Maybe it’s not the most creative title for a game, but I think “Random Measures Game” is going to make a big difference for at least one of my students. I came up with this during her lesson when I noticed she was having trouble reading the notes of a piece she really should be able to read easily at her level… I suspect many piano teachers are familiar with this scenario! I have been thinking a lot about how my students’ minds make sense of the notes on the staff and how they relate to the notes on the keyboard. I think there is a slow connection here for many of my students. For example, many can tell me the name of the note on the staff but can’t find the correct octave on the keyboard very quickly or confidently. One way I want to help strengthen that connection is through my students’ association of the notes on the staff to the “5 C’s” that also appear on the staff and can quickly be found on the keyboard: Low C, Bass C, Middle C, Treble C, and High C. Strengthening that connection through this step-by-step game is something I’m going to try with one student first and just see how it goes. This activity works on other skills, too: More quickly recognizing interval relationships, strengthening the end rather than the beginning of the piece, and challenging muscle memory by starting in unusual places (such as mid-phrase).
The game goes like this (required materials include 1 piece of music the student already is familiar with, 1 or more dice, the keyboard, and pencil and paper to keep track of their points):
Step 1: Roll the dice (number of dice correlates to how many measures are in the piece. For example, a piece with 24 measures should probably require 3-4 dice)
Step 2: Go to that number measure
Step 3: Find the closest C to the first RH note in the measure; say the name of the C; tap that C on the keyboard
Step 4: Find the correct RH note and finger
Step 5: Find the closest C to the first LH note in the measure; say the name of the C; tap that C on the keyboard
Step 6: Find the correct LH note and finger
Step 7: Play from that measure through the end of the piece
Step 8: Give yourself a point for completing all the steps in order!
This is a good activity to do during the lesson at first, so they then know how to do it on their own throughout the week. As their teacher, you decide how many points they need to get before they win the game and can move onto something else in their practice session. I also went over this activity with my student’s mom who helps her practice during the week.
Variations include leaving out the dice completely and tossing an eraser or some other game piece onto the page to see what measure it lands on. I think dice would work better, though, because it seems less distracting than laying the music flat between each round. Also, the game piece could easily go astray, which could also be distracting.
I’ve done similar activities to this, so I am pretty confident this will work well. But I want to note that I explained to my student the main point of this game: to help her brain draw its own map that connects the notes on the page to the notes on the keyboard. That is why it’s so important to do the steps in order and to find the closest C’s even though she may immediately recognize how to play that measure. In the end, she should be able to more quickly connect the notes on the staff to the notes on the keyboard without having to figure it out so slowly and laboriously, and more importantly, without having to guess!
I saw this student again a week later, and here are some important follow-up notes. Choose a piece in which the hand position changes at least 2 or 3 times (I find the pieces from Schaum books good for more frequent hand position changes), OR choose several different pieces to do this activity with throughout the week. Otherwise, the student will be tempted to memorize the hand position and the closest C. But overall, her playing of the piece was significantly improved and her understanding of the 5 C’s is much stronger than it was before practicing with this game. I have since tried it with several other students, and I can already tell they are starting to re-think how they translate the notes from the staff to the keyboard. It seems to help with their confidence knowing what note they are looking at instead of feeling like it’s always a guess.