Teaching Musical Terms and Symbols: Games for All Ages and Stages

Ask any non-musician to look at some sheet music, and they’ll say it looks like a foreign language…

Because it is! For students at any level to progress in their studies, it’s important they speak the language of music. As you might expect from Colourful Keys, we think there’s no better way to learn musical terms and symbols than with games!

The number 1 reason I started Vibrant Music Teaching – the membership side of Colourful Keys – was because I saw a need to have a centralised source for high-quality music teaching games. A hub where teachers could find what they need, when they need it and never have to go down the internet rabbit hole again.

VMT makes it easy to find tons of games for teaching musical terms and symbols to students of any age and any stage, including mixed or multi-level groups.

Members just filter the VMT Library for “terms & symbols” and pick the level. Voila! A variety of games will appear which meet their needs. Just pick one, download it instantly, and get ready for laughter and learning.

To give you a sneak peak into the kinds of things you’ll find in the Vibrant Music Teaching Library, this blog post will peel back the curtain and preview 6 of the many games members like to use when teaching musical terms and symbols.

If you’re not yet a part of the Vibrant Music Teaching revolution, learn more about what the membership has to offer on the membership page.

This content was originally published as 6 separate posts in August 2015, September 2016, August 2017, September 2018 and August 2020. It was substantially edited and updated in October 2021. If you need more ideas about teaching terms and symbols or any other music theory concept, check out my centralised Music Theory hub page.

Late Beginner/Grade 1 Games

Playing games helps students connect to music in a whole new way, especially those tricky late beginner/grade 1 piano students. They’re not beginners any more, but they’re still a ways from picking up a Clementi sonatina.

Late beginner students can sometimes get discouraged when they look at the road ahead, so it’s important to keep them motivated and energised in piano lessons. Games for this group of students need to be educational and fun without looking like they were tailor-made for a 3-year-old.

These 2 games provide a fun way to reinforce what your late beginner students have already learned while introducing musical terms and symbols they might not have encountered before.

Squishy Squash

Smart haircuts, shiny new shoes, and lots of excitement – it’s so much fun when students return to the piano studio after a summer break! It can often take a little while for them to settle down and get back into the routine, though. That’s where Squishy Squash, a general concept music theory game, comes in.

Squishy Squash takes the traditional flashcard-quiz music theory game and flips it on its head. Instead, it encourages beginner and late beginner students to recall what they’ve already learned about note values, terms, symbols and more, then explain it in different ways.

As an added bonus, Squishy Squash is one of the many musical terms games which include an on-screen version VMT members can use when teaching online lessons or when travelling to students’ homes. See how that works in this quick video preview.

If you’re a member of Vibrant Music Teaching, you can download Squishy Squash instantly from the library.

Bananas and Ladders

Bananas and Ladders has long been a favourite of Colourful Keys followers, as it’s the perfect game for reviewing a variety of musical concepts with students at the late beginner level (or those between level 1 and level 2 of most method book series.)

Working around the board, your students will review intervals, musical terms, note names and tied note values while the bananas and ladders provide the fun element of surprise and gamification.

To thank you for following the Colourful Keys blog, you can download Bananas and Ladders for FREE to use in your own studio. Just enter your info below, and I’ll send it straight to you.

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Already a member of Vibrant Music Teaching? Download Bananas and Ladders right away from the VMT Library. No need to wait for an email!

Early Intermediate/Grade 2 Games

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There just aren’t enough intermediate music theory games out there. Why should beginners have all the fun?

At Vibrant Music Teaching, games aren’t just for preschoolers. Members have access to tons of resources for newbies through early advanced students. Here are just 2 of my favourites for teaching musical terms and symbols to early intermediate/grade 2 students.

Know it!

Know it! will get your students to really think about their answers rather than just parroting back a flashcard or theory page definition. This musical terms and symbols game has players acting, playing, explaining and naming – making the learning that much stickier.

From tempo terms and expression marks to time signatures and new dynamics symbols, your students will really ‘know it’ after just 10 minutes with this game (pun intended 😆).

VMT members can download Know it! in the in Vibrant Music Teaching’s printable library. Not a member? Discover what you’re missing on the membership page.

Silent Lingo

Beginners and late beginners need to know just a handful of tempo and dynamic terms to get by. But that handful explodes into an armful in a hurry for early intermediates. It’s easy to see how these older students can get all topsy turvy when trying to keep sempre forte and subito forte straight in their heads!

Enter Silent Lingo. In this charades-inspired game, players will create plenty of laughs and memorable moments to help them lock in the meaning of tempo and dynamic terms.

games for teaching music terms

Silent Lingo is especially fantastic for group lessons and workshops or summer camps. After all, drilling Italian music terms is not what most kids would call fun. But jumping around and trying to convey Giocoso without words? Now that sounds like a hoot!

If you’re a member of Vibrant Music Teaching, hop over to the library to download Silent Lingo today.

Mixed Level Games

Trying to find games which students at different levels can play together is a sticky wicket, indeed. That is, unless you can use the Vibrant Music Teaching library!

One great thing about playing multi-level games is that younger students often glean new knowledge just by observing the questions and answers from the more advanced students, and the older kids can explain new concepts to the younger ones.

These 2 mixed-level games are my go-to when I need to review musical terms and symbols with students who are at different levels.

Symbol Splash

Symbol Splash is truly one of my favourite games to use when teaching musical terms and symbols, and it’s always a top pick by students.

Symbol splash music theory game

This board game has 4 levels of cards you can use with students from late beginner/grade 1 to intermediate/grade 3. Pick just one deck or use different decks for different players – there are no limits to how you can customise this game to meet your needs.

Symbol Splash can be instantly downloaded from the resource library by members of Vibrant Music Teaching.

Don’t Leaf Me!

Do any of your students take a huge step backwards over the summer? Most of the time the knowledge is still there; it just has to be brought up out of the archives. 😉

A mixed-level piano game is a great way to bring students back up to speed, and Don’t Leaf Me! fits the bill perfectly for beginners on up. This mixed-level game provides a review of a broad range of piano concepts so you can see what’s been forgotten and really hone in on particular areas if necessary.

Play this game with 1 student against the teacher or with up to 4 different levels of students together for a quick review of musical terms and landmark notes.

Already a member of Vibrant Music Teaching? Download Don’t Leaf Me! today from the VMT Library.

Don't Leaf Me! music theory game from Vibrant Music Teaching

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What are some of your favourite musical terms and symbols games?

I’d love to hear what works for you. Share your top picks in the comments below or in our Vibrant Music Studio Teachers Facebook Group.

10 thoughts on “Teaching Musical Terms and Symbols: Games for All Ages and Stages”

  1. Love it! I will be printing this off to play with my students and I know they’ll have a blast! Thank you so much for sharing this with us! I’m happy to see you’re blogging again! Missed your posts!

    • Glad you like it Kirstie! Yes I’m back, was just sorting out the website move to the new domain name. More to come soon, let me know if you have any special requests!

    • Hi Erica, I’ve added the large game board version above. It’s just under where it says “What’s in the pdf?”. Hope you and your students have fun with it! 🙂

  2. May i please have a download of your bananas and ladders game. Thank you. It looks super. Need to keep my two boys keen at learning!!

  3. Is there any way in which you can help me to teach my grandaughter via Zoom? I live in the UK, she lives in Canada! It’s gone well so far but I need to bring a bit of excitement into the lessons! She is 13.


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