Five things I need in my piano studio for students ages 6 to 9

I have many resources I have accumulated over the years of teaching, but recently I have been thinking about the resources I use every week in lessons and what I absolutely cannot live without (other than my piano of course!). Whether you are a new teacher, are just now beginning to add fun games and manipulatives to lessons, or are a pro at using games and manipulatives here are a list of five things I find handy to have in lessons that you might want to try too.

The top five things every piano teachers needs when working with elementary age children

Plastic animals: One of the items use in lessons with every student ages 6-9, are plastic counting animals. My Students love counting practice repetitions with these animals. Students have even come to expect that when I assign a new piece, technique, or add dynamics to their piece that I want them to practice their song (or section of their song) several times so I know if they can complete the assignment successfully at home. Doing repetitions no longer makes my students sigh, but instead they get to count with the plastic animal and add one animal for each correct repetition. I use high quality plastic animals from Safari LTD but you can use any plastic animals you have on hand. Safari LTD animal sets are available on Amazon or at Michaels and Hobby Lobby.

Dice: I have a hand sized foam die that I like to use when I need students to practice a piece or section of their piece several times in their lesson. I have students roll the die to see what number they get. The number they roll becomes the number of times they must play their piece (or section of their piece) that needs practice. Though sometimes I do assign as specific number of repetitions I find that using the die adds a fun element to lessons all while learning to play the piano even better.

Allie the Alligator: Another item I use often in lessons is Allie the alligator. Allie helps student’s keep their wrists up. I introduce Allie with a story. Allie lives below the piano keys in her swamp and she doesn’t like when student’s wrists touch her swamp. If she sees you in her swamp she reminds you with a gentle nudge to keep your wrist up and out of her swamp. Allie the alligator has become so popular in my studio that students have even been known to ask me to use her even if they don’t really need a reminder to keep their wrists up. Looking for more ways to encourage students to have a level wrist? Check out this.

Music Alphabet Cards: I find music alphabet cards to be one of the most versatile resources in my studio and one that can be made for a very low cost! There are multiple uses for alphabet cards from the youngest students who are learning their musical alphabet and names of the keys to older students who are learning their scales and chords. Though there are an infinite number of games that can be played with music alphabet cards, some of my favorites for learning the musical alphabet are laying out the musical alphabet cards on the floor in the wrong order and having students correct the order, or having students pick a card out of my hand and find the corresponding key on the piano. For more advanced students who are learning the scales and chords all one needs are some alphabet cards and some cards with sharps and flats on them. A great activity for learning scales or chords is laying out a scale or several chords on the floor and having students put the sharps or flats in the correct place to make major or minor scales and chords. Children also enjoy fixing scales and chords that are laid out in the wrong order.

Rhythm Cards: I find having a set of rhythm cards very helpful. Not only can I teach basic rhythm such as quarter, half, and whole notes, but I can also use the cards to teach students about time signatures, ties, and complex rhythms. When teaching complex rhythms, I also find it helpful to have the dessert rhythms cards on hand. There are many options for using a set of rhythm cards. One can either have students create their own rhythm, put the correct beats in a rhythm you made, or listen to a rhythm you clap and “write” the rhythm with the rhythm cards.

Bonus sixth item: I had such a difficult time choosing five items I can’t live without in my studio that I decided to add a sixth, my floor staff board. To teach the names of notes to students I often use my floor staff board. With my floor staff board, I have a felt treble clef and bass clef and several black dots for notes. Though I primarily use my staff board for learning the notes on the staff there are many games that can be played with a staff board as well. One of my student’s favorite games and one I find to be very effective, is letter draw. In letter draw students pick a letter card from a stack and place a note on the correct line or space corresponding to the letter they drew.

 

These are the five basic resources I keep in my studio and use almost every day. Want to find out what else I use to keep lessons fun and engaging each week? Check out the store for all the other fun games I play with my students each week.

 

What resources do you use almost every day your studio (other than your piano) when working with children?

 

Make Learning Challenging Rhythms So Fun That Sudents Will Beg to Practice Them

Preschool students can easily learn to clap quarter, half, and whole notes, but when it comes to more complex rhythms such as eighth notes, sixteenth notes, the combination of two sixteenths and an eighth note, or other rhythmic combinations, this can be a different situation. Just as more experienced students can struggle with accuracy when learning challenging note combinations, preschool students can also find these rhythms difficult. A simple solution to this difficulty would be to wait untill preschoolers are much older to introduce some rhythmic values but I have found that there is a better option.

