I grew up in a game lovin’ family. We had a huge closet in the foyer of my parent’s house that had shelves lined with games. We had family game nights, hosted game nights with other families, and attended game nights at church. The holidays were (and still are) filled with competitive spirit. We pull out the favorites year after year and reserve time to learn the new ones that are gifted. I have sweet memories of playing checkers with my grandpa (who hated games, but loved me), and as a family working together to beat games where we were a team. Now that I’m married, we have a (much smaller) game closet. And I still love the way games inspire people to put away their devices and focus on what’s happening right in front of them.
Games have the power to bond people together. And this is part of why I love using them in my teaching. I had a student the other day exclaim that her lesson was a lot like tutoring she was receiving at school, because they play games there too! “Isn’t this the most fun way to learn?” I eagerly responded. And she happily nodded in agreement as she helped me pick up the various pieces of the game we had just finished. My student was actively learning and enjoying every minute of it. And we were creating a bond that would not have existed had we still been sitting at the piano with me talking away or listening to her play.
Fast forward a couple days. I had come out of the studio to collect my next student, only to find that he was (yet again) in the vintage music section of our store with his siblings and friends. Why do they hang out there almost every Wednesday? Because we have a rotary dial telephone that fascinates them. It is so much fun to make fake calls to family and friends when the phone is a novelty. Who needs a cellphone?
In this age of hurried living and constant distractions, taking a trip back to some of the basics can be a fun and refreshing change. I’ve also been surprised lately how many students walk into my studio not knowing how to play checkers! So today I’m going to give you a glimpse into 5 of the classic games I use in my studio to teach key piano skills 🙂
Checkers: A true classic that the kids love – whether they’ve played before or not! I’m not so focused on the strategy as the fact that they are learning steps and skips while playing. Every time a move is made the student is expected to either play on the piano or identify in their music what they’ve just done on the checkers board. If they’ve moved their piece one square, they must play/identify a step. If they’ve jumped over someone else’s game piece, they must play/identify a skip. Classic, easy, and you’ll find it’s not necessary to spend the whole lesson playing this one game. Set a time limit, and at the end determine who has gathered the most pieces from the other player. This person wins!
Dollar Tree always has checker boards and pieces in stock. No need to break the bank on this one!
Trouble: I typically use this game to correlate with intervals. The directions are no different than if you were playing it at home with a friend… EXCEPT that each time the dice is popped that interval must be played on the piano. You could also have the student identify the interval in their music/flashcards, or sing the interval – based on the level of the student. This helps the student practice up to interval 6.
Extra bonus is the fine motor skills used to pick up and move the pieces around the board! I have a travel version of Trouble, so this provides even more practice. A few of my students struggle with fine motor skills … so this is a fun way to get extra practice in a way they don’t even realize is targeting this!
Twister: Truly a fan favorite in my studio (who am I kidding … they love all of these!). Duct tape works best for this … but masking or electrical tape would work as well. I create a staff on the floor of my studio with the tape. I have created a stack of cards indicating left hand, right hand, left foot, and right foot. Then I use flashcards for whatever level of notes they are currently working on. Most often I use just treble or bass clef for this activity. If the student needs an extra challenge, we will do both. I pull one card from each deck, and the student does as directed. For example: if I pull “left hand, middle c” from the deck, the student places their left hand on the middle c line. We continue pulling cards and following the directions until any other part of their body except their hands or feet touch the floor. Giggles always abound, and kinesthetic learning engages another part of their brain!
Candy Land: I have several students who squeal with delight when they see “the candy game” pulled out of my stash. I got this idea from Layton Music and it ended up being a keeper! I picked up an inexpensive $6 version of the game from Target and wrote in the musical alphabet throughout the whole board (you could also check your local thrift store). Layton Music provided flashcards to print off, and voila! We were all set!
Jenga: Jenga has been the longest standing classic in my studio. I originally created this to review all types of music terms and knowledge. Once again, this one is great for fine motor skills. You don’t want the tower to fall! This game is where the most competition exists in my studio. I don’t ever lose purposefully … 😉
You can see that my original set has lived a full life. To begin, I wrote down the exact amount of questions/symbols on a piece of paper to match what I wanted on each block. Then I went through with a fine-tip sharpie and drew the symbols or questions on each block. We played the game like you would a regular game of jenga on game night, with the exception that we answered the question on each block as we went along.
I now also have a second jumbling tower (I didn’t buy brand name for this). I was talking with a colleague about this game, and she game up with a great twist! Instead of writing the questions directly on the blocks, she came up with different levels of questions. She then numbered the blocks with the sharpie. When each one is pulled, she asks the student the question with the corresponding number. I love this because it makes Jenga so much more versatile!
Do you use classic games in your studio? I am not referring to the games you came up with 30 years ago in teaching (and are yellowed to match), but to the true classics that have proved to span across several generations. Not outdated, just a vintage touch to spruce up your studio in the coming weeks! Whether to teach a new concept or to review old ones, your students will not be disappointed with your willingness to get off the bench and bond together!