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 a program like this is there is quite a bit of flexibility in implementing it in a way that works in your studio!
There are six items to consider when setting up your own studio challenge that we will talk about today:
- GOALS: Why are you incorporating this program? What are your goals?
- WHEN: When will you hold this program in your studio? Will it be an on-going challenge or held in a short time-frame each year?
- LEVELS: Do you want it to be just for students who have learned all the notes on the staff or set up a leveling system to progress through so all students can participate? This would be based on the way you approach note-reading (i.e. landmarks, multi-key, etc.)
- RULES: What are the “rules”? (So you keep it consistent from year to year).
- TRACKING: How will you track progress?
- REWARDS: What are the rewards (if any)? Will there be multiple winners at various levels or just one overall winner?
In this post, I’ll share details on how I’ve approached all of these points in my studio, seven really good 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!
While the answer might seem, obvious, it behooves us as teachers to always consider the end goal in anything we do.
Some of my goals for this program include:
- Approach note-reading in an intentional and progressive manner.
- Drill note names frequently with students in the early years of lessons.
- My note-reading philosophy leans heavily in the direction of intervallic reading from landmark notes. Experience has shown me, however, that students with whom I have “minimized” note-naming with in the past in order to focus on directional reading, seem to struggle even several years into lessons with speedy note-recognition. I now make it more of a priority to do both.
- Have the program be accessible for all students, not just those that have learned all the notes on the staff (hence the progressive levels).
- Make it “a thing” in my studio. Promote it in a way that gets kids excited for the studio-wide challenge.
For more ideas on creating in-studio “excitment”, check out the Varsity Musician’s series.
The first year I implemented this program, it was ongoing throughout the year. The difficulty with this? It felt like it took up too much “space” in student’s lesson time to do it regularly, plus it was hard to be 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.
While either way is certainly an option, the latter example worked really well and has remained my time-frame of choice ever since.
The benefit of choosing a short period of time is that both you and your students can turn your focus to that one activity as part of their weekly lessons for a specified time-frame then move on. The more you talk about it with students, the more excited they get – especially the competitive ones!
Rather than having only the students who have already learned all the notes on the staff, I found creating levels a wonderful way to include all students. Plus, it gives them concrete progression to see their growth with this skill.
Update: The leveling system mentioned below was my first. I have since changed it up. To read more about these changes and why they occured, read this post: A Big One-Minute Club Update Including Two Free Downloads!
There are multiple ways you could level your own program based on the process you use for teaching notes. (Keep in mind your flashcard set of choice may influence the notes you include! More on that below.)
Level 1 = 8 Notes
Landmarks Low C, Bass C/F, Middle C(x2), Treble G/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)
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)
Be sure and keep a list of some of your guidelines so that it’s consistent and fair from year to year. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t like to rely on my memory!
Here are the rules I implement:
- Students will begin at level 1 every year and work their way up
- (However, they only “compete” at their highest level. For example, a student who knows all the notes and ledger lines can’t win level one, but I still have them execute levels 1-5 under 1 minute before working on level 6. This could be done at the first lesson when we begin the challenge in order to find their best level.)
- Students must play and name the notes in one minute or less to move to the next level.
- Bass clef notes should be played with LH and treble clef notes with RH.
- Students must complete 2 successful timings under one minute (preferably at 2 different lessons) before moving on to the next level. The fastest time will be counted for that level.
- Students continue to participate until they win the highest level. Once students win the highest level, they “graduate” from participating in the annual challenge.
I love keeping a dedicated corkboard that displayed the levels, rules, allows me to pencil in student times and track progress from year to year.
During the challenge, I keep it near the piano so it’s easily accessible but since it’s portable, it can be stored away for the rest of the year.
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.
In order to avoid having to sort one set of flashcards 50 times a day, I printed color-coded sets of flashcards for each level using Susan Pardis’s free printable flashcards.
Sometimes students use them to practice while waiting before or after lessons or during their lab time.
Once again, there are a variety of things you could do as rewards. Rather than a studio-wide competition, you could do it as a personal-best challenge. If students increase their time from the previous year they get a small reward.
Whatever it is, be as consistent as possible from year to year.
In my studio, when students “get in” to the One-Minute Club, they get $20 music money (as part of my ongoing incentive program) and a business-card-sized certificate (made available each year by Susan Paradis). We place them in a plastic lanyard cardholder and attach them to their piano bag with a rubber band.
There is one overall “winner” which is the person who is fastest at the highest level. They receive a $15 gift card to a location of their choice and get their photo on the One-Minute Club photo frame displayed in the studio. They then officially “graduate” from the annual challenge.
I created these images with the names and dates overlaid on the photos in Canva.
The black photo mat is from Amazon.
7 Tips for Execution
During the lesson, we run through their current level three times.
- Teacher names note, the student plays.
- Student names note without playing.
- 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 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, remember 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!
3 Flashcard Recommendations
There are several sets of flashcards that I like and have used over the years.
#1 TCW student flashcards are of great quality.
They have a coating on them that makes them easier to manipulate. Paper flashcards are much harder to get ahold of.
Unlike the free printable flashcards I mention below, they include a lot more ledger line notes.
While these are great to have a set to have in your studio for your own use, perhaps the only downside (or upside!) is that they’re not just a set of note flashcards, they include key signatures as well. It’s a big pack of cards.
If you’re looking to give every student their own set of flashcards to practice with, at around $7 per set, they may be more expensive than you may want to spend for every student to have a set of flashcards.
#2 Susan Paradis’s free flashcards are a great option for printing sets for students who want to practice at home.
P.S. I used to print off a set of flashcards for every student but not everyone would practice with them. Asking students if they wanted a set to practice with a home will save you a lot of time and paper!
I put a small binder clip on the ones they’re not using and then a rubber band around both groups. 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. 🙂
Shaped a little bigger than most traditional note flashcards, they’re really easy to see. That, and the fact that the bass clef notes are color-coded green and the treble clef notes blue, make them especially great with younger students.
Printed on a high-quality heavy glossy card stock, they “move” easily when trying to flip through flashcards quickly.
Downsides? The note names are not printed on the back and, at $15, they are the priciest option.
Get Started With A Free Download
Now, it’s time to go create your own program!
If you want to use the same setup and leveling as I do, I’ve created a free PDF just like the one I use in my own studio.
If you would like to use this document to get started but would like to make some changes to customize it to your own studio, please contact me and I’ll send you a Word document version.
Share your ideas for the One-Minute Club in the comments!
You might be interested in this follow-up post:
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