I have several students right now who are struggling with note reading. This concept is SO critical to everything else in piano. When students are weak note-readers, they tend to not be as adventurous or confident in trying new music because it is just such a struggle to get through each measure. I don’t want them missing out so I have deemed this the summer of note reading. We are going to tackle this challenge head on! Call me old school, but one of the most effective ways I have found to quickly improve a student’s note-reading abilities is to use flashcards. Flashcards don’t have to be boring, though! Read on to hear about my favorite note reading flashcard games.
1. Higher/Lower War
Deal the cards so you and the student each have a stack. Simultaneously flip over the top card and whoever has the higher note (or lower, whichever you decide) wins the round and collects both cards in their discard pile. Repeat until you’ve gone through your entire deck. Like the traditional card game “War,” winning this game is a matter of luck, but the skill comes in identifying whether the note is higher or lower. This is a great game for a young, beginner student who is just starting to learn how the staff works. For a more advanced game, each player could flip two cards at once and the winner could be determined by who has the bigger interval.
2. Speed Drills
Set a timer for 1-3 minutes and see how many notes the student can identify before time runs out. Keep track of their personal best (I just write down the number in their notebook with the date) so they can try to beat their record the following week. Note: For beginning students, I sort out only notes they have learned. As they advance, I add in more notes and sometimes sneak in a note or two that they’ve never seen before to practice reading. 🙂
3. Find the Key
Similar to the speed drill, but instead of just naming the note, the student has to find the matching key on the piano. This is particularly helpful for students who are struggling with identifying correct octaves.
Place the note cards face down in a pile in the center. Each student draws five cards and tries to make a word. Points are awarded to each student based on the number of letters in their word (i.e. a student with the word “ACE” would receive 3 points and a student with the word “AGED” would receive 4 points). For the subsequent rounds, you can reshuffle the cards and start over or have everyone collect their original cards and add one or two additional cards to their collection. The first person to reach 20 points or the player with the most points after a predetermine number of rounds wins! This game would be fun for middle school students in a group setting.
5. Competitive Note-Reading
OK, so this won’t become the newest Olympic sport, but kids love it. If you have two lessons back-to-back, take a few minutes from each student’s lesson to hold a friendly competition. Both students sit facing the “judge” (probably you, or an older student), while you hold up a flashcard. The first student to call out the correct note name gets the card. In order to discourage students from shouting out random note names without thinking, I have enacted the “one guess per card” rule. If a student guesses incorrectly, the other student gets one shot at answering. If neither gets it, I tell them the answer and the card gets placed in the back of the stack. When all cards have been won or time is up, students count their cards and determine the victor. Students really enjoy this game, so be prepared to play a few rounds.
Free Printable Note Reading Flashcards
If you don’t already have a set of note flashcards, you can download and print a free set from my resources page. I recommend printing them on sturdy card stock so they last longer and students can’t peak through the paper to see the answer. Not that they’ve ever tried that before…