Originally published June of 2016; Updated May of 2020.
The “One-Minute Club” Note-Naming Challenge is one program that I do annually in my studio. Made famous by Jane Bastien, the idea has continued to be promoted and developed by Susan Paradis. 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.
This challenge focuses on the skill of naming and playing the notes on the music staff in one minute or less.
In this post, I would like to share how I use this in my studio including organizing the program, setting up levels, tracking student progress, tips for implementation, favorite flashcards, and winners.
When Should I Do It?
The first year I implemented this program, it was ongoing throughout the year. The difficulty with this? It was too much to do every week, I often forgot, and wasn’t consistent.
The following year I started doing monthly challenges with my students and decided to make this the challenge for April/May, approximately 6-7 weeks leading up to the Spring Recital.
Choosing a short period of time is a much better way to go as the whole studio can be focused on that one activity as part of their weekly lessons.
The more you talk about it with students, the more excited they get – especially the competitive ones!
In order for all students (including beginners) to be able to participate, I created six levels of achievement.
My current leveling system is based on teaching note names using landmark (guide) notes and the skips alphabet but there are multiple ways you could level your own program based on the process you use for teaching notes.
Keep in mind the notes you use also may have to do with the flashcard sets you use! For example, I use the free downloadable flashcards from Susan Paradis and they only go from Low C to High C, but other sets might let you go from A below Low C to E above High C.
Level 1 = 8 Notes
Landmarks Low C, Bass C, Bass F, Middle C (LH/RH), Treble G, Treble C, and High C
Level 2 = 12 Notes
Grand staff space notes (Low F to High G)
Level 3 = 12 Notes
Grand staff line notes (Low G to High F including Middle C for LH/RH)
Level 4 = 24 Notes
All grand staff notes (levels 2 and 3 combined)
Level 5 = 12 Notes
Notes with up to two ledger lines: Low CDE, Bass Clef Middle ledgers DEF, Treble Clef Middle ledgers GAB, and High ABC)
Level 6 = 36 Notes
Grand staff + ledger lines (levels 4 and 5 combined)
Tracking Student Progress
This board I developed works really well because it’s portable and can be stored away for the rest of the year. I keep it next to me when I teach so it’s easily accessible.
It’s simply an old cork board covered in white cardboard. Cute sticker letters from Target helped to distinguish its title and dress it up a bit.
To help my memory from you to year, I keep details such as the step-by-step process, guidelines, leveling, rules, and winners from past years, all together on the board.
When students “get in” to the One-Minute Club, they get a business-card size certificate (made available each year by Susan Paradis). The plastic lanyards are for holding their certificate. We attach them to their piano bag with a rubber band. (More details on winners below.)
Printed on cardstock, the color-coded sets of each level are available so students can practice while waiting before or after lessons or even during their lab time. It also makes it easier for me so I don’t have to sort out the cards each time.
Using a large incentive chart helps me see each student’s progress from year to year. The boxed-in area for each student distinguishes their goal level for that year.
Steps-By-Step Process and Verbal Tips
During the lesson, we run through their current level of cards three times.
Step 1 – Teacher names note, the student plays.
Step 2 – Student names note without playing.
Step 3 – Student names and plays the note. (Timing)
Doing it in three steps helps get the student’s brain “juices” flowing and helps them focus on one aspect at a time before doing both at once.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that might seem minor but can really make a big difference in helping ease nerves and foster the best results.
Tip #1: Prime Them
Don’t just jump into naming flashcards. Take a moment to walk through their level and explain the notes that they will be naming. What are the landmark notes? What’s the highest and lowest note on the staff they will have to name? etc.
How you prep them has more to do with how you level your notes more than anything. I didn’t always do this but now that I do, I can see students relax having been given an “overview” of what’s to come.
The priming process also includes the first two steps which were:
1 – Teacher names note, the student plays.
2 – Student names note without playing.
