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How to Use Music Theory Games to Get Real Results

By Nicola Cantan | Creativity

Feb 19

How-to-Use-Music-Theory-Games-to-Get-Real-Results

You might have heard about all the benefits of teaching using games already. Students learn better, more thoroughly and more durably when the learning is fun.

However, if you’ve ever actually tried adding games into your lessons, you might have seen another side to this equation.

Music theory games also take time away from your lesson…and if you’re not careful, that won’t feel like time well spent.

piano teaching games

Use the limited time you have in lessons wisely.

This is where “fun” piano lessons can get a bad reputation. Because the word fun becomes synonymous with fluffy, light or unsubstantial.

But it doesn’t have to.

Related: Make ear training fun with these 6 games

Planning Music Theory Games

Being a teacher who uses music theory games effectively means taking FUN very seriously.

If you love using games, but have asked yourself these questions, then this process will be perfect for you.

  • How can you make sure your students are really learning?
  • How can you make your games more than just a brain break or some time to get the wiggles out?
  • Where do games fit in my overall lesson plan?
  • When is the right time to use a game – and when should I teach from the book instead?

You see, I used not to really plan my games at all. I would just use anything that fit my student.

And that’s beneficial in its own way…

But we can do better. I want to inspire you to make music theory games not just something you do to appease your students, to make the lesson run more smoothly, or to avoid using a theory workbook.

I want you to make games a core part of how you teach.

Do you need a hand when it comes to planning your piano lesson? Check out Tim’s 3 keys to an effective lesson plan.

Step 1: Know What You Want to Teach

Does that sound a bit silly? Let me clarify, because this is the biggest mistake I see teachers making: they don’t have a specific topic they want to cover, and a reason for covering that topic.

When I say specific, I really mean specific. For example:

  • Amy is going to be learning her first piece in the key of E major soon. I want to introduce this to her, as well as review the key signatures she has already encountered so she can see where this fits in.
  • Barry is getting terribly confused by ledger line notes. I want him to truly understand what these lines are for and have a reliable process for working out these notes when they come up.
  • Catherine doesn’t see why she should care about dynamics. I want her to experiment with these terms and symbols so she can see how exciting they are – and how vital they are to music.

Get the idea? Music theory games can do so much more for you than just keep your student engaged.

If you know what you want them to do – they can help you actually teach.

Step 2: Know the Path to Mastery

Not of the piano…that would be a tall order.

Rather, I want you to think about the mastery of that specific concept or skill that we decided on in Step 1. What are all the little micro-steps along the way to them truly ‘getting it’?

For Amy we probably want her to understand several different branches of the E major key signature, such as:

  • The scale
  • Its primary triads
  • How it’s notated
  • Where it sits in the circle of fifths

Knowing these bus stops on our journey will give us so much clarity when we go to plan Amy’s assignments and lesson activities.

Games are just one of the things that can benefit from this approach to planning. But I think they’re an important one – and one that teachers don’t often include in this type of thought process.

Step 3: Find the Appropriate Games & Activities

So, you have a path marked out. You know what your student needs to know and the different angles you need to take to bring them towards true understanding. What next?

Well, now it’s time to fill in the blanks.

You can take this path and use it as a framework. Start brainstorming activities you can use to guide your student towards the learning objectives.

When you evaluate an exercise or one of the many music theory games you can find online, you can easily ask yourself: “Does this move my student towards my goal for them? Will it bring them closer to understanding the concept that I’ve identified as a priority?”.

If the answer is no, move right along.

No matter how fun or interesting it looks – focus on moving the needle for your students. I promise you it will make you less overwhelmed with all the possibilities, and it will make for the best possible learning environment for each student.

Download Signature Spiral

If you have an ‘Amy’ in your studio right now – a student who needs some help with key signatures – then this is the perfect game for you.

Conclusion

How do you incoporate a bit of fun and games in your studio?

Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the Author

Nicola Cantan is a piano teacher, author, blogger and creator of imaginative and engaging teaching resources. Nicola's Vibrant Music Teaching Library is helping teachers all over the world to include more games and off-bench activities in their lessons, so that their students giggle their way through music theory and make faster progress. She also runs a popular blog, Colourful Keys, where she shares creative ideas and teaching strategies.