Sweeten Piano Lessons with Halloween Candy

Put that Halloween candy stash to good use and get some excellent practice results from your students with these suggestions. There's nothing like candy to sweeten the deal.

Speaking of practice, now is the time to practice SELF CONTROL and NO snooping prior to any of these activities--teachers included. (Good luck!)

#1 Take the Skittle Challenge in the Studio and at Home

  • Line up three Skittles on one side of the piano rack.
  • Choose a small section or measure of an assigned piece.
  • Isolate the area with sticky notes on either side to help the eyes focus on the selected measure. I call this "putting your blinkers on." See Philip Johnston's Practiceopedia for details.
  • Student must play the assigned section perfectly, with no errors.
  • If the portion is played with zero errors, (teacher must guide the student at the lesson to determine what qualifies as zero errors) one Skittle may be eaten. When all three Skittles have been rightfully devoured, practice on that portion is completed.
  • Choose another small section and repeat the steps above.
  • Can be applied with the use of any other desired candy.

Skittle

#2 Spell a Scale

Prior to playing new scales, experiencing the topography of the scale tones as they move from one key to the next can help students prepare fingers in advance for their route from C to C or D to D, etc. It's also a perfect way to review the whole and half steps that make up a scale.

In this picture, I've used pencil erasers but Starbursts or any smaller, key-sized candy could be used to plot out scale tones. The W and H cards are from Susan Paradis' site and help to label the whole and half steps. Read more about this entire process in a previous post here.

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#3 Candy Rhythms

There is nothing like candy to help students understand rhythms correctly, especially subdivisions of the quarter note.

Note: when I use the phrase rhythm style, I'm referring to a style I select from my Clavinova. If you do not have a Clavinova, I highly recommend the apps SuperMetronome Groovebox or Tin Pan Rhythm to use as substitutes for some groovy and fun rhythms.

One more note: these activities are suitable for a private lesson and are ideal for a group setting as well!

There are many options so have fun creating your own system, but here's the one that I usually use with my students:

Make Candy Count

If this post is too much to digest in one sitting, sign up for a FREE downloadable PDF with clear instructions for each of these ideas, links to apps and large pics that you can print for yourself or for your students.

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Subdivide a Steady Pulse

  • Clap Twix with a rhythm style until it is apparent that the student can feel and clap along with the steady pulse alone.
  • Student continues to clap Twix, while you clap Snickers.
  • Switch--student claps Snickers while you clap Twix.
  • Continue this process, subdividing the steady beat, until the student can clap all candies successfully while you clap Twix.

Candy Train

  • After making it clear that each piece of candy represents one beat or quarter note, student creates a "train" or line of 4 candies of his/her choice.
  • Student claps the candy train along with a rhythm style with a steady pulse.
  • Student creates another train of 4 candies and divides each "train" with licorice sticks--serving as excellent representation of bar lines.
  • Student notates the candy train on dry erase board, Hal Leonard's staff card or a white board iPad app. OR repurpose lids and straws to represent note values (see photo below.)
  • Discuss and determine the correct time signatures.
  • Student creates, claps and notates candy trains in different time signatures.
  • Student claps measure in time with a rhythm style with the aim of not dropping a beat between measures or when looping a measure.
  • In a group, students rotate one chair and clap their neighbor's rhythm pattern keeping time with a rhythm style with the aim of not dropping a beat between measures.

 

Tasty Ear Training

As there is a wide variety of candy, take advantage of some tasty ear training! Ask students to determine which note values are represented by other candy:

  • Laffy Taffy (ex: four 16th notes)
  • Life Saver (ex: one 8th and two 16th notes or triplets)
  • Mr. Goodbar
  • York Peppermint Patty
  • Whopper
  • Crunch
  • Reeses Peanut Butter Cup

#4 Candy Creativity

Once students can clap candy rhythms off the bench, it's a good time to create with them on the bench.

  • Student plays and says one measure of candy rhythm on ONE note on the piano while you or another student plays a simple ostinato.

Note: Borrow the ostinato from "In the Hall of the Mountain King" as it's easy to play, easy to teach and can sound appropriately "spooky" for the season if played on A and E.

One more note: excellent composer and arranger, Carol Matz, offers a free download of "In the Hall of the Mountain King!" Learn more on her Facebook page.

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  • Student plays and says the rhythm on THREE notes: CDE above the ostinato.
  • Student plays and says the rhythm on FIVE notes CDE GA above the ostinato. Remember: omit F and B, scale degrees 4 and 7.

Note: This is the major pentatonic scale but these same five notes are also the minor pentatonic scale, too. The pentatonic scale (a nickel's worth of notes worth their weight in gold) are "safe" notes made of scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. These notes will sound good above any harmony within a given key. As my biz-partner and jazz teacher, Bradley Sowash, proclaims: When in doubt, PENT OUT!

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Recommended apps to consider for rhythm styles:

Supermetronome Grooveboxcopy-monkey-head-lives

Tin Pan Rhythm

Recommended apps to build rhythmic skills:

Rhythm Lab

Rhythm Swing NEW! This is the new must-have rhythm app for early levels!

My ideas for boosting practice skills are "stolen" or morphed from Philip Johnston's book Practiceopedia. All piano studios should own a copy of this book for daily reference.

Practice-opedia-090315

How do you like to take advantage of the abundance of Halloween candy in your studio?