6 of the Best Piano Games for your Group Lessons - Creative Music Education
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6 of the Best Piano Games for your Group Lessons

By Heather Nanney | Group Piano

Mar 14

best piano games

Piano Games for Groups

I’m so excited to welcome Heather Nanney to the writing team this week as she drops some serious value bombs on us full of the best piano games and activities that you can use with groups of children in your studio.

While some of the podcasts this month discuss how group teaching works, how you can get started and the various ways that they can benefit you, your studio and your business, we all need step-by-step plans of activities that we can use and that’s exactly what Heather gives us today.

Thank you so much Heather for sharing all these great resources for free. Make sure you check out all her freebies at Fun Key Music  (cool name!!).

Over to you, Heather…

Hi Tim,

Thank you so much for having me! It’s an honor to write for your blog and I give you huge props for everything you are doing here. I know you have helped and encouraged so many teachers, including myself!  I have really enjoyed collaborating with you.  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

How Do I Start Teaching Groups?

Let’s take a look at how group lessons can be incorporated into your studio:

  • All lessons offered are group lessons and students learn along side of one another on a weekly basis.
  • A monthly group lesson used as a means to make up all lessons that are missed within a given month.
  • A hybrid program where private lessons and group lessons are given in conjunction on a regular basis.
  • A given number of group lessons per year are held in place of the private lesson.

Group lessons work for a number of teachers in a number of formats.  No way is “the right way”. Whatever works for you and your students is right!

In my studio, I hold six group lessons on a yearly basis in place of regular lessons.

I try to group students together by age and ability as much as possible, however I have found that having a mix can be a wonderful thing.  Younger students can learn a lot from older students and older students can gain confidence in helping and leading younger students.

The games below are designed for groups of four or more students.

My Favourite Group Activities for Kids

1. Starting Activity

I like to start with a self-guided activity that can be done with one just student or with the entire group of students.  I find that students arrive at different times for several reasons, and it’s great to have an activity that can be done with any number of students and is easy for the other group members to jump in as they arrive.

Apps are a simple way to do this.  Students can take turns playing a game on your iPad while waiting for others to arrive.  If you need a little extra time to get everything squared away, the students are engaged while you have a moment to gather materials, talk with parents, turn off the sound on your phone, text back the mom who lets you know she’s running behind, etc.

Some of my favourite apps for the starting activity are Ningenius and  Music Flash Class using the “Hot Potato” mode.

Best Piano Games

2. Icebreakers

Icebreakers are a great way for kids to learn each other’s names and get to know each other.  Getting students talking and interacting is a great way to build community within your studio.  I love it when students part of a bigger group and connected to other students within the studio.

This is the one point in the lesson that if the activity doesn’t relate to music at all, it’s OK.  I let myself off the hook if icebreakers are not music themed.

There is so much more to our students than piano and this is a time to celebrate that! They have other hobbies, interests, talents, etc.  and icebreakers are a good way to get them talking about these things.

Here are two icebreakers to get your students talking and interacting:

(i) “Name & Question”

Have students gather in a circle.  Start with one student and take turns going around the circle introducing themselves and answering a “Get to Know You” question.  Here are some ideas:

  • What school do you go to? What grade are you in?
  • What is your favorite: color, food, movie, TV show, superhero, band, song, etc.
  • What sports do you play?
  • What is something you are really good at? (Take notes of these answers and use them later in private lessons – find a way to incorporate something they already feel good about!)

I love it when students are discovering the things that they have in common with one another and hearing conversations like, “I thought I saw you at school!” or “What?! Twenty One Pilots is your favorite band, too?!  Did you see their latest video?”

Be proactive in creating these connections among your students.

If you know two of your students share a common interest, say something like “Hey Sara, did you know that Amanda also takes dance? Why don’t you show each other your favorite dance step from a routine you’re working on?”

(ii) “Get in Line”

Have students line up in different ways:

  • In alphabetical order by name (first, middle, or last – try all 3)
  • From youngest to oldest
  • Birthday January 1st-December 31st.
  • Shortest to tallest

For a challenge, have them form these lines without using their voices!

Now that students have arrived, everyone knows each other’s names, and they are interacting, that’s where the music making and learning starts!

Here are a variety of things you can do at this point.

3. Get them MOVING with RELAYS

Whatever concept you’re looking to reinforce, think of a way you can accomplish it with movement. An easy way to do this is with flashcard relays.

Divide your students into two teams and have them race to sort flashcards into groups. For example: sort chords into major or minor, sort note and rests into their correct values, sort minor scales into natural, harmonic, or melodic.

Start by setting a stack of flashcards in front of each group. One at a time, students choose the top card of the stack and place it in the correct pile/bin. You can find cheap bins that will hold flashcards at a dollar store, or simply write a label on a piece of paper and have students create piles on each piece of paper. Set a time limit, and the team with the most cards correctly sorted by the end wins the round.

