Want your students to beg to practice their recital piece? Use this game!

by | Nov 3, 2016 | Lesson Ideas, Studio Ideas | 8 comments

I have been seeing these countdown to Christmas images all over social media lately, how about you? Every time I come across one, I think about how close my Christmas performances are! I have one planned early in December at a nursing home and a more formal/dressy studio recital the Thursday before Christmas.



I love Christmas music and I like for my students to have several Christmas songs prepared before holiday break. We review pieces from years past, learn new ones, and of course polish recital piece(s).  I encourage my students to play  for their families at their holiday family gatherings, to have sing-a-longs, and I tell them that they might even get out of doing dishes after their meal if they head to the piano and start playing!

While you’re working on getting those recital pieces performance ready, you might hear yourself saying these sorts of things like:

“Let’s do that phrase again.”

“Try it again with the dynamics this time.”

“I love how you played all of the notes and rhythms correctly.  Can I hear it this time with the staccatos super short and jumpy?”

“Let’s tackle this section so you nail it every time from now on.”

“5 is a magic music number.  If you play this five times correctly in a row, you’ll never miss that note again!”

And so on….



I don’t know about your students, but sometimes when I ask mine for lots of repetitions in the lesson, I’m met with sighs, glances that are less than enthusiastic, slumping shoulders, and dare I say it —eye rolls.

I was determined to make this fun for my students, so I made a practice game called “Four in a Row”.

Four in a Row takes the dice game that I use in my students Practice Pouches to the next level.

In the dice game,  the student’s music is divided into six sections.  Students roll the dice to determine which section to play, then again to determine how many times to play it.

I have dice in the studio in addition to what students use in their practice pouches. The dice are a BIG deal.  You must get something cooler than white with black dots.  Fuzzy, foamy, squishy, bouncy, colorful…whatever you can find. Check out 5 Below, Dollar Tree, online, or your local teacher store for some good options. Students respond to these dice more than I imagined! Whatever excites them…run with it!

The only other material you need for Four in a Row is a miniature Connect 4 game.  If you have a big version in your closet already, pull it out! It will work just fine.  I found the mini version at the Dollar Tree (I think I’ve mentioned before how much I love that place.)



Ok, now that you have your student, their music, dice, and Connect 4, and the student has rolled the dice to determine the section and number of repetitions, the next part is easy.

For each repetition, one game piece gets placed in the game.  If a students plays the section correctly, his color goes in, and if it’s not played correctly, the other color goes in.  I know it seems simple, but it really gets students LISTENING and FOCUSING while they practice.  They really want to earn their colored piece!

You can totally customize this to what you want your student to accomplish.  If your goal is for them to get through the section with no missed notes and correct fingering, that can be the determining factor for earning their colored piece. If you want them to play the section with no breaks, then that’s what it takes.  You get to decide.

I love how specific this can be and how I can tailor it to various ages and levels of students, and also to various goals for each section.  It is simple and effective.



I shared this game with some teaching colleagues recently and here’s what one teacher had to say…

“Four in a Row took the monotony out of the repetition and made it a challenge, kept them focused, and made it fun! Students become involved.

It shifts from a ‘have to‘ to a ‘want to’ activity.” -Lisa H.

Give it a try and let me know what your students think!

One more little trick I’ve been using for encouraging repetition is to pay my students in music money.  Every time a student plays a section, I give him $1 in music money.  It’s an instantly gratifying reward and it gets them pumped! I’ll say something like “Whoa! Look how much money you’re earning!” or “You’re rich!”

At the last lesson every month, students have a chance to spend their money on prizes at various “dollar” amounts.

What tricks do you have up your sleeve to get your students excited about playing their music again…and again…and again?

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