Teach students challenging rhythms in a way that they will beg to practice them more! Dessert Rhythms is the ultimate tool for teaching challenging rhythms. Though this resource was designed for preschoolers it can be used with any age. In addition to the dessert rhythm cards there are instructions for 10 exciting rhythm games.

I believe students who start taking lessons in preschool should be given all the foundations for a successful future in music. Because playing musically requires rhythmic accuracy, in my experience I have found that students who start learning complicated rhythms earlier in their musical studies are more likely to become proficient musicians who can confidently enjoy learning music and gradually develop a certain amount of independent when learning pieces from an instructor at a younger age. Even if students don’t yet understand the mathematical division behind rhythm, students can still learn to clap and play complex rhythms correctly.

So how does one introduce complex rhythms with preschool students? Complicated rhythms need to be connected to something that all preschoolers relate to. What can all preschoolers relate to? Food and more specifically deserts! A few year ago I created cards with rhythmic values on them and pictures of desserts in which the syllables corresponded to the rhythmic values. The cards were a huge hit! Students loved saying the names of desserts and clapping the rhythms and students seamlessly translated the names of food they were clapping and saying to playing the piano.

This was a perfect situation. I had students who were playing accurate rhythm, verbalizing the rhythm, and I didn’t have to bribe them to count out loud! Besides who doesn’t want to say ice cream milk instead of counting out loud! Even my older students have asked about the dessert rhythm cards they see in the studio and want to try them.

Looking for a way to get your students to count out loud and correct that pesky rhythm?  Check out the dessert rhythm cards  recently added to the store here. With the dessert rhythm cards, there are instructions for ten super fun, creative, and exciting games to play.

Teaching Complex Rhythm to Preschoolers: Preschool Camp Part 3

In part one and two of the preschool summer camp posts, I focused how I introduced the staff and middle C to preschool students. Now I would like to explore the rhythms games we played to reinforce the complex rhythms I find it important to have preschool students learn.

For preschoolers to understand challenging rhythms these rhythms need to be associated with something all student’s can connect with. Wondering what all student’s can connect with that helps rhythm? Stay tuned for next week’s post with a resource all kids absolutely love!  

Once children have been introduced to complicated rhythm they need to practice this skill many times. Because rhythm is such as important skill in learning piano, I spent part of each day at the camp working on rhythm with fun games. 

Planning a Preschool Camp Part 3. Three fun games to teach advanced rhythm to preschool students.

 

Below are three games for working with students on learning complex rhythms.

 Little Lost Duck Rhythms:

I purchased small rubber ducks from the party store and with a permanent marker I drew a rhythm on the bottom. I asked the students to close their eyes while I hid all the ducks around the room. I then told the students that the ducks were lost and needed help getting back to the pond (a plastic bucket). To return the ducks to the pond students need to find each duck and clap the rhythm on the bottom. The students thought this was so much fun and loved the little ducks so much they kept asking to take one home!

Clap and Listen:

On colorful card stock I drew different rhythmic combinations such as sixteenth notes, two sixteenth notes and an eight note, and other challenging rhythms. (Curious how I teach preschooler’s challenging rhythms? then you will want to check out next week’s post with a super cool resource.) I then clapped each of the rhythms showing students what each card sounded like. After demonstrating each card to the students I again clapped one of the cards and asked them to figure out which card I had clapped and run to stand by the corresponding card.

Though this was such a simple game, it was a great game for students to move around and get their wiggles out while also learning to listen and identify rhythm.

Drums and Cards:

One of the crafts we made at the camp was drums for use in our class. I made these drums out of empty oat meal containers and allowed the students to spend a few minutes decorating their drums. After students were finished with their drums, we returned to the floor and practiced beating rhythms. I had students copy the rhythms I beat on my drum and use preschool rhythm cards to create and beat their own rhythms. Curious about preschool rhythm cards and how to add a ton of fun to any rhythmic practice? Then check back next week!  

 

Preschool Music Camp: Part 2

As I was planning this summer’s preschool camp, I knew I wanted to introduce middle C to the preschool students. Because preschool students need concepts broken into small manageable pieces for them to grasp concepts, I decided the first step in introducing middle C would be to lay a solid foundation for understanding the musical staff. In part one, I covered how I laid a solid foundation for the musical staff and began preparing students to learn middle C.  On the following camp day I introduced middle C.

An important skills in learning and remembering middle C is the ability to identify middle C versus other notes. For young children all the notes on the staff can look similar which causes confusion. Preschool students can often think that any note on a line is middle C. With this knowledge I planned games for camp that would help students learn to determine the difference between middle C and all other notes.

 

camp part 2 middle C

After I briefly introduced middle C on a large staff board and had each student to make their own middle C on the staff board, we the two games below.

