5 Days of Piano Teaching Fun Using Play Dough!

If you’re like me, Sunday afternoon means Pinterest (Find TPT on Pinterest here!)  And, while I would love to be on there looking at beautiful DIY projects for my home, I’m typically on there looking for great piano teaching ideas.  But today was rainy and my kids were bored.  A recipe for “The Best Play Dough” scrolled by and caught my eye… so we made raspberry and lime scented play dough.

And as my girls were happily making snakes and snowmen with their new dough, my “Piano Teaching Brain” took over and before I knew it I had 5 days of piano teaching fun devised… all using play dough! My own play dough is all packed for the studio this week, and I know my piano kids will love this surprise!

So, if you were looking at DIY projects on Pinterest instead of piano teaching ideas and now you find yourself sitting here on Monday morning with no clue of what to do for fun this week… get out that old box of Cream of Tartar and here ya go!

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Piano Teaching With Play Dough

A great way to spice up your week and make any piano theory you are teaching relevant and memorable is to use a prop.  Try the 5 activities below when you’re looking for a method to make a particular concept “stick’.

1.  How To Teach Rhythmic Dictation – One of my most hated activities in university was rhythmic dictation.  Snore.  But doing this with play dough is super fun.  The concept is simple – your piano kids listen to you play a short rhythm on the piano.  They then use play dough to represent what they heard.  With your beginning piano students, it’s best to start this type of ear training with having them simply be able to distinguish between short and long sounds (leave the rhythmic notation for now).  

Armed with their dough, your piano kids listen one or two measures of rhythm you play on the piano.  Repeat it several times.  In this exercise, play dough balls represent short sounds and play dough snakes represent long sounds.  Have them arrange the shapes they make on a piece of paper in the order according to what they heard. Clap the rhythm together using play dough as the visual cue saying “short short long” etc.  Next, write the rhythmic notation (you’re using approximations here – stick with the rhythmic values they know) above.  See the photo above right as an example.

2.  Major Minor Snowman  My 6 year old loved this game today! You’ll need two different colors of play dough for this game.  Roll one color into 3 balls and one color into just one ball.  Your piano students then closes their eyes.  You play a major or minor triad in root position on the piano.  Your students then arrange their “snowman” to match what they heard. Three colored balls all the same means a “Major Snowman” and a different colored ball in the middle means a “Minor Snowman” (because that note has been modified).  See picture above left.  Repeat several times alternating between playing major and minor chords.  You can then draw these piano chords on staff paper and discuss how and why that middle note was altered in the minor versions.

3. Work on Legato – Okay, so this one is a previous idea from our blog… but it’s a great exercise and it really works!  Help your students understand the concept of legato playing using this great visual and kinaesthetic exercise.

4.  Smash Hit!  Your piano boys will love this one and it’s really good for their listening skills!  Line up a row of 8 small play dough balls.  The teacher plays one key 8 times deciding at random when to change that key to a sharp or flat.  Your student “tracks” along by pointing to one ball per key sound.  As soon as your student hears the change, they smash the corresponding ball flat with their fist.  For example, if you were to play C C C C C C# they would smash the 6th ball in the line.  This helps with one to one correspondence, eye tracking, listening skills and learning to focus.

5.  Who’s In the Whole Note?  Want your piano kids to be rhythm and fraction superstars?  Try this simple exercise.  Start with one large ball of play dough.  Discuss how this ball is a whole note.  Play a whole note on the piano and count out loud.  Then, divide the ball into two equal pieces.  Call them half notes and play two half notes on the piano counting out loud.  Divide each half in half again.  Label them quarter notes and play 4 quarter notes on the piano (one for each ball) counting out loud.  If you’re working with beginning piano students, you can stop here or else you can continue on to eighth notes.  

Next, have fun by calling out a note value and having them quickly “make it” for you out of the dough.  For example, call out “Whole Note!” and the balls all get squished back into one.  “Quarter Note!” and 4 balls appear and so on. This is a great way to really get your piano kids understanding the concept behind note values.

There you have it!  Fun piano theory for 5 days using one of the easiest props you could ask for!  Be creative with the way you teach theory and watch your piano kids learn to love the math behind their music.

22 Responses to 5 Days of Piano Teaching Fun Using Play Dough!

  1. Nancy Saunders says

    What simply fantastic ideas! Thanks so much for “jump starting” my Monday morning with fresh activities and concepts!

  2. Jenny says

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas! We use play dough for beginners who have trouble holding a pen. They can manipulate the dough into the shape of quarter notes, half notes, whole notes etc. then we clap them.

  3. Sallye Zeringue says

    Your ideas are like getting a “boost” for the beginning of each week.
    Thank you. I have taught 40 years, and often present “talks” to pedagogy classes. I never want to be “stale”. You are easily understood when describing a physical activity in words!
    Love your energy.

  4. Sarah Lyons says

    I have used small balls of play dough to demonstrate the differences in touch required (piano) to play notes that are staccato, accented, tenuto, etc. The students have referred back to the play dough demonstrations many times, so I think that they enjoyed it! I love these ideas as well!

  5. Sarah says

    I recently gave the legato play dough activity a try and the students loved it I will definitely be trying out these new play dough activities. Your ideas in general have made such a difference to the fun factor in my studio many thanks indeed!

  6. says

    Thankyou so much for this post! I just taught a lesson to an 8-year old and played something like smash hit. Only, I called it “smash squish shove.” I would quickly play six chords, some major, some minor and some neither. For majors they shoved the play-doh ball away, for minors they would “smash!” and for diminished they would squeeze and make a funny face. Upon hearing the game, my student said: this is the best piano lesson ever!” Thankyou very much, smash hit is, well, a hit!

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