Adapting Piano Teaching Games in an Instant

Found a great music theory game but it’s just not quite right for your student? Here are some ideas to adapt any piano teaching game for your students.

Adapting Piano Teaching Games in an Instant facebook 1

⬆️ Listen to the podcast above or keep on reading, whichever fits your style. ↙️

I’ve been there. You search the internet or your personal library for a great game to solve an issue for your student…

…and you find one! It’s perfect! This is exactly the concept they need to cover. 🤓

But, then your smile turns into a grimace. This game also includes things your student hasn’t encountered yet and you don’t want to get bogged down in those.

Never fear. It’s great to find a game that’s completely perfect for the occasion. That’s why I created the Vibrant Music Teaching library so we can filter games down by concept, level and so much more.

But even with a huge selection of games, that won’t always be possible. You also need to be able to adapt piano teaching games to your student’s needs.

Read on for some ideas on how to adapt piano teaching games in an instant – whether you need to make them easier, harder, multi-level or add more movement.

#1: When You Need to Make it Easier

Sometimes you have a great piano teaching game that’s simply at the wrong level. Here are 5 great strategies for making a game easier for your student. 

Don’t Use Every Card 

You can remove cards that don’t suit the player. For example if you are teaching landmark notes, remove the landmark notes that they haven’t learnt yet.

You can add cards back in when they’re ready, and repeat the game. This is a great way to build up their knowledge over time. 

Mix 2 Games Together 

You can also take the cards (or some cards) from one game and use them in another. 

Not every card set will work in every game, but for a quiz style game this should work 1-to-1. If not, get creative with those rules!

For more help planning fun and engaging lessons, visit my page devoted entirely to Planning Piano Lessons.

Cheat!

You can go through the answers before the game and have them nearby on a board or on a sheet for reference during the game. 

We provide cheat sheets in Vibrant Music Teaching for many of our games so that students can check their answers. A game doesn’t always have to be a test of what they know – sometimes it’s good to discover answers through play.

Repeat

If a game is just a little too challenging, repeat it at the next few lessons so that it gets easier every time. This is a great way to reinforce new concepts and build confidence in the student…especially if it’s fun! 

Be careful that the level of challenge does not discourage your student with this strategy. It should only be used when you think they could master it in 2-3 sessions.

#2: When You Need to Make it Harder

On the other hand, sometimes we need to challenge the student more. Here are 4 ways you can make a game harder if it’s too easy. 

Add a Timer

With many music concepts, speed is of the essence. We need to be able to identify notes, rhythm patterns and intervals quickly to become fluent readers. 

add a timer

By adding a timer, you can easily up the challenge in any game. Limit each go to 20 seconds to start, then reduce that time more and more if it’s still too easy.

Use Your Full Powers 

A lot of the time, we teachers are fixing the game so that the student wins. Maybe this time, you should really try. 😉

Remove any bonus points you normally give students when they play against you and challenge them to still beat you. I bet they can do it!

Expand the Answers

One easy modification in many piano teaching games is to ask for a bigger answer. For example, if the card shows an “f” you could ask them for:

  • English definition
  • Italian term
  • Meaning in their own words
  • Explanation of the technique required
  • Demonstration on the piano

Think about what extra levels you could add to the game you’re playing to get a more comprehensive answer from students.

Add Bonus Questions 

Similarly, you could add bonus questions for each go. 

These could be something related to the game card or totally drawn at random from what you expect this student to know. Throw in some funny ones too like the colour of your dog’s collar to keep the giggles coming. 🐶

#3: When You Need to Add Movement

For many students – especially younger ones – sitting and playing a board game is not enough movement to get the wiggles out. They need to move much more in order to understand the concepts and concentrate fully.

Act it Out

Having your students do mimes or demonstrate the answers and concepts in a game adds a whole other dimension.

act it out

You can have them stretch up tall for high notes, do star jumps for an interval of a 5th (to represent a 5-point star!) or dance and run on tiptoe to demonstrate quavers (eighth notes).

Use Props 

Props such as balls and percussion instruments are great at introducing the fun-factor and for instilling pulse, rhythm and movement all-in-one. 

Include an action to go with each answer or step.

  • Practising time signatures? Bounce a ball twice for duple and three times for triple.
  • Working on rhythm? Beat each pattern on a drum.
  • Going over dynamics? Shake a maraca vigorously for forte and gently for piano.

There’s always a way to bring these concepts to life with a physical object and it makes the whole game so much more fun and memorable.

Make it a Race

OK, I’m about to teach you my top trick for wiggly kiddos…are you ready?

Lean in close!

When you need to maximise the movement to burn some calories, put the cards on the opposite side of the room.

Yes, seriously. Just split the game up so that kids have to run from one side to the other to play. 

You can do this with any game. It might sound like an unconvincing race to you, but your kiddos will love it.

#4: When You Need to Make it Fair

There are many cases where we need to make games fair between uneven players. This could be siblings, buddies, at a group workshop or even in private lessons where it’s YOU vs the student.

Use a Multi-Level Game 

The simplest way to handle this is to use a game which has multiple levels. We have a great selection of these at Vibrant Music Teaching.

You can always add game cards from other games to expand them further, too.

Follow the Leader

Students love extra responsibility. If you have one student who is a lot more advanced, asking them to be the “teacher” or the leader of a game is an excellent way for them to learn and review concepts at a group workshop. 

You’ll also be able to help other students or step back a bit (and maybe take photos) while they run the show. 👀

Catch me if you can!

This adaptation for teacher-versus-student games comes from one of our Vibrant Music Teaching members, Valerie: 

“I have to give at least one incorrect answer on one of my turns. If they can catch me and give the correct answer, I have to go back and they get a bonus turn.”

And another member, Emily, does it this way:

“I tell my students that whenever it’s my turn to give an answer, if they can say the correct answer faster than I do, they get to steal my point or move forward while I stay put. This has really incentivised them to stay engaged in the game and to learn concepts thoroughly enough so they can be faster than I am. My students have LOVED doing this because it still gives them a chance to beat me without it feeling like I’m purposefully holding back.”

I love both these ideas because they keep students alert on your goes as well as their own. 

Bonus Points and Penalties

I promised you we would help you to adapt games in an instant so this last tip is the quickest one of all. Just add plus or minus steps/points for the uneven players.

For example, if it’s you vs your student, maybe you can only roll one die but they get to roll two. Or maybe they get to add two steps when they get the answer right and you don’t get to answer cards. 

The exact rule will depend on the game but there’s always a simple way to rig the odds in their favour.

Your One Thing of the Week

In every podcast episode and article I give you one action item to take so that the ideas and knowledge don’t stay stewing in your brain clogging things up. 

You’ve just read 15 different ideas for adjusting games. Now’s the time to choose one and put it into action. 

Your homework is to pick one idea which seems simple and useful to you and use it right away in your lessons. 

What are the challenges you face when adapting music games?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below. 🙂

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