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.

5 Fun Ways to use Popsicle Sticks in the Piano Studio

This summer I had a large number of leftover popsicle sticks, so I began to hunt for more activities that I could popsicle sticks for in my studio. Here are five creative I ideas that I successfully used with my students.

Piano Popsicle Stick Game

1. Popsicle sticks are a great way to divide measures! Create a rhythm for each student but without the measure lines. Have the student place measure lines after the proper number of beats. When the student has completed the activity, have them clap the rhythm.

2. Popsicle Stick Draw. This is a great game for beginners that takes very little prep time. On each popsicle stick draw a letter of the musical alphabet. Place the popsicle sticks in a plastic cup or other container. Have the student pick a stick and play the corresponding key on the piano. Once all the sticks have been drawn students can enjoy creating their own melodies by arranging the sticks and playing them in their chosen order. This game can also be modified to introduce and practice finding groups of two and three black keys by putting either the number two or three on each popsicle stick.

3. Give a student 10 popcicle sticks and ask them to arrange the sticks to look like the music staff. One can even add miniature treble and bass clef pictures and a black dot made out of black construction paper and quiz students on the names of their notes.

4. Use popsicle sticks to teach students about stem direction. On a large piece of staff paper draw black dots to represent quarter notes. Ask students to place the popsicles sticks as the note stems going in the correct direction.

5. On each popsicle stick write a simple activity that can be accomplished while repeating a piece or section. (I am a huge believer in quality repetition at the piano. Check out this post here on why.) Have the student draw and complete the designated activity while repeating their piece. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

a. Cross your feet
b. Close your eyes
c. Stand up, turn a circle three times, sit down then play your piece.
d. Play just the right hand with left hand on your head
e. Play with a smile

Remember learning is so much more fun and students learn better when games and manipulative are added!

New Store Format!

Due to several issues with downloading products I have made a few updates within the store. In particular, the process for downloading purchased games should be much smoother now! I have also made a few layout updates to the store.

While upgrading the store front, it came to my attention that there was an error in the Keys Value Pack on one of the game boards. If you purchased this value pack before 10/5/2014  please let me know the name on the card or paypal account that you used for purchase and if possible the approximate date of purchase and I can send you a new file. If you purchased a different game or just an individual keys signature game, your game should be correct.

Check back soon because in the coming months I have a few new games and blog posts coming! In particular, you can expect to see some interval games soon. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the new store front layout and let me know what you think.

Music Theory Games



Helping Students Become Good Sight-Readers: Part 2

Helping student’s become good sight-readers part two: working with the tech savy and auditory learners.

Do you have those students who memorize their pieces in one week and have an incredible “ear” for picking out tunes they hear? Often these students play beautifully, sometimes they even seem to progress faster than other students their age. A casual passerby might think that this is a model student or that the student must be so talented everything comes easily to them. In many ways, this student is easy to teach, that is until sight reading is introduced. As soon as you give this student something to sight-read the circumstances dramatically change. Perhaps this student’s reading skills are passable enough to read new music given them as a learning piece to be worked on for a few weeks, but as soon as this student is given something to sight-read they balk and at very best only haltingly play through the song. So what is a teacher to do with a student who is bored by sight-reading books and drags their feet at any mention of sight-reading.

Sight reading part 2

This past year I started using an ipad in lessons. Originally I had the ipad for personal use but after hearing everyone rave about how much their students loved the ipad I decided to give it a try in lessons. The results? My students absolutely love it! Though quality instruction and feed back can never adequately be replaced by technology; technology can be utilized to a teacher’s advantage. Though there are not apps for every skill a students must learn at the piano, a few high quality apps are worthwhile. Some of my favorite apps to use are sight-reading directed. I seem to always have a small number of students who are auditory learners and either find sight-reading a challenge, or are completely uninterested, and avoid these types of assignments at all cost. The ipad will not work miracles but with the added technology feature these students are much more willing to sight-read their music. Students love the feedback from the ipad.

One of the apps my auditory student’s love most is pianomania. Because students play to a background track auditory students are receiving the auditory stimulation that often times make music so appealing to these kids. But the part they are playing is not predictable enough for them to simply learn by ear. There is music to appeal to all kinds of preferences pop, classical, folk song tunes, and much more.

Another app my students enjoy and often purchase for home use is my note games. It often moves at a slower pace and is affordable for students to use at home.

There are several other apps for sight-reading, and many for rhythm, theory and much more but these are the ones I use most often. If you have an ipad or other tablet I would love to hear what your favorite apps are in the comments below.


Helping Students Become good Sight-Readers: Part One

Most teachers have students who struggle with sight-reading. Sometimes these are transfer students who have developed crutches that eventually limit them in their progress. Or perhaps these students are ones who just don’t seem to “get it” quite as fast as other students. Perhaps some of these students have a learning disability and simply need concepts explained in a different format.  But often times these students excel in some area of lessons but for some unexplained reason struggle with sight reading. There are a myriad of reasons why these students struggle and drag their feet at any mention of sight-reading, but over the next several weeks I will be exploring several ideas teachers can use to strengthen students sight-reading skills and even bring fun to sight-reading.

Sight reading part 1

There are many methods to teaching students note names. Some of the most popular methods include mnemonics such as FACE or Good Birds Don’t Fly Away, guide notes, intervallic reading, and drilling flash cards. Though each method has its staunch supporters, the most important skill of note reading and building good sight-readers has another component that cannot be forgotten. Student’s must be able to play the specific note on the piano. Knowing a note is a C is valuable but I have often seen transfer students try to guess which C it is on the piano, or maybe students find the right one but then they look at me with an inquisitive glance full of uncertainty.

I am sure that all teachers want their students to know how to not only read music but also do so with confidence.  Therefore it is imperative that students not only name the notes on the staff but also know where that specific G is on the piano. This need not be a boring task but can be fun.

Here are five short game ideas you can use to increase your students sight reading skills:

  1. Help students understand and then memorize where all the C’s are on the staff and piano. Student’s should then be asking themselves what C (or 8va) the note is closes to and then find it on the piano.
  2. Hide flash cards around the room and as they find the correct one have them play it on the piano.
  3. Switch Rolls. You become the student. As you play a set of flash card see if the student can catch any of your mistakes. This is as easy game to keep score with; if you get it right you get a point but if you get it wrong and the student catches you and correctly plays the note they get a point.
  4. Get out a white board take turns drawing notes and playing the corresponding one on the piano.
  5. Get a large floor staff and stack of alphabet cards. As the student draws a card the then place a “note” on the correct line or space. (I made notes out of black felt and drew a floor staff out of foam core board from the craft store. This works great for me because it is not too large for my small space and is durable. There are endless ideas for creating a floor staff. If you don’t have a floor staff yet, you should get one soon; the options for use are endless and they are a valuable tool for kinesthetic learners.


Stay tuned for part two, about helping Auditory learners with sight-reading.