
The purpose here is more in getting students to be comfortable making mistakes, to think creatively about their music, and to learn to listen for various aspects of music. It's not particularly important whether they get right answers or make "clear" mistakes.
Get to the other side
In its most basic form, place three objects at one end of the music desk. Each time the student plays correctly, one object moves to the other end.
This lends itself to myriad variations, and kids often enjoy making their own "rules".
- allow for "part-way" movement if it's "almost" correct.
- move one object back (all or part-way) if there's a mistake.
- create a story (the three objects are friends going to visit the box of tissues -- I mean, their friend's house).
- use five objects instead of three.
Variant of the 'get to the other side' game. Each successful attempt, and the student gains a level/power until they get to level 10 or 100 or whatever. "Okay, you've made it to level 6. This time it's the Boss Battle! ..."
This is the music (well, maybe more noise than music) equivalent of baby talk. You make a sound, the student makes a sound, etc. As a student becomes more sophisticated, the game can evolve toward "real" music.
Ask the student to tell a story, describe a scene, etc. using instrument sounds.
- What would a worm sound like? A frog? A dinosaur?
- Tell me a story about two friends having a fight, and then they decide to play together.
- Make up a story, but don't tell me what it is. Play your story, and I'll try to guess.
Play like a ...
Pick a favorite song of the student's, or a song they're currently practicing.
- Play it like someone who's very, very tired.
- Play it like a puppy that's super excited.
- Play it like a grumpy Dad.
- Play it like a very angry dinosaur. (We piano players are very big on dinosaurs.)
- Play it like the color blue.
Name that tune (not the game show)
Teacher chooses two (for example) pieces from standard repertoire. The student is told what contrasts the two pieces. For example, "one song is about happiness; the other is about sadness" or "one song is very old; the other is very new" or "one song is by Bach; the other is by Mozart" -- this game can be used to teach most any aspect of music repertoire, interpretation, history, or theory, becoming more subtle as the student progresses. (One piece is early Beethoven; the other is late Beethoven. One piece is in rounded binary form; the other in ternary form.) Then each piece is played, and the student is to guess which song exemplifies which criterion.
I find this game works particularly well for review of previously learned material. A student plays a song — let's say from a method book, though it doesn't have to be ...
- The song is happy, so ask the student to play a song that is not happy.
- The student plays a song happens to mention "trees" in the title, so ask for a song that has to do with nature.
- That song has a "W" in the title, so ask for another song with a "W".
- That song is on an odd-numbered page, so ask for one on an even numbered page.
- That one mentions a color, so ask for another color.
- That song is a waltz, so ask for another dance.
- That song is in ternary form, so ask for one in binary form.
Why dont you try some of the following websites: http://www.teachpianotoday.com/ They have a variety of game ideas, and even have a special piano games club! my kids absolutely love playing the games that I have received through this club.
http://www.susanparadis.com/ She has wonderful resources for games listed and most of them are free.
colorinmypiano.com Joy is wonderful at the activities and games she comes up with and shares most of them for free!
Hope this helps. Continue with your exploration of fun in piano, it will make the lessons for you and the student so much more enjoyable
Today my six year old played a few wrong notes while practicing from his song book. We both looked at each other in surprise, because those notes formed the backbone of another song we had recently heard. I said, "hey, let's pick out the rest of this song by ear." It only took a few tries to discover the first line of the melody. We were stumped at the end of the first line and watched a video of a girl playing the second section of the song. We listened twice and then we had the melody in our mind and my son was able to pick it out through a bit of trial and error. We both had a real sense of accomplishment.
For reward I told him if he has 3 good practice sessions in a row plus a good lesson, I will take him to the 5 Below toy store and he will have earned a nerf gun.
There you have it: The intrinsic reward of ear training, plus an extrinsic reward of a toy.
I would try aural target practice.
If you have two pianos, play a note on one when the student isn't looking, and see how many tries they need to find the matching note.
If you have one piano, you can let them play an octave above or below. This works but the previous (two pianos) is preferable because it encourages their independence and avoids the complication of timbral differences in different octaves (two pianos' timbres may differ but I wouldn't worry about that unless it were severe).
This isn't just a game. This develops the ears in a less visual way than just reading notes and looking for the right note on the keyboard. I think that too few musicians develop this ability despite having the aptitude for it, maybe because ear training is underemphasized. Like many educational games, this challenges students in bite-sized amounts and provides short-term gratification as they learn.
You can work from individual notes to longer passages. In this way you can gradually build structures of notes and the students, on their own, can intuit how these note patterns feel. You can also feel how challenging it is for the student and adjust what you play accordingly.