Tip #2: Give Them Tips
Before we begin timing, I always remind them of ways they can increase speed. Mostly that means keeping both hands on the keyboard, using the right hand for treble clef notes and the left hand for bass clef notes. Also, encouraging them to use downward glances with their eyes to look at the keys if they need and not a whole-head movement.
Tip #3: Be Conspicuous
I try to be conspicuous about the timing part if at all possible because as soon as they know the timer is going, it can really fluster them. The Stopwatch tool on your smart-phone is likely the easiest way to go. Please don’t use a timer that ticks out loud like a kitchen timer. Also, you’re not counting down your timer for one minute, you’re letting a stopwatch run until they complete the set.
Tip #4: delay the timer
I don’t start the timer until they name and play the first card. The reason for this is that students often falter on the first card until they get going. It gives them a second to “wake-up”. Otherwise, they often lose 2-4 seconds just on the first card. Doing this consistently across the board makes it fair for all.
Tip #5: Don’t Be Afraid to Stop and Restart
If they falter a lot in just the first two or three cards (often because of nervousness that they’re being timed), I’ll stop the timer and start again. This doesn’t happen often but it always seems to make the student relieved they have a chance to get off to a better start.
Tip #6: Terminology
Be specific and consistent about the terminology you use when they falter. Simply saying “no” or “uh-uh” gives them no specifics about what they missed.
- If they name the note correctly but play the wrong key = “Not that key”
- If they play the right key but name the note wrong = “Not G…“
- If they play and name the right note correctly but play it in the wrong octave = “Not that octave”
- If they use the wrong hand = “Other hand”
Tip #7: Do multiple timings back-To-back
After prepping the student, the first timing is really just a warm-up. The second or third timing is often their best!
Be sure that your reward for winners is consistent every year.
When my students “get in” by hitting the time, they are given $20 Music Money (my ongoing incentive) and one of Susan Pardis’s business-card sized One-Minute Club Certificate.
The card is placed into a plastic lanyard, and I use a rubber band to attach it to the student’s piano bag.
I couldn’t find a photo of this, but you can sneak a peak of what I mean in this student’s piano bag on the floor.
Also, at the Spring Recital during awards time, I name all the students who “got in” to the One-Minute Club. While everyone who hit their level goals “got in,” I currently only award one winner overall. That person is the fastest at the top level.
They win a $15 gift card to a local store or restaurant of their choice and get their photo on the One-Minute Club photo frame in the studio. Once they win, they “graduate” from the One-Minute Club.
I created these images with the names and dates overlaid on the photos in Canva.
The black photo mat is from Amazon.
There are several sets of flashcards that I like and have used over the years.
TCW Resources has a great set of flashcards. The thing I like best about these is that they have a coating on them that makes them easier to manipulate. Paper flashcards are much harder to get ahold of.
They also include ledger line notes above and below High C and Low C, unlike the free ones I mention below.
The only downside is that they’re not just a set of note flashcards, they include key signatures as well and may be more expensive than you may want to spend for every student to have a set of flashcards.
They’re a great set to have as part of your studio teaching tools for sure!
Another great option (especially if you’re wanting a set for every student), is the free downloadable flashcards from Susan Paradis.
P.S. I used to print off a set of flashcards for every student but the majority won’t even practice them so, I started just asking if they were interested in having a set to take home and practice (about 25% do). This saves me a lot of time and paper!
I put a small binder clip on the ones they’re not using and then rubber band that clipped set and their assigned notes together. This way they have a full set available, but they know exactly what to practice. When they take the rubber band off, the assigned notes “fall out.”
The goal would be they keep the set from year to year so I don’t have to keep reprinting them, but we all know that’s not always the case. 🙂
P.S. A Tip on Sticker Lettering
To make sure I had enough letters and to ensure a nice-looking and yet random pattern, I first cut out all the individual letters (they came in large sheets). Then I laid out my wording (I first tried to do “One Minute Club Challenge” but didn’t have enough letters for the word “challenge.” It’s worth the few extra minutes to not find yourself stuck without letters!
Share your ideas for the One-Minute Club in the comments!
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