Games have been an important part of my music teaching in the last 40 years, whether in the classroom, instrumental studio, online lessons, or the rehearsal room. Why?
Games keep students engaged and motivated and they learn more quickly when they are having fun! I can still remember a class teacher back in the 90’s asking me why the music theory exam results of my students were consistently high. “Simple”, I replied, “We have fun while we learn!” As students are eager to keep playing these games, they are not only learning, but also reinforcing the new information through repetition.
There are many benefits of using games in music education. Karl Kapp, a learning expert and the author of books (1) on games and learning, highlights this, saying "Games are the perfect way to engage and motivate learners”.
Games are engaging because they are fun and challenging. They provide learners with a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and they can help learners to develop important skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. Games can also be used to motivate learners by providing them with rewards and feedback.
Here are some specific ways that games can engage and motivate learners, together with examples of fun games for little musicians:
The World of Games
Games provide a context for learning. When students are playing a game, they are immersed in a world where they are trying to achieve a goal. This context can help to make learning more relevant and meaningful for students.
“Busted!” is a game which my students really enjoy. Simply write short rhythm patterns on one end of the sticks, and the student's task is to clap or play the rhythm of the stick they draw from the jar. Successfully performing the rhythm allows them to keep the stick, while any inaccuracies require the stick to be returned to the jar. However, interspersed among the sticks are several with the word "Busted!" and selecting one of these means the student must return all their accumulated sticks to the jar. The game can continue as long as desired, or it can be concluded at any point, declaring the winner as the one with the most sticks. Additionally, this versatile game can be adapted for solo play by recording the number of sticks a student collects in four minutes, challenging them to surpass their own record in subsequent sessions.
“Busted!” can also be used for concepts other than rhythm, for example, pitch reading or to learn Italian musical terms. Whether playing rhythms or naming notes, students are totally immersed in the goal of keeping as many sticks as possible, so learning the topic thoroughly is relevant to this goal – much more fun than a worksheet!
The Rewards of Games
Games are both challenging and rewarding. Games are designed to be challenging, but also achievable. When learners overcome challenges in a music game, they are rewarded with points, badges, or other forms of recognition. This feedback can help to motivate students to keep learning and improving.
A simple game where students can be rewarded with points or stickers is “Pompom Pitch”. Just write the letter names of 4 notes on one end of a popsicle stick. Repeat this for 3- 6 sticks, depending how long you want the game to last and place the sticks in a jar. The student draws out a stick and for each letter name on the stick, they place a pompom on the corresponding line or space on the staff (optional – for instrumental lessons, they can also play the note). For each note they place correctly, they keep the pompom and at the end of the game, they can swap their pompoms for stickers.
Games with Cards
Card games are a great way to learn and take students away from screens; most students really enjoy having the cards in their hands as a change from a screen device. “Dynamic Dynamo” is very popular with my students because it relies on both knowledge of dynamics plus an element of chance. Players earn points for matching pairs of cards with dynamics symbols and their meanings. There is a bonus “Dynamic Dynamo” card which earns players more points, so the challenge is to keep this card in your hand!
The Social Game
Games provide opportunities for social interaction. Many music games allow learners to play with others, either in person or online. This social interaction can help to motivate students and make learning more enjoyable.
A wonderful game for instrumental players to interact with others while learning fingerings for notes (or for keyboard players, the position of the notes on the keyboard) is “I Went to the Shops”. This can be played for only one or two notes or for all the note name letters. Player 1 says “I went the shops and bought”… then they choose an object starting with a note letter name such as “C”, so they might say “I went to the shops and bought a cat”. After this, they play the note C on their instrument. Player 2 then repeats what Player 1 said/played and adds another object, “I went the shops and bought a cat (play C) and a banana (play B). Player 3 continues, or if only two people, go back to Player 1.
Even if students only know a couple of notes, this is an excellent way to revise their fingerings. If the students are very young, it helps to have a wall chart with pictures of objects for each letter.
Games for Movement
Many youngsters struggle with sitting still, making games that incorporate movement, whether in a team or individual setting, invaluable for enhancing their concentration. A giant floor staff opens up a plethora of entertaining note-learning activities, ranging from tag team challenges to lively twister games and individual races.
In a confined studio space, you can use tape to create a large staff on a table, piano stool or other flat surface. This allows students to engage in dynamic learning by physically moving toys onto the lines and spaces.
Music games can be a powerful tool for engaging and motivating learners. When used effectively, games can help students to learn new concepts, develop important skills, and have fun at the same time.
1Karl Kapp The Gamification of Learning and Instruction (2012)
Sharon Boller, Karl M. Kapp Play to Learn (2017)
Karen North is a music teacher, mentor and book author. She is passionate about bringing music into the lives of children and adults and has enjoyed working in music education for the past 40 years.
Karen is the author of the popular method books "The Young Flute Player" and has commissioned many new works for intermediate flute repertoire in "Lyrical Flute Legends" , "Lyrical Flute Encores" and "Inspiring Flute Solos."
Karen has written two books of music games (with printable templates) "Fun & Games for Music Lessons", "More Fun & Games for Music Lessons 2" and has recently worked with specialist consultants on repertoire books for Violin, Clarinet and Saxophone.
Karen also organizes an international FLUTE CHAMPIONSHIP each year, to give students of all ages and abilities an opportunity to submit a video performance to an outstanding panel of judges. Her workshops for teachers are enthusiastically received and she also offers one-to-one coaching sessions.