How to Teach Piano To Wiggly Walter; Off Bench Activities for Kids Who Can’t Sit Still

Young piano students crave lesson activities that get them up and off the bench. It is natural for kids to want to use their bodies to learn and to demonstrate their understanding.  So, piano teachers need to have an arsenal of “move it” activities for those moments when you know your student needs to burn off some energy!

Wiggly piano student

5 Physical Activities for Piano Students

Try these 5 activities with your young piano students as a mid-lesson break or as a reward for an extended period of quiet focus, and get rid of the wiggles in a positive way…

1.  Piano Yoga – Kids love to challenge themselves physically.  Stretching and balancing can be incorporated into your piano lesson by having your students do your own form of Piano Yoga.  Try these 4 “piano yoga poses”

The Quarter Note Your student curls up in a ball on the floor and extends their right arm as high and as straight as they can (making the stem of the quarter note).

The Bass Clef With their hands above their head as though they are about to dive, your student curls their body to emulate the curve of a bass clef.

The Slur – Balancing on one foot, your student tips forward while reaching one leg out the back and one arm out the front creating a “slur”.  This is a hard one!  Use the piano bench for balance with one hand if needed.

The Accent – This is like the Downward Dog pose in Yoga – your student bends over to put both hands flat on the ground in front of their feet, creating an “accent” with their curved back.

2.  Beethoven May I?  Do you know how to play Mother May I?  This is the piano version!  Your student stands at one side of the studio and asks “Beethoven, may I take a half note step?” You answer “Yes, you may!” or “No, you may take a quarter note step.” etc.  Each kind of step is coordinated with the number of beats in 4/4 time (for example, a quarter note step is 1 step, a half note step is 2 steps and so on).  The object of this exercise is for your piano student to travel from one side of the room to the next.  You can have your back turned and can delay or aid their progress as you see fit based on the kinds of note values you allow!  If you have a particularly active child the steps can become jumps instead!

3.  Get Moving With Theory – many of the activities in our “Pssst…Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Theory Book” were designed to get kids moving and using their bodies to learn and show understanding.  Try this one (free download!) to get your kids moving and to shift focus in your lesson while teaching them both theory and listening skills.  This is just one of 88 activities in this book… there’s lots to help you and your wigglers out!

4.  Step Skip Boogie – Using flash cards with steps vs. skips (or by pointing to places in your students’ method book), have your them tell you if they see a step or a skip. If they determine it’s a step then they stomp in place.  If it’s a skip, they hop.  If you get moving through the flash cards really quickly then they’ll be a stomp hoppin’ machine.  Get ’em good and sweaty and they’ll be happy to return to the bench for some quiet time! :)

Piano kids are movers and shakers.  If we tried to emulate even just a smidge of the physical activity they pack into their day we’d all look like Jillian Michaels! Movement is a natural part of learning for kids, and if we can harness this and incorporate it into piano lessons in a meaningful and music-centered way we’ll have much happier piano students. What are your favorite off-bench “move it” activities?  Share in the comments section below.

23 Responses to How to Teach Piano To Wiggly Walter; Off Bench Activities for Kids Who Can’t Sit Still

  1. says

    My Favorite is Flashcard Relay……one or more students. Lay your flashcards on the floor for notes that the student has learned a distance from the piano. Push the piano bench in or to the side. Starting at the piano , when I call out a note name, run to the flashcards, find the note “A for example” (there may be one or more depending on the level of the student), return with the card to the piano and play the note in the correct position with the correct hand (Bass or Treble) on the piano. Three points awarded; 1 for the correct card, 1 for the correct position on the piano, 1 for using the correct hand. At the end of the game we tally up our points and go shopping at the “Southland Shoppe” (aka dollar store prize shelf). Have fun!

  2. Lindsay says

    Kids in our group piano classes LOVE playing Mother May I as you described. When they get to the front, they get a chance to be Mother (or Beethoven). I sit at the piano and play to match their steps– usually a held RH chord with LH bass notes movibg to the beat. We recently added rests to the game, which get the same number of steps as notes, but must be done SILENTLY!

  3. says

    We do something similar with floor staff relay. I place a stack of large notes with letters on them. Students grab one note and run to the floor staff to place it then run back for the next and place it, etc. I time them, and they try to beat each others time. The combination of running, bending, and turning leaves them huffing and puffing. I had a student who wanted to time me doing it, and let me tell you, it was a better workout than I could have gotten at the gym! Super fun though.

    • Renee Rysdyk says

      I love this idea. Thanks!
      I also have a way to reinforce new hand positions. I have them find the position, then get up and walk around the bench (or hop, or do one spin, etc.) then find the position again as quickly as they can. Gets the wiggles out and helps them see the broader scope of the keyboard.

