Quick Piano Lesson Activities to Fill That Extra 3 – 5 Minutes

This article about quick piano lesson activities was written by Carmen Carpenter. Carmen has taught music in a school setting as well as in her home studio for more than 30 years. Teaching combines two of her favourite things: music and kids! Besides teaching music, Carmen loves spending time with family playing games, working puzzles and watching movies. She’s also an avid reader and loves taking long walks on her local, woodsy trails.

Imagine this: You’re nearing the end of a lesson and you’ve gone through all the components of your lesson plan. Panic ensues. 😧 What are you going to do?!

Yes, I’m aware this scenario is a rare, next-to-never occurrence. (In fact, I can’t remember the last time this happened to me.) But since it’s bound to transpire now and then, it’s good to have a few tools in your toolbelt that go beyond the “play it again, Sam” plan.

Ending on a High Note

The last few minutes of a lesson are crucial to a student’s (and thus a parent’s) attitude about the lesson. When students leave happy, they’re much more likely to have positive feelings about lessons, and want to keep coming back for more.

If your only plan to fill spare time is to say, “one more time,” you risk ending on a negative note if things go awry. Instead, let’s send our students away with a smile with one of these 8 quick piano lesson activities.

Cool Closer No. 1: “Get to Know You” Questions

In just a few minutes, you can forge a greater rapport with your students. A solid working relationship with students will go far in keeping them in your studio, learning and growing for years to come.

Certainly there are the usual questions like, “What’s your favourite colour (or food or holiday)?” But try to dive a wee bit deeper by asking things like:

  • What’s something that makes you smile or laugh?
  • If you were going to write a song or poem, what would it be about?
  • Name something that makes you feel encouraged or supported. (If your student needs a little direction, you could use examples like high-fives, compliments, little treats, etc.)

There is no shortage of questions you can use to get to know your students better. Just be sure that the questions are age-appropriate and open-ended to get the very best responses.

Cool Closer No. 2: Quick Quizzes

A few years ago, I created a little set of flashcards with easy questions which I call “quick quizzes”. We use these cards when we have a few minutes left, or when a student needs a break from an intense piece-polishing session. The questions ask things like: 

  • Is this a step or skip? 
  • What’s the name of this symbol? 
  • When you see this letter (p) in your music, what do you do? 

As part of these tiny assessments, I give out a sticker or stamp for each correct answer which always amps up the fun factor.

You could certainly do similar small tests simply by using your student’s music. And, of course, any number of the game cards borrowed from your VMT games could suit this purpose as well. In particular, I recommend you try the ’60-Second Challenges’ to practise note naming and the ’Minterval Challenges’ to practise intervals.

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Cool Closer No. 3: Improvisation

Oh, you knew it was coming! Improvisation is an awesome way to “do something while you’re doing nothing”. (Bonus points if you know this movie reference. 😆) I’m guessing many of you music teachers already use improvisation on the regular; but if you don’t, I strongly suggest you use 3 – 5 minutes at the end of a lesson for it.

For duet improv, you can play an easy chord progression and have your student improvise on a pentascale in the same key. Or try the ’Big Box’ backing tracks from the VMT Library or iRealPro for digital options.

Sometimes, my students and I play a game of ‘Black Key Tag’. (I don’t remember where I got this idea, but it isn’t original to me.) Using the black keys only, play a little something, then say “tag” and the other person plays a bit and when they’re ready, they say “tag” and so on.

If you’re not very comfortable with improvisation, ‘Simple Sparks’ videos take you and your student step-by-step through quick improvisation activities. Genuinely foolproof!

What better way to end a lesson than to let your student stretch their creativity in a low-stakes way through improvisation?

Cool Closer No. 4: Practice Strategies

There are loads of quick practice games and activities that would fit neatly into the last 3 – 5 minutes of a piano lesson. My particular favourites are:

  • Games from the piano practice kits such as the dice game, chop suey, or 3-in-a-row get kids excited to practise. (Members can download the kits here.)
  • ‘Practice Plays’ activities can be accomplished in just a few minutes while helping your student master their music.
  • ‘Take 5’ has practice routines your student can complete when they only have 5 minutes to practise. Boom!

