Incorporating Play in Your Teaching


by Jenny Simaile
Goonellabah, New South Wales, Australia


lay is an important aspect to children’s learning and it shouldn’t stop at the studio’s front door.  Sadly, as the child grows older, ‘play’ becomes less of a concern to their learning process.  Ask a child in kindergarten what the favourite part of their day was, and they will tell you “finger painting!" or  "dress ups!”  Ask a child in the first year of high school what their favourite part of the day was, and they’re likely to respond: “lunch.” Your task as a piano teacher isn’t to provide ‘fun’ or ‘entertainment’ for half an hour.  However, it IS your task to ensure students LEARN in such a way that they understand,  remember and can apply information vital to their progress.

There are many music games on the commercial market at the moment, where all the hard work is done for you.  However, they can be an expensive outlay.  Here are some suggestions for you to make your own games. These games can be adapted to any age group—I’ve played them with six year olds, and with sixty year olds—it’s all in your presentation!


keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)As a piano teacher, it is your task to ensure students LEARN in such a way that they understand,  remember and can apply information vital to their progress.



Card Games:

How to make them: Choose your medium: cardboard, laminated paper, plastic—(I used thick plastic labels that came with kitchen containers!). If you’ll only ever be playing with one student at a time, then four cards of the same note value will be enough.  If there will be more than two players, then have eight cards of the same note value. Using a waterproof, permanent marker, draw one note value per card. Include semibreves (whole notes), dotted minims, minims (half notes), crotchets (quarter notes) and quavers (eighth notes).

“Go Fish”

Each player has five cards, the rest remain in the middle (or in a bag). The players find ‘pairs’ and put these together face down on the table. The first player asks : Do you have” … a note value that they already have in their hand that they can make a ‘pair’.  You as the teacher can stipulate HOW they have to ask—they may have to use the name, e.g. “Do you have a crotchet?” or they may have to ask the note value, “Do you have a note worth one?”

If the answer is “no”, the player has to “go fish” - take another card from the middle (or the bag). If the answer is “yes” the one asking gets given the card, and they can then add it to their card to make a ‘pair’.

As soon as a player is out of cards, the game stops and everyone counts how many ‘pairs’ they have.  This is the winner!  However, I add another element.  The player only gets to keep their pairs if they can tell me how much their pairs are worth together—e.g., two minims equal 4; two semibreves equal 8, etc.  Another variation on their ‘keeping’ the pairs, is to clap the rhythm the two cards make.

Fish Variation

As above, only instead of asking for a note that will make a pair, they ask for a note that will help them add up to 4.  Example, if they have two minims in their hands, they can place these two cards together to make a ‘group’ that adds up to 4.  So, if they have a dotted minim (worth 3) the quickest way to make 4 is ask for a crotchet (worth 1).  If they have only one quaver, they will have to first ask for another quaver to make 1, then their next turn they will ask for a dotted minim.   This is a more advanced game for older students.


All players help arrange the cards face down in groups or rows. The first player turns over a card and names it (the teacher decides whether it will be only the note value, or the name, or both, example, “worth 2” or “minim” or “minim worth 2”.The same player then turns over another card.  If they match, the player gets to take these and put them together to make a ‘pair’.  That player then gets to have another turn!  If they don’t match, then it’s the next player's turn. The game continues until all the cards are ‘paired’. The person with the most pairs wins!

Board Games

Music Snakes and Ladders

How to make the game: You can use an already made board, or make one yourself.  I designed mine using publisher software, a coloured printer and a craft laminator.  You can make your board with cardboard, coloured pens or markers.

Divide your board into even sized squares. Mark the beginning—the first square in the bottom row (on the left hand side). Mark the end—the first square on the top row (on the left hand side). Number each subsequent square. Draw a few ladders that link squares. Draw a few snakes that link squares. You may wish to colour every second square (or use two colours). Decorate with musical symbols! Make tokens (or borrow them from other board games).

How to play: Use the rhythm cards instead of dice.  This is what makes this game musically educational! As each player takes a card, they say the name of the note and then move the value of the note, example, a semibreve gets to move forward 4!  However a quaver (eight note) is only worth 1/2, so this note is special—the player has to move one step BACKwards! If the player lands on a ladder, they get to CLIMB to the next square. If the player lands on a snake (chute), they have to SLIDE down to the square. Whoever makes it to the end square first, wins!


Instead of drawing snakes, you can draw flat signs (going DOWN). Instead of drawing ladders, you can draw sharp signs (going UP).

Page created: 5/6/04
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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