Halloween Hocus-Pocus at the Keys


Sometimes it takes a little “holiday magic” to make a point or teach something new or turn on a creative light bulb.

[BTW: When did Halloween become a “holiday?” Curious. Do students ever ask if you will be holding lessons on Halloween? Happens every year here and yes, I keep my normal schedule.]

Because of this infatuation with October 31st (by most, but not all), it’s a great time to build in an enchanting learning opp in lessons—a little Halloween “hocus-pocus” for just about anyone in your piano studio.

The official definition of hocus-pocus?

Meaningless talk or activity, often designed to draw attention away from and disguise what is actually happening.

A form of words often used by a person performing magic tricks.

For my intentions, a hocus-pocus activity is NOT meaningless. Instead, it simultaneously teaches an important skill while the student is cast under a captivating spell of exploration and fun. This “disguise from what is actually happening” is an especially effective way to spark curiosity and spur improvisation.

The following hocus-pocus activities charm students into getting under the hood of what makes music. The activities have bewitching potential for students to

  • Relate the known to the unknown with the help of trick-or-treat candy.

  • Generate spooky sounds with a few “spooktacular” hacks.

  • Unlock the mystery of what can turn an upbeat traditional tune into something sneaky and maybe even creepy.

There are SO many teaching moments!

#1 Turn a Pumpkin into a Rockin’ Jack-o-lantern

As encouraged in the 321 Challenge, invite your students to carve three boundaries into “pumpkins” and create clever “jack-o-lantern” improvisations.

Let students choose a card and start exploring! Within minutes, I came up the videos below. The point—let ideas come to you, let them brew for a few minutes stir them up and then and try another set of boundaries! There’s nothing permanent involved in the process, it’s all about exploring and experiencing! Unless, of course, fooling around with the boundaries leads to a great composition idea!

If you notice from the videos, I had fun sampling some spooky voices on the Clavinova which added to the magic.

Jack O Lanterns Boundaries     Card.jpg

The videos below correspond to the boundaries listed above. Can you tell I enjoyed coming up with a title? :-)

What will you name your jack-o-lantern improv?


Bonus: Included with the FREE Jack-o-lantern boundary cards is staff paper that you can print on the back of any fall graphic designed by Andrea West. Ask your students to create a “sound story” about a favorite graphic and then invite them to notate their ideas on the staff paper.

Find all Andrea’s fall graphics here. Psst…when you get there, make sure to scroll down to the FALL section!


#2 Sweeten Things Up with Rhythmic Understanding

Rhythm may not be the first element that makes music spooky but, it’s one of the best boundaries (limitations) in which to explore ideas for those with little improvisation experience. With all the Halloween candy available, here’s the time to relate what is known (candy names) to the unknown—note values and subdivision of them.

The picture below gives a pretty good synopsis of candy names can transform into note values. Get all the details and many more ideas of how to use candy in lessons from this past post. Click on the title or picture to learn more: Sweeten Lessons with Halloween Candy.


#3 Borrow a “cool cat” progression

Just a few chords and some pitches and pianists can “strut their stuff” at the keys. Click on the title to learn more about this hip Black Cat Strut: A Cool Improvisation.


#3 Change up a standard with a clever twist or two

Last year, I challenged all my students to change up one of the most common tunes around, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and make it sound like a scary, starry night. I dare you to do the same AND while you’re at it, make your own twist on the tune. It’s so much fun!

Click on the title to learn ALL about how to create your own Twinkle With a Twist.


#4 Teach reading with rote pieces

And, here’s some repertoire that casts an irresitable spell on your students. You teach them a piece like Spooky Island and Zombies by rote and they’ll actually learn how to read AND get creative with it! Now that is some major hocus pocus.

Samantha Coates is the genius behind Rote Repertoire. Check out both Spooky Island and Zombies along with her other lovely pieces that teach sight reading and so much more.

Click on any of these exclusive coupon graphics to find your way to her site and to learn more.


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How will you add a little hocus-pocus to your October lessons?

Leila Viss1 Comment