One of my old piano students has started to teach her own students. I couldn’t be prouder! She contacted me to ask me about any games she could play with a young beginner student. In actual fact, I play very few games with my students, but I do a lot of short challenges. With anything of this nature it is important to spend the first few times making sure the student understands the concepts and bolstering their confidence.
As an example, with Ball Hands, the first lesson I would show the student how to do it, focussing on the straight wrists and curved palm and fingers. I would ask the student to tap the finger numbers that I call out and assist them by pointing to the fingers in question. The next lesson I would briefly repeat the importance of the straight wrists and curved palms and fingers. If possible I would do this by praising the student in some way – they remembered to do it from last week without my telling them so, or I remembered that they had such good technique, could they show me just like last week? This time, instead of pointing to the fingers, I would support them by showing with my hands which finger to tap as I called out the finger numbers. The next week there would be no support, the week after that I would call out the finger numbers faster. The next week we might introduce a variation – separating the hands onto the lid of the piano (maintaining the straight wrists and naturally curved palms and fingers) and tapping on that. The next week we could vary it by having the hands in middle C position or C position.
Keep the challenges short, fast and fun. Vary them constantly to maintain interest, and abandon them once the lesson is learnt. But come back to them if a refresher is needed. Continuing the example, I return to Ball Hands even a year later for those students of mine who have difficulty with the curved palm/fingers aspect of their technique.
Ball Hands; This is a quick exercise that demonstrates the natural rounded palm and fingers that is necessary for good technique while teaching the student the finger numbers. The student places the fingertips of each hand together as though covering a ball – the palm and fingers are rounded. Call out the finger numbers and the student will tap those fingers together without disturbing the ball shape or letting the other fingers move. (The 4th finger is an exception; the 5th finger may have to lift off to accommodate it)
Find three; This is a quick challenge to reinforce the notes on the piano. For very young beginners I start with teaching only C, D and E in the first lesson. Call out a note name, and the student must find three of that note (in different registers). If repeating a note, they cannot use the same note. Example; if calling out C, and the student ‘finds’ Middle C, they cannot use that note if you call out C again.
Note Rhymes; These are a mnemonic device to remember the notes on the stave. Simply challenge the student to remember the note rhyme for – the treble clef lines/spaces or bass clef lines/spaces.
Flashcards; Note Flashcards are indispensible. Every teacher and student should have a set of flashcards. There are many commercial ones you can buy, or you can make your own from one of the free resources. Brent Hugh has a page on using flashcards that I suggest teachers and parents read through. http://brenthugh.com/piano/flashcardteaching.html
Work It Out; say the appropriate note rhyme first, then name the note.
Say it then Play it; say the note name, then find it on the piano (important for understanding of register).
Fast Play; say the note name as fast as you can.
Organise this; organise a handful of flashcards into ascending/descending order.
Random Composition; shuffle the flashcards and put the first 5 (or however many) on the music stand – play your new composition!
Re-create it; use the flashcards to re-create the melody (or a part of the melody) of one of the pieces you are studying. Either have the music in front of you or do it from memory.
Whack It; This is a game I’ve just come across for very young beginners, and would work well for small groups of students. You’ll probably want to laminate a set of these cards so they don’t get torn up, but the game sounds heaps of fun! http://www.music-for-music-teachers.com/music-note-flashcards.html
Printable Flashcards; http://www.music-for-music-teachers.com/flashcards.html
Giant flashcards; http://www.music-for-music-teachers.com/music-note-flashcards.html
Downloadable Flashcard PDF; http://linkwaregraphics.com/music/flashcards/notes2/