Games Make Practicing Fun- Who would have Thought?
Teaching piano students to practice effectively can be a challenge. To the students, it can feel like drudgery. Playing piano practice games makes it easier and more fun. When my students are getting tired of practicing a piece, and I feel my own teaching energy draining-it’s time to get out the stickers and the dice. Students love playing games and so do I. Here is my secret weapon to ward off the lesson doldrums- the Irresistible Piano Practice Dice Game.
Get out the Stickers and the Dice for this Piano Practice Game!
It’s Vegas in the Studio, Baby!
My goal is to keep them practicing, but it has to be effective. I began asking them to show me what repeated patterns they can find. We analyze the form together. For beginners, it is often ABA form.
Our Form is:
For ABA Form: The student gets to choose two matching stickers and label the top of the A sections with that sticker. They choose a yellow flower sticker. We now name the A sections Yellow Flower together. Then we move onto the B section. The student chooses a sticker for the B section. It’s a rocket ship. The B section is now called Rocket Ship.
(A) Yellow Flower
We observe together that at the end of the Yellow Flower section, we have a different ending than at first. We also discuss the direction the melody line moves. How is it different from the first Yellow Flower? We hum the melodic line together.
Now, I am secretly congratulating myself because my student is fully engaged. Winning!! My student also is die-ing (pun intended) to know what the dice is for. (I have big rubber dice that I use in the studio, but any dice will work and we only need one die.)
Playing the Game
I ask the student to choose which section they want to work on. This is important! Making their own choices= buy-in. This is their practice game, after all! My student says, “Rocket Ship.”
“Awesome- let’s work on Rocket Ship.” “Which part of Rocket Ship is the toughest?” The student shows me what they think the trouble areas are. They usually do know. If they don’t choose the section I want them to target, I will guide them in this.
“Roll the Dice!” My student excitedly throws the dice on the floor. Whatever it lands on is how many times we will practice the tricky part of Rocket Ship. If they are struggling or working on memorizing it is generally only two measures at a time.
The student rolls a one. They play it one time, and they play it awfully. Usually, the student knows that it was a disaster. If they are unaware, you can point out that they missed counting the half note. (Or they need to watch for the staccato or whatever the problem is.) It’s not a bad idea to circle or highlight the problem spot, but only for future reference. Keep the game light and engaging!
That’s enough for Rocket Ship, right now. Immediately, go on to their trouble spot in the first Yellow Flower section. It is the last two measures.
Roll the Dice. This time they rolled a 4. The student is happy because they got a higher number this time. The student now wants to practice the last two measures of Yellow Flower four times!
Rolling the Dice is Simply Irresistible!
The student now gladly gives their full attention to playing it the best they can all four times. If they make a considerable mistake during that time, the student will usually do a restart on their own. I don’t count that as one of the four times. The student really wants to play it right during the four times. I want to help them resist practicing incorrectly. So I say, “Whoops, we crashed there. Let’s try that one again.” Then we count the better version as one of the four. The student feels better about their efforts that way and is enjoying the game and their progress.
We keep playing the Irresistible Dice Piano Practice Game as long as the student is fully engaged.
As the game progresses we connect the measures into phrases, and roll for the whole phrase. Once the student is done… (or we run out of lesson time) the game is over.
They get to play the Irresistible Dice Piano Practice Game at Home!
At the end of the session, I praise them on how far they have come in such a short time of focused target practice. Last I ask them if they would like their own dice to go home with and practice that way. Then I give them a die to go home with and play at home. (I get these dice inexpensively at the dollar store.)
Yay! The time was used effectively! The student’s full attention was kept on practicing effectively during the entire lesson without nagging!
The Student is Empowered to Practice Effectively
They feel empowered. They now have a practice strategy to take home that they actually want to do. They now see practicing as a game that they actually want to play.
They also learned that it takes several times to get a difficult section down. However, they also learned that they can accomplish quite a bit in a short amount of focused time! The student leaves the lesson happy wanting to practice.
I raise an eyebrow wickedly at my genius as I stroke my non-allergenic Clara Schumann Cat. Go get some dice and stickers! Let me know how the game goes by commenting below!