Treasure Hunt:

For this game I printed flash cards and taped them to large foam squares. Many of the cards were middle C but some were other notes. I then laid the cards out to create a maze with different path choices but only one correct path. To determine the correct path, students needed to find only the middle C cards. When they came to a path choice one path had a middle C while the other path had another note. The goal was for students to reach the end of the maze where I put a small prize, such as a sticker or other fun item, for each of the students. This game was a huge hit with the students.

Apple Picking:

The second game I played with the students was apple picking. For this game I created a tree out of cardstock and taped it to the wall. On the tree I taped apples that I had printed with either middle C or another note on them. The goal of the game was to gather all the “sweet apples” (middle C) and discard all the “sour apples” (not middle C). Each student took turns picking one apple off the wall and deciding it was “sweet” or “Sour”. Though this was a simple game I was surprised by how popular it was. Due to the simplicity of this game I actually plan to add it to my regular weekly games with students.

 

If you would like to use either of these games in your studio here and here are sheets of apples you can print and here and here are sheets of middle C flash cards with a few other cards as well.

The Best Idea for Making Musical Friends: Preschool Music Camp Part 1

Learning piano can be such an isolated activity, particularly if you are the only child in your family taking lessons and if none of your friends have started lessons yet. These are the circumstances for several of my preschool piano students. All of my preschool students love coming to lessons, but previously they didn’t have any friends who were also taking private lessons.

I feel it is important to incorporate a social and collaborative element in student’s musical studies. With this goal in mind, I decided to organize two four day summer camps for my preschool students. Each camp day was an hour in length and we played musical games and learned many basic musical skills. I even introduced middle C and these students still remember where middle C is on the staff even though they had not previously had any exposure to middle C!

If you have always considered hosting a camp, but weren’t sure what to do or are looking for new ideas to use with your camp or upcoming group class stay tuned because over the next several weeks I will cover some of the fun games we played at the camp. Even if you don’t do camps or host group lessons, many of these games can be used for private lessons with just a few minor changes.

One of the primary skills I covered in the camp was preparing to teach middle C and learning middle C.Preparing Preschoolers about Middle C

Before introducing middle C to my students I wanted to lay a solid foundation for staff awareness skills. The students attending the camp were already familiar with the lines and spaces on the staff and high and low on the staff. I thought that before learning middle C we should discuss the middle of the staff. Below are two games we played to learn about the middle of the staff and middle of the keyboard.

1st Game: Listening for high middle and low sounds with the floor keyboard:

One of the resources I use most often with preschoolers is my vinyl floor keyboard. This keyboard is sturdy enough for children to walk on and has an unlimited number of uses. I am always thinking of new ways to use my floor keyboard. I would highly recommend investing in a vinyl floor keyboard if you can, but if you do not have a vnyl keyboard available you may substitute by providing each child with a small personal printed keyboard and markers to place on the keyboard (such as pennies) instead of using their bodies.

Directions for play:

Remind students what high and low sounds sound like and ask them if the middle of the piano sounds different. (Most students will notice a difference but if they don’t you can prompt them with descriptive words such as birds are high and elephants are low, but middle is different it sounds like puppy dogs etc.)

Place the vinyl keyboard on the floor. Instruct students to listen to the sounds they hear you play and move to the appropriate places on the keyboard while you play at the piano.

Note: If you have never used a vinyl keyboard before, you may need to show young children where high medium and low are on the vinyl keyboard. You can also place pictures of things high medium and low such as birds, puppies, and elephants, in the proper location on the keyboard to serve as helpful reminders.

2nd Game: Pin the note on the staff board

I recommend students playing this game already have an understanding of high and low on the staff, but they do not need to know any specific note names. For this game you will need a large staff board you can either hang or tape on the wall. I traced a large staff from my floor staff onto butcher paper and taped it to the wall. You will also need several notes with tape on the back so that they stick to the staff. I cut circles out of card stock for this and placed a piece of blue painters tape on the back of each note as this tape removes easily from most items. Before starting this game, I bridged from the vinyl floor staff to this game by talking about where middle was on the staff. I showed each child where middle was and asked them to place a note in the middle of the staff.

Directions for play:

Tie a bandanna around each child’s eyes so they cannot see. When it is each child’s turn, gently spin them in a small circle (I held the young children’s hands while doing this!) and then ask them to try and place their note on the middle of the staff.  Then allow each child to take their bandanna off and tell you if they placed the note in the middle of the staff. This game was one of the most popular ones on day three of our camp!

Stay tuned for the next part of camp games where I introduced middle C on the staff.