There is a small basket beside my piano that is full of what I call “Piano Teaching Gadgets”. These are objects or tools that I can grab whenever a “teachable moment” occurs.
Having just the right prop at just the right time can make for an invaluable learning experience. I don’t want to waste “on the spot” opportunities for learning by scrambling to find the perfect teaching aid.
New teaching gadgets have come and gone from my studio… I’ve tested and used many different things, but there are seven that haven’t changed for sixteen years. I’m so excited to hear about your own Piano Teaching Gadgets, but first I thought I’d give you a sneak peek into my gadget basket!
The 7 “Piano Teaching Gadgets” I Can’t Live Without
- Rubber rats and microcars: Originally a Halloween-themed activity, my students fell in love with my rubber rats and won’t let me put them away! I use these small manipulatives for on-the-bench games where students find requested notes, indicate accidentals used within a key, outline chords or intervals etc. Anytime I can see that something kinaesthetic would reinforce a concept… out come the rats for a quick “stay on the bench” game-based moment. For rodent-averse students I also have a collection of microcars that serve the same purpose.
- Small stickers – These get so much use that I purchase rolls of small stickers by the wheelbarrow load. Small stickers are fabulous tools for on-the-music visuals. You can use them to indicate patterns, for calling attention to something that needs to be remembered, for identifying matching intervals… everything! I also use them to mark small sections for drill (“Can you play me the giraffe section?” is much more enjoyable-sounding than “measure 5”).
- Play Dough – I always have a small container of play dough and a plastic mat beside my piano. With these two things, my bench immediately becomes a hands-on learning space to reinforce technical skills such as legato and staccato. I also use play dough to quickly and simply teach theory concepts such as division of rhythm, whole tones and half tones and more. It’s amazing what you can do with a small ball of dough!
- Large Dice – I have a large foam die that has been beside me for years. I use it to make repetition and drill more enjoyable, to play games where a random measure is chosen, to play games that reinforce finger numbers, intervals.. you name it! With some very simple rules you can turn any part of a piano lesson into a game with just one die. It’s large and foam as I quickly learned that hard and small dice become a management nightmare 😉
- Plastic Finger Rings – These are a fun way to help students remember the starting finger, an often-forgotten accidental, which finger to “tuck under” during a scale etc. It’s a student-saver when something isn’t “clicking” and needs an immediate fix. For my students who aren’t into rings, I’ve also recently added finger lasers to my gadget basket. Find them at any dollar store.
- Small Staff Cards – I print out a whack of these at the start of the year, cut them into small cards and then have them beside me at all times. I use them to reiterate something in my students’ music, to write a reminder, or to have them draw a note or measure. These small cards are easily pinned to the top of a page to ensure that my helpful note is front-and-centre during home practice time. Here’s the printable file for the ones I use.
- A Kazoo – A wacky tool yes, but I love it! I hand over a kazoo to my student who then kazooez (is that a word?!) either the treble or bass clef line. This helps with right hand/left hand balance, memorizing a melody line, bringing a kinaesthetic side to learning steps and skips, and encouraging an even tempo! Once you get over the giggles it really works! (To prevent having to sterilize them, my students get to keep their own kazoos.)
What “Gadgets” Are Beside Your Piano?
We want to know… what “piano teaching assistants” can you not live without? What small, yet handy tools are in constant use in your studio? Share in the comments below!
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