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!
While the answer might seem, obvious, it behooves us as teachers to always consider the end goal in anything we do. Some of my own 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.
- 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 “excitement”, 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 students’ lesson time to do it regularly, plus it was hard to be consistent.
The following year I started doing monthly challenges, making this the challenge for April, and have found it to be much more practical and manageable. Plus, since it leads into the Spring Recital, I can tie the winner’s announcement to our end-of-year awards program.
No matter what time of year you do it, 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 and 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 participate, I found creating levels a wonderful way to include all students. Plus, it gives them a concrete progression to see their growth with this skill.
There are multiple ways you could level your own program based on the process you use for teaching notes. For example, if you teach using the Piano Safari method of starting with Landmarks Treble G and Bass C as well as the skips alphabet, you might do something like this:
Level 1 = 12 notes – Treble G + A, B a step and skip above + F, E a step and skip below; Bass C + D, E a step and skip above + B, A a step and skip below; Middle C x 2
Level 2 = 12 notes – All space notes on the grand staff
Level 3 = 12 notes – All line notes on the grand staff
Level 4 = 24 notes – All notes on the grand staff
Level 5 = 16 notes – All ledger line notes (outer and inner)
Level 6 = 36 notes – All notes + ledger lines
My original level was like this one except I did all of the landmark notes for level 1 rather than steps and skips above Treble G and Bass C.
Currently, I use 5 levels based on the system of teaching notes using landmark notes.
Level 1 = 10 notes – All notes between Bass F and Treble G
Level 2 = 16 notes – All notes between Bass C and Treble C
Level 3 = 24 notes – All notes between Low F and High G
Level 4 = 16 notes – All ledger line notes between Low C/F, Middle C/Ledger F, Ledger G/Middle C, High G/C
Level 5 = 36 notes – All notes between Low C and High C including the inner middle ledgers (levels 3 + 4)
Another teacher I know of, Karen Lien, designed a 10-level version. There’s such great flexibility!
If you’re interested in getting the PDF printout I use on my display board listing my levels and rules to get you started, you can download it here. It includes both my old leveling system and my new one as well.
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:
- A winner is declared for each level (more on that later).
- Students should begin by reviewing the level mastered the previous year.
- (However, they only “compete” at their highest level. For example, while a student whose goal level for that year is level 4, will start by reviewing level 3, their time for that level won’t count in that level’s “competition” – it only counts in the level they are working to achieve.)
- Students must play and name the notes in one minute or less to move to the next level.
- Students should play bass clef notes with the LH and treble clef notes with the RH.
- Students must complete 2 successful timings in 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, and rules and 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 corkboard 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 off-bench music lab time.
March 2021 Update: Check out my new board! It is a 20″x30″ foam board (1/2″ thick) from Walmart. I love how sturdy it is.
The grid where I track their names and scores is cut out from a full-size incentive chart.
As per the advice of guest writer Christina Whitlock and her Varsity Musician’s series, I wanted to display the annual winners in a way that really made it feel special. So, I purchased a simple black photo mat from Amazon and imported images of the students into Canva, overlaying a simple text box at the bottom of each photo. The photo mat is attached to the foam board with little velcro dots.
Rather than just setting it on the floor by the piano as I have for years, I really wanted to display it in a way that felt prominent and important for the weeks during the challenge but didn’t want to make it a permanent fixture on my wall. The art easel was a perfect solution. This one is the A-Frame Studio Floor Easel from Hobby Lobby. While it was originally $30, if you wait until they run a sale on art easels and tables, you can get it for $15.
Just as the leveling design can have flexibility, so are the rewards you give (if you so choose). One option other than a studio-wide competition could be to do it as a personal-best challenge. If students increase their time from the previous year they get a small reward! Whatever reward you choose, just 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 (shown above).
March 2021 Update: I no longer look at it as “getting into” the one-minute club nor do I give students the printed business card certificate. I now simply award a winner in each level – each of which gets a $5 gift cart. The winner of the highest level is declared the overall winner receiving a $15 gift card and officially “graduating” from the challenge.
Now that we’ve gone over the six major items to consider when designing your own program, I wanted to share some bonus tips for helping things run smoothly.
During the lesson, we run through the flashcard set three times in a row:
- 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 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.
Tip #2: Give Them Tips
Before you begin timing, 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, encourage them to use downward glances with their eyes to look at the keys and not use whole-head movement.
Tip #3: Be Conspicuous
If you have an anxious student, you may try to be conspicuous about the timing part because as soon as they know the timer is going, some get quite flustered. The Stopwatch tool on your smartphone 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 and recording their time.
Tip #4: delay the timer
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 = “Wrong 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!
There are several sets of flashcards that I like and have used over the years.
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.
Susan Paradis’s free flashcards are a great option for printing sets for students who want to practice at home.
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. 🙂
P.S. I used to print off a set of flashcards for every student but not everyone would practice at home. Asking students if they wanted a set to practice with a home will save you a lot of time and paper.
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.
Share your ideas for the One-Minute Club in the comments!
You might be interested in this follow-up post: