New Ways to Use All Those Cups

If you haven't caught on to the cup craze, make sure you do now by purchasing dart-solo-p16rlr-00011-red-16-oz-plastic-cup-50-packWendy Steven's Rhythm Cup Explorations. Her series of cup rhythms and silly cup antics are the perfect solution to your summer camps or group lessons. Important Bonus: it will help solidify reading note values and keeping a steady beat. Thanks to Wendy, I've accumulated an assortment of cups as they come in all kinds of colors and sizes. I'm a proponent of finding innovative ways to use manipulatives (I know this is not a word but I like it!) that I have on hand like cups, so I decided it was time to determine some additional uses for my growing cup collection.

Fresh Cup Routines

Of course there's the standard Cup Song that most of your students know. By the way, I did not know this song so my students taught it to me. Watch this slow-motion tutorial if you want to learn it.

FYI: If you are in need of a new cup routine for avid cuppers, check out! Bonus: if you don't have any cups in your studio, take a look at the Michelle's body percussion ideas. They are crazy fun but not easy--you'll need to practice.

During a recent Piano Olympics camp, each camper was asked to create their own four-beat cup routine. We hooked the routines together to create a cup combo. This provided a chance to practice memorization skills away from the keyboard, build rhythmic skills and create some fun bloopers! To see what campers did with glow-in-the-dark cups last summer, check out this post.

I'll be posting a detailed blog about this summer's Piano Olympic camp soon. Boy, did we have a ball!

Right vs Left CupsIMG_3309

Mastering the right hand over the left is an accomplishment. One way to build confidence is placing a large R and L on cups. You'll see the young gals in the video creating a cup routine with their labelled cups. NOTE: Target had large letter stickers in their $1 bin. I found a way to get double use out of each letter. I cut out the remnants of the R after it was removed from the backing and stuck the outline of the letter on the cup. TIP: I used clear packing tap to firmly secure the stickers.

Line and Space Cups

To master line vs space notes, create lines on a large poster board or use painter's tape on the floor and ask students to place cups

  • On all the lines
  • In all the spaces
  • Spin the app Decide Now to determine the number of  line or space on which to place a cup.

Music Alphabet Cups

Add the musical alphabet to your cups by taping letters to them. Here's a PDF of IMG_3298the letters similar to what I used: Jumbo Alphabet. Or, hurry to Target and purchase their jumbo letter stickers priced at $3. Simply print off as many sets of the alphabet as you wish, cut them into a similar size and tape them to the cup with clear packaging tape. Ideas for using these alphabet cups are endless. Here's just a few:

Ask students to place them in these orders as fast as possible:

  • Forward A-G
  • Backward G-A
  • By Skips A-G
  • By Skips G-A
  • By 4ths get the idea

Key Name Cups

The best way to learn the name of the white keys is to first learn the musical IMG_3299alphabet and then to discover how to identify the white keys by the groups of 2 and 3 black keys. Centers featuring a fabric keyboard and alphabet lids and letter cups and jumbo straws (found at Target) helped these two review the topography of the keyboard.

Off the Bench Note Reading with Cups

To ensure a student is understanding notation on the grand staff, ask the IMG_3302 10.03.46 PMstudent to place the cups in order of notes on the staff, listen and tap the cup(s) that you play on the piano. This offers a large motor muscle connection first before your student reads and plays the notes at the keyboard.

Penny Cups

Place note values on cups using this note value PDF: Jumbo Alphabet. Ask students to fill the cups with the correct numbers of pennies. Pennies can equal quarter notes or 8th notes or 16th notes, your choice.

For more action, play Rhythm Bean Bag toss. You can purchase your Rhythm Bean Bag Game here. Students stand behind a designated line, toss a bean bag and must add up the note values. Each student has two tosses per turn and must add up all the note values and drop the pennies or buttons or whatever you might have into the cup. The person with the most pennies at the end of the game wins.

Key Signature Cups

To reinforce the circle of keys, ask students to place the cups in a circle around the circle of 5ths (clockwise) or circle of 4ths (counter-clockwise.) Challenge them to beat the clock and finish in less than a minute or less. Use the clear cups shown below to add sharps and flats when needed.

Spelling Chords and 7th Chords

The same cups are perfect for spelling chords from basic triads to more sophisticated 7ths and extended chords. Here are some ways to drill chord spelling:

1) What's my Mood?

Call out the root of a major chord, student must spell it and then modify or change the middle cup to make it minor.

2) What's my Chord?

Call out the third of a chord, like E, and the student must identify and spell the chord from the root up. Ex: E is the third of C major = C E G.

3) What's my Role?

Call out a pitch name and student must identify and spell at least 3 chords in which it plays an important role. Ex: E is the root of E Major, the 3rd of C Major, the 5th of A Major and the 7th of F Major 7th, etc

One of the most important books that inspired off-bench activities in my experience is Music Theory for Children and Music Mind Games, both by Michiko Yurko.


Hot off the Press!

Here's my latest e-book called The Full Scoop on Chords. This is a must-have, interactive text-book for you and your students for understanding triads and 7th chords. The book includes a special video appearance by Bradley Sowash where he explains how to master chords through three important lenses.

Order your copy here.


Want a sneak peek at the pages?

I hope you find this useful in your studio this fall!