Teaching a new practice strategy at the end of a lesson makes it more likely they’ll remember the strategy when they do sit down to practise.

Cool Closer No. 5: Movement

Oh, how I love to add movement to piano lessons! Sitting tall on a piano bench while intensely focussing is hard work which deserves a pleasant reward – and a good stretch. 

How about giving your student’s mind and body a healthful break with movement? Try some ideas like these:

  • Music Yoga (or even actual yoga): Ask your student to make a treble clef or a crotchet (quarter note) or any other symbol using only their body. 
  • Scarves: Give your student a scarf, play some music and let them move in whatever way their spirit directs.
  • Freeze Dance: I like to play this one with an added “quick quiz” element. When the student freezes, I show a flashcard. If they answer it correctly, they can keep moving through the next round of music. If they get it wrong, they have to stay still for the next round. (This one works best in a buddy- or group-lesson setting.)
  • Follow the Leader: This game is great for reinforcing steady beat. Play some music with a strong pulse and have your student copy your movements on the beat.
  • ’Silliness Siestas’: I find this little VMT game useful not only for “brain breaks” during a lesson, but also a great way to fill those last few minutes of a lesson.

Cool Closer No. 6: Rhythm Activities

Rhythm activities fit so easily into a 5-minute timeframe that Nicola literally wrote a book about it! You can use any of her ideas from her book, Rhythm in 5, to fill a few extra minutes at the end of a lesson. My personal favourite is ‘Rhythm Swap-Swap’.

(Members of Vibrant Music Teaching can download the ‘Rhythm in 5’ book from the Membership Library.)

Here are some other quick rhythm activities to use at the end of a piano lesson:

  • ‘Rhythm Railroad’ uses body percussion to reinforce rhythm. Be sure to use the backing tracks to increase the fun!
  • Clapbacks: Simply clap some rhythms and have your student echo. If you have small instruments like sticks or shakers, add those too.
  • ‘Rhythm Vocab Cards’ can be used in a number of ways. I like to put 3 or 4 cards out, then clap one and have my student guess which one I clapped. Easy peasy aural rhythm testing!

Cool Closer No. 7: Active Listening 

Building the aural muscle is key to great music making. And, let’s face it, most of our students don’t get a steady diet of listening to truly worthy music. Active listening to music helps students build aural skills which help with steady beat, sight reading and deeper theoretical understanding.

Some other cool side effects for students are:

  • Hearing the music they’re working on at the end of the lesson means they might just go away humming the tune – what I like to call “passive practice”
  • Sending the student away with a calm demeanour, especially if the music you chose to play was soothing.
  • Experiencing professional performers who can really bring out all the fine nuances of expression, technique and articulation.

If you aren’t sure where to start with active listening, try ’Inquisitive Ears’ from the VMT Library. This quick-and-easy game gives students direction so they listen with intention.

Cool Closer No. 8: Clean and Organise

I don’t know about your students, but I have quite a few who actually love to clean and sort things.

Key Cleaning

Use those final 3 – 5 minutes of a lesson for students to wipe down the piano keys. I teach on digital pianos so I simply spray some cleaner on a rag, hand it to my student and they go to town glissandoing all over the keys. (I just made that word up, thank you very much.)

I’ve had students tell me this is the best part of lessons. (What does that say about my teaching?! 👀)

You could even take this idea a step further by asking for dynamics and articulations while they clean.

Binder Purge

Try as I might to help my students keep their piano binders neatly arranged, there are always those students whose binders are a complete mess. If you have some of those types, too, use the final few minutes to go through their binders and recycle any old assignment sheets, theory pages or unwanted printed pages

Even if this little activity doesn’t make your student smile, I bet it’ll make their parents happy.

What closing activities send your students away with a smile?

We’d love to add your quick piano lesson activities to our toolbelt. Pop them in the comments below. 🙂

For more of the latest tips, tricks and resources you can use in your lessons, visit Nicola’s Planning Lessons hub page.

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