December Fun: Christmas Games and Activities for Your Studio

Are you looking for ideas on fun “off bench” activities to use in this Christmas season? Look no further! Today I’m going to share some of my favorite games and resources that I return to year after year along with tips for each one.

First, let me briefly share how I store my holiday games. We have to stay organized, right?

 

Storing Games (Both Hard-Copy and Digital)

Inspired by Nicola Canton I’ve started storing my holiday-themed games in these clear plastic document folders.

(P.S. The A4 size is nice because if you laminate a letter size sheet, the lamination makes it larger.)

It’s not a cheap way to store games as they’re almost $1 apiece, so I’m currently only storing my holiday-themed games in these. The rest of my games are stored in hanging files in a file drawer. (I’ll write a post on that another day!)

The digital files are stored in my cloud file manager.

From there, I name files for what they are. This allows me to see how many games, for example, I have, how many worksheets, etc.

 

Favorite Christmas-Themed Activities

In no particular order…

Holiday Rhythm Cups from Wendy Stevens at Compose Create.

This is a great way to have fun with rhythm in a unique and collaborative way. The set includes three songs in three levels: Deck the Halls, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Joy to the World.

Check out a clip of my students having fun with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

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12 Ways to Turn a Potentially Frustrating Lesson into a Musical Opportunity

Awhile back I wrote an article for Alfred Music Blog called Learning Music in a Quick-Fix Society: 7 Tips to Foster Music for LifeIn the article, I share seven ways we can help create an environment that fosters the mindset that learning music is more than just a short-term activity.

One of those seven items was that, as teachers, we shouldn’t feel frustrated when students come to lessons either without their books or having made little progress. (Of course, if it’s an ongoing issue, that another story.)

It can be very easy to get irritated at students and in turn, have the lesson take on a sour note and be a negative experience. On the other hand, if we keep in mind that life happens and music lessons are an ongoing commitment, we can look at it as an opportunity rather than a failure.

Here are 12 ways we can turn a potentially negative, frustrating lesson into a positive musical experience. You don’t even have to pick just one! Set a timer and tell the student every 5 minutes you’re going to switch activities!

 

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Free Printable: My Hands, Watch them Grow

Over the years I’ve come across several different printables for young students to trace their hands. Many method books also include a page for this activity. However, none of these include one little thing I really wanted, so I decided to make my own sheet. I’ll tell you what it is, but first, the backstory.

It’s very easy when attending professional development conferences, to hear great ideas but then forget to put some of those ideas into place. When I attended the 2017 MTNA Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, I gleaned a fun idea from a session given by Amy Immerman on tracing students’ hands.

She suggested that with young beginner students we not only trace their hands but retrace them every so often so students can see how much they’re growing – kind of like the typical height-growth chart found in a lot of homes, but for piano! 🙂

Children love to learn and see how they are growing.  Just last night I had a group class for tweens. When I asked each of them to remind me how old they were, none of them responded with their actual age. They stated how old they would be in how long, such as “I’ll be 13 in two months.”

Growth, in whatever form it is, feels good.

The reason none of the other printables I’ve ever found have worked for me is that they don’t remind me to re-trace their hands. It’s easy to forget to do things unless they’re right in front of us (a perfect example of why so many teachers love method books).

This printable includes instructions for students to trace their hands multiple times over the course of their first year of lessons.

I would recommend keeping it in front of their piano binder or in their student file folder. (Check out my student files here.)

 

A Visual Listening Guide for Group Class Performances (Free Download)

Listening guides are like a collector’s item in my studio. My file drawers hold no less than six different forms obtained from other wonderful teaching sites over the years. Unfortunately, none of them have quite hit it spot on for me, so I finally came up with my own.

This listening guide uses small visual cues and descriptors and is wonderful to use for student performances during group class to keep students engaged in listening to the music (and performance) actively.

My recommendation would be to go over the sheet first as a class and even do some demonstrations. With younger students, I even like to have them pronounce the words together to make sure they feel comfortable with the terms.

Laminating the sheets will keep them in good shape for repeated use. Sometimes we use dry-erase markers, but I prefer to simply have students use game markers such as pennies, Japanese erasers, or clear flat marble/pebbles like my students are using in this photo.

Note: I don’t necessarily expect students to write down answers to the question of “Mood,” etc. They can simply be prepared with a verbal answer.

 

 

 

Piano Teacher Must-Have’s: A Minimalist’s List

As the time gets closer and closer for us to move into our new home and eventually my new studio, I’ve come to realize just how much STUFF I have in my studio that will have to be moved.

While dreading the thought of relocating all these things, I began to ponder what it would be like to have a “minimalist” studio.

If I were a brand new teacher or if I had to start all over again in a very small space, what are the items that would be “must-haves”?

Thus was born this “minamalist’s list.” Keep in mind that we’re talking bare bones. This list does not include equipment (like a piano),  office equipment like computers and printers, or pedagogical books.

