I’m a big fan of teaching piano theory in the context of my kids’ current piece. Turn the page and there’s a new Key Signature? Perfect… we’ll launch into a very relevant theory lesson. But there is a time and a place for good old fashioned pen on paper theory games too – and sometimes when you have extra minutes at the end of a piano lesson, you need something to keep your student entertained.
If you don’t have a dry erase board I’d suggest you get one! You can pretty much get children to listen and do anything on a white board – they just love them for some reason!
Not only is it an environmentally friendly option to photocopying, but it’s also useful as you can quickly erase and start again as your piano kids becomes faster and more adept at your theory teaching games. White board activities work well for online teaching too – simply focus your camera on the board and continue as you would in-person.
Ready to learn how to teach piano theory with 5 games on whiteboard?! Read on…
Looking for ideas for how to teach simple piano theory concepts?
1. Fill in the blank: Choose a time signature and write two measures of rhythm. For the final 2 measures, only enter one or two of the beats and then draw boxes for the missing rhythms where you’d like your piano student to fill in their own rhythmic values. In person your student can draw the missing rhythms. Online, your student can draw the rhythm on a piece of paper and show you on camera. As you play this game you can discuss all of the different options they have (ie. one quarter note, or two eighth notes, or four sixteenths etc.) and can also allow them to use rests. Clap and count your 4 measures of rhythm once they are complete.
2. Loony Ledger Lines: Draw a very thick line to represent the top or the bottom of the staff. Then, draw 4 lines above or below. Your piano kid’s job is to quickly name the note as you draw circles on each of the lines as fast as you can without taking the time to erase and re-draw the lines – they simply follow your pen and shout it out as you draw. You’ll end up with 4 lines covered in circles and a piano student who is really comfortable reading ledger lines!
3. Articulation Attack: With your student at the piano draw a very large quarter note. Erasing after each time, add an articulation marking over the note (fermata, accent, tenuto, staccato… whichever ones your student is familiar with). As you draw, your student plays any key on the piano in that style. See how fast you can both get! You can also add dynamic markings underneath the note to add to the difficulty (for example a staccato with a mf or a tenuto with a pp).
4. Interval Wars: Want to know how to teach intervals to your piano kids? Have your student roll a die 6 times. Write each of the numbers that result on the white board in a row. Then, with your student at the piano, have them play intervals to match as quickly as they can (ie. number 3 = a 3rd). You can increase the difficulty by specifying major or minor and harmonic or melodic before they play the number row.
5. Key Signature Scramble: Write the numbers 0 through 7 (not in order) in a row along the top of your board. Write F# C# G# D# A# E# and B# (not in order) along the bottom. Have your piano student draw lines from the sharps to the numbers according to the key signature you name (for example if you say “D major” they draw lines from F# and C# to the number 2). You can do major and minor keys and you can also have your piano student then name the key signatures at the end of your game by writing the name above the number row (for example, above the 2 they would write “D Major/B Minor”). Online students can copy your “gameboard” on a piece of paper at home to complete this task with you.
Teaching Piano Theory doesn’t have to be boring! These 5 games help to solidify concepts you have taught your piano students while exploring their pieces, and they also look after the repetition that is then needed to really make these concepts stick!
Want to get your piano kids really excited about theory? Why not apply those theory concepts and teach them how to compose music?! Check out our newest piano teaching resource, The Curious Case of Muttzart and Ratmaninoff and have a laugh-out-loud composing experience for 12 weeks that will have your piano kids creating amazing pieces!