  4. Susanne says

    Yes, most young kids need to move during the lesson. I have a large staff drawn on a piece of heavy white canvas. We play twister, For beginners, the spinner shows line 1 , space 3, etc. Once they know some notes I switch to letters. They love twisting and falling especially if there are 2 students playing together. Then they are happy to return to their songs.

  5. Gaye Coffey says

    A good off bench break for all students can be used in the preparation of eighth notes. For a couple of weeks just clap various combinations of quarter and eighth notes in a four beat pattern, with the teacher clapping and the student copy the teacher. You can use various positions, above the head, down low, to the side, etc. Next lesson have flash cards of these various combinations and have the students use ta (quarter note)and ti-ti (eighth note) in chanting these rhythms. Next lesson chant and use rhythm sticks to play the rhythms. You can also “walk” the rhythm with regular steps for quarter notes and tiny steps for the eighth notes. Finally, introduce the rhythms in a song on the piano. Students will understand the eighth note rhythm easily and won’t want to just play eighth notes fast.

  6. says

    I love these ideas! Something else I’ve found that works well for beginners is a Hand Position Challenge…we move the bench out of the way first, and then I tell the student to spin in a circle until I say stop – then they have to find their hand position (middle C, C position, etc) would also work for locating anything on piano…notes, intervals etc. we do spinning, jumping jacks, dancing…lol! Anything that gets the wiggles out and they love it!

  7. Charity Gabucci says

    I used a Posture game over the holiday with my students. They had to play a familiar song with a candy (I used a Hershey Kiss and Rolo’s) on each hand and one on their head. They the object was to teach them to pay attention to their posture while playing. I made it harder by doubling the candy. It was a real big hit. Of course they got to keep the candy that didn’t fall.

    • Amy Kendall says

      I like the posture game! I have one student who likes to slouch and cross his legs. After reminder ding him every lesson I tried a different approach. I had him hold a book between his knees while he was playing. It worked! He said “we should do this all the time! “

  8. Lynn Monteiro says

    Great ideas! I have a set of bongo drums on a stand beside my pianos…which gets them off the bench. The kids can expend a lot of energy on them while learning about rhythm. We have fun jamming.

  9. says

    I can not WAIT to do yoga with a student who is coming tonight! She will absolutely love it. Andrea and Trevor, I absolutely love your site and suggestions. As a special and elementary education major, I really see the value in all of types of learners you try to reach. Your creativity and fresh approach to lessons is such a joy! I am very much looking forward to reorganizing my studio over Spring Break to coincide with my summer projects and my fall approach to juggling my studio while I finish my student teaching. Thank you for making yourselves my now “go to” source that helps me refrain from trying to reinvent the wheel myself every step of the way. If I could have put everything in my head–every idea, every wish, every philosophical thought on how piano should be taught–into a website, it would be included here. You have nailed my brain, spot on. LOL! Now–if you can both morph over to some violin, cello, and viola, I would highly appreciate it. :) Have a blessed day!

  10. Tiffany says

    Love all these suggestions!

    I use the Dozen a Day books. Since each finger exercise is illustrating a whole-body exercise (stretching, walking, climbing in place, etc.), it is easy to incorporate movement and still keep focus on the song.

  11. says

    Thanks for the ideas, they sound interesting. My students love to sing their pieces while they dance – the girls mostly. The boys usually start class needing a break in the middle, to walk or jump about, but after a couple of month’s they’re mostly sitting quite happily through a 45 minute class. Both boys and girls love clapping the rhythm of their pieces – first slowly, then faster. And often they practise at home to a metronome, then demonstrate clapping fairly fast at the next lesson.

  12. Mary McG says

    Love the piano yoga! Regarding “…May I” I, too, call it “Mozart May I”, and do the note value version, with a little different twist, in that the students use a big, long step for the whole note, 2 medium for a half, 4 walking steps for the quarter, and then 8 baby steps for the eighth note. We also will add an articulation version, using staccato, (bounce), legato (smooth, swirl/twirl arounds), accent (stomp), tenuto (kind of a press/slide with one’s foot).
    Now, though, I will be adding to the note value version, in that I will have them move appropriately to the beat of the metronome, too! Thanks for all you do!


  1. […] Point number one should come as no surprise, but for those of you who are new to teaching boys… make piano lessons active. Regardless of gender, little piano kids cannot sit happily at a piano bench for 30 or 45 minutes. The shy and polite ones may pretend to be happy, but in their heads they checked-out a long time ago. Get those kiddos off the bench and having a blast! […]

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