I look forward to hearing some of your “must-haves” in the comments!

 

A Copy of Your Favorite Method Book

This is my first recommendation because it’s one of the most basic and important in my opinion.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either wanted to have a look at a students method book while lesson planning, needed a copy so I could make a video lesson for a student or simply need an extra copy when a student forgets their book. Whatever method you use the most, keep one extra copy on hand at all times!

 

 

Office Supply Must-Have

Post-its are kind of a “must-have” in any teacher’s world. I couldn’t go without these 1/2″ x 1 3/4″ Post-its for marking assigned pages. I like the paper ones because I can also write on them if needed as opposed to the plastic-type tabs.

Erasable pens, markers, and colored pencils are God’s gift to teachers. I have four specific recommendations in this area.

Frixion Erasable Colors 12-pack.

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Manipulatives and Piano Games for Private and Group Lessons: A Master List

How many manipulatives, piano games, and other resources do you have in your music studio? You probably don’t even have to count to know the answer. A lot!  Am I right?

Keeping track of all our teaching resources can be a daunting task. Lesson planning for private and group music classes can be enough work in itself without having to continuously recall and rehash all the different manipulatives and games we have each time we plan.

After finding myself physically walking back and forth regularly to my game files, flashcard box, and such, I decided it was time to put together a master list of every activity or manipulative I had or could use to teach a concept.

It can be very easy to lose track of what we already have. Having a document like this has allowed me to not only have an easy place to reference what activities I could utilize at any given time, but it was an awesome snapshot and inventory of what I owned.

Keeping a master list is also a great place to keep teaching ideas that may not necessarily have physical items to accompany the activity.

I thought you might find this document useful as well.

 

The Master List

Since it is a document that I update on a regular basis I decided to simply share the public link to a Google Doc. Keep in mind that it’s a working document so it’s possible I will add to, edit, and even remove items as time goes by.

There are three ways you could utilize this document

  1. If you want to keep the document as is and not risk being at the mercy of my future edits, you could download it.
  2. If you want to always see the updated version, I would recommend bookmarking the link in your browser. This way you simply click on the link and you always see the most updated version.
  3. If you wanted to create your own list you could even copy and paste it into your own document to get you started and create your own version with the materials you have!

May this document help you add a little more sanity to your lesson planning and studio organizational life. 🙂

Sign up here to get access to this document:

 

Candy Jar Contest (Free Printable)

Candy jar contests are sure to grab the interest of young and old alike. Let’s be honest here, when is the last time you turned down an opportunity to guess the number of items in a jar whether it be candy, pennies, or otherwise! 🙂

In my piano studio, I find the candy jar contest to be an easy way to build community. It may feel a little far-reaching, but since most music lessons are solo events, any time I can create an opportunity for all students to engage in the same thing (even if they’re not doing it together all at once), I consider that a win.

For more on building commmunity in your music studio, see the Varsity Musician’s Playbook series here on Piano Pantry.

In this post, I have a free download for you to run your own candy jar contest

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A Great Game for Reviewing Major Chords and 5-finger Patterns

Don’t you just love it when you come up with an activity or game that turns out to be a real winner making you wish you had thought of it sooner? I had one of those moments recently and wanted to share the activity with you right away as it was such a hit.

I was looking for a fun way to do a big review of all the 5-finger patterns and chords in preparation for a festival in which a few students will be participating.

The only game I really have for that concept is one of my favorite TCW card games (that’s Three Cranky Women if you’re not familiar) – Flashy Fingers.

Most of the TCW card games though are not made for students just learning, or even in the early-mid stages of mastering any particular concepts. They really have to know their stuff to play most of the games. Believe me, I’ve tried a lot of their games with students who didn’t know the information like the back of their hand and it makes the game a lot harder and not nearly as much fun if they have to sit there for a minute to even figure out the answer.

Don’t get me wrong, they are high quality, wonderful games (I own every card deck in the series), they’re just more useful once the student really knows what they’re doing. The games really help students learn to think faster about concepts they already know and understand well.

Just because particular games are made to be played one way doesn’t mean we can’t utilize them in another, so that’s what I did!

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One-Minute Club Note-Naming Challenge


Originally published June 2016; Updated May 2020 & March 2021.


The “One-Minute Club” Note-Naming Challenge is a program that focuses on the skill of naming and playing the notes on the music staff in one minute or less. 

Made famous by Jane Bastien, the idea has continued to be promoted and developed by Susan Paradis, and now myself! :-). (Susan has a wealth of free downloadable materials which she redesigns each year including downloadable charts, flashcards, and full-size and business-card size certificates.)

One of the nice things about this program is there is quite a bit of flexibility in implementing it in a way that supports the way you approach teaching note names. This post will look at six items to consider when setting up this challenge in your own studio, including goals, timeline, levels, rules, tracking, and rewards.

I’ll also share some really good bonus tips to help students reach their potential during the challenge, recommend a few favorite flashcard sets, and share a free download to help you get started!

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