In addition to sorting, teams can race to complete a task. For instance, students can take turns spelling scales on a whiteboard. Each team member only gets to add one note of the scale at a time. Team member 1 adds the first letter of the scale, team member 2 adds the 2nd letter, and so on. The first team to complete a scale correctly wins. I like to give each team a different scale to complete so they are not tempted to peek at the other team’s answers.

Instead of spelling scales, give students different words using only musical letters. The first team to spell the word on the staff correctly wins the round.

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I love using relays because it  gets students working together, keeps them focused, and creates energy in the group as they try to complete their tasks quickly.  Relays can be used with any age of students, any theory concept, they don’t require a lot of materials and are easy to set up.

In addition to these relays, here are three of my recent favorite activities for group lessons:

4. Chord Pong

Students bounce ping pong balls into cups in order to build chords.

Here’s what you’ll need:
6 ping pong balls
15 plastic cups
card stock

Preparation and Setup:
1. Print the Chord Pong file found here on card stock and cut along lines.
2. Set up cups in a pyramid. (1st row=1cup, 2nd row=2 cups, etc.)
3. Shuffle the cards and place several letter names in each cup.

How to play:
Students take turns trying to bounce ping pong balls into the cups. Students receive three balls per turn and may only throw each ball once per turn.

If a player successfully lands a ping pong ball inside one of the cups, he gets to choose one of the notes inside that cup (without peeking). Play continues until one student has collected 3 chords. Or if you are on a time frame, continue play until the end of the lesson (or a given time frame). The student with the most chords at the end wins.

Best Piano Games

5. Balloon Relay

Students race to gather balloons and reinforce note values.

Here’s how to play:

Blow up balloons and write one note/rest on each balloon. I used around 15 balloons and used eighth, quarter, half, and dotted half notes/rests.

Divide teams into two groups. Call out a number at the beginning of each round. The number represents the number of beats your teams will be collecting. (8 beats, 5 beats, 6, 4, 9, 3, etc.)

  • Teams gather balloons until they reached the correct number of beats. Players may only collect ONE balloon at a time.
  • Start with player 1 from each team. Once you say “Go!”, players will run to the pile of balloons and collect just ONE. They will run back to their group and then player 2 will run to collect one balloon. Continue in this manner until the teams tell you they are finished. Double check that teams have collected the correct number of beats. If they are correct, they win the round. If not, the other team gets a chance. Continue in this manner until one team reaches 5 points (or any number you set).
  • Try another version of Balloon Relay by writing one note name on each balloon and call out different chords or scales for your students to spell.
  • Get creative with different adaptations of this game and share how you use this in your studio!

6. Heads Up

Students race against the clock to guess as many musical clues as possible.

Download the Heads Up! App on your mobile device and buy the in-app purchase of “Build Your Own Deck”.

Enter as many musical clues as possible, or if you are focusing on a particular subject, enter clues relating to that subject.

  • Composers (Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, John Williams)
  • Dynamic markings (piano, forte, mezzo piano, fortissimo)
  • Tempo markings (adagio, andante, allegro, prestissimo)
  • Chords (A major, F minor, B diminished, C7)
  • Musical eras (Baroque, Classical, Romantic)
  • Musical genres (pop, hip hop, R&B, classical, country)
  • Notes and rests (quarter note, whole rest, sixteenth note, half rest)

Once your clues are entered, students have one minute to answer as many clues correctly as possible, without rhyming, using any part of the clue itself, or giving the first letter of the clue.  It’s fun to see how students describe each of the clues!

Best Piano Games

Looking for More Inspiration?

Here are some other ideas to spark your creativity:

  • Is the weather nice? Do some activities outdoors!
  • Break into pairs or small groups of 3 or 4 to complete a task. Reconvene after a set time and have each team share what they worked on.
  • Have centers where students rotate to different activities.
  • Watch quality performances from The Piano Guys, Anderson & Roe Piano Duo, Pentatonix, musical theater productions and other recordings. Don’t feel like you have to stick to strictly piano performances. Students can learn from any quality music performance! They can even learn something from performances that aren’t so great.
  • Sound is motivating! Groups of students can create some pretty cool sounds. Think bucket drumming, cup tapping, ensemble playing, group improv, composing using body percussion/animal noises/etc. Let them be silly!
  • Do your students have a favorite app? Think of a way to modify the app’s use for your group.

Remember, you do not have to invent new games for groups.  

Think of ways you can adapt what you are already using successfully into a group setting.  Do you have a games for an individual that you can turn into a group game? Do you have a game for reinforcing note and values, but you want to cover scales instead? How can you make it work in a different way? You can do this!

Group lessons are a great experience for both students and teachers and I hope this gives you some ideas for your groups!

What can you create for a group lesson activity?

What is an activity that you already use in private lessons that you can adapt for group lessons? Share the instructions in a comment!

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About the Author

Heather Nanney is an independent music teacher and runs a successful piano studio in O’Fallon, Missouri. She enjoys sharing ideas and connecting with other teachers. Check out her latest inspiration and resources at Fun Key Music.

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