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Practice Games

The following games are from a variety of resources. Ideas for adapting and modifying the games for a spectrum of ages are provided, but not every game will work with every student. It's like "Monopoly." Some people love it and others do not. 


  • Helps the time go quicker

  • Keeps the student engaged

  • Makes practice a positive experience

  • Help students progress faster by achieving meaningful goals

  • Teaches the student how to practice effectively independently

  • Increases motivation to practice, especially when combined with gains in proficiency.

What is 100% correct?

When you are choosing a practice goal, make sure the goal is challenging, yet attainable. 

  • The criteria for achieving the goal can be designated as 8 out of 10 times, for example. Determine this by  the material the student is practicing and the student’s current level of achievement. Is the practicing a performance piece or a new piece? Is this a familiar but exceptionally difficult piece? Mastery for a new piece may be 80%-100% of the notes correctly, even if the student stops to work them out. At a later stage, an appropriate goal may be 80% correct notes and correct timing throughout. Specific games to practice performance pieces are listed below. 

  • Use a favorite strategy or game, especially when the criteria for "winning" is integrated into the game.  

Use games thoughtfully. Play a game as a reward at the end of practice. (Adjust the number of practice goals accordingly.) Do not play a favorite game so often it becomes boring. 


With a little ingenuity, almost any game can be adapted for practice. Play an easy board or pencil and paper game. The student earns his/her game turn by playing a practice part correctly. (See below) Examples of games and activities include but are not limited to:



  • Tic Tac Toe

  • Hangman

  • Sorry

  • Checkers

  • Chess

  • Dots

  • Go Fish

  • Crazy Eights

  • Jenga

  • Candyland



  • Blowing bubbles

  • Putting a piece in a puzzle (Older students can put a puzzle together over time.)

  • Earn a block or Lego to build a structure.

  • Color/draw a portion of a picture.

  • Earning physical activity provides the opportunity to “get the wiggles out.” The student can jump rope, practice free throws, dance, do a cartwheel, play the next number in Hopscotch, run, etc.


Basic Rules

Consider allowing the student to set the practice goal. S/he will need guidance at the beginning. This will make practice more meaningful and is a good way to learn about effective, independent practicing.


Divide the piece into smaller sections.

  • Set a goal, for example, play a part correctly five times. (see below)

  • When student achieves the goal s/he takes a turn or gets a short period of time to engage in the activity.


Playing games helps the student to achieve success, feel confident and make good progress. This, in turn, makes playing an instrument more enjoyable.


Cheating Chess (or any other game) is great for making sure students are playing with 100% correct notes right from the start when learning new pieces. It also introduces the experience of playing under (gentle) pressure.  

Each time students play correctly they are one step nearer to the bonus move so the pressure they are playing under is gradually, but subtly increased. As they progress through the week, extra restrictions may be added such as 100% notes and correct timing at certain metronome speeds, inclusion of dynamics etc.


Follow these rules to play “Cheating Chess, or use them to play almost any other game. 

  • Divide the new piece or section to be learned into smaller sections (the teacher may do this during the lesson)

  • The student makes his/her first move.

  • The student then plays one of the phrases. S/he gets another move if s/he reaches the goal. 

  • If s/he is just learning the piece the student can hesitate or stop to work out the notes. Then, s/he plays the phrase a second time and if s/he achieves the goal, s/he gets another turn. 

  • Each section is played five times. If the student gets 100% correct notes all five times a bonus move is awarded!




The object of the game is to see how many times the student can play a section with 100% correct notes in a minute. (This game is especially useful when learning new pieces.) This can be played with somebody timing the student. Older students can play independently with a time. Set up a scoring system that works for your student.

  • Divide the piece or section into smaller sections

  • Set the timing device for a minute

  • Play a section as many times as possible with 100% correct notes in a minute. Students are encouraged to work out correct notes because in this scoring system the student loses 2 points for getting a note wrong!

  • Score 1 point for each time the section is played correctly and minus 2 points for every mistake, even if it is getting one note wrong.

  • Keep score for each section.

Options for Winning

  • Set a target score to achieve for each section

  •  Play against one or more friends to see who gets the highest score

  • Find which section has the highest score and have a target of getting all sections to that score.




Use this game to learn new or difficult pieces. You will need pictures of eight animals or other category the student finds interesting. The aim of the game is to collect all the cards.

  • Divide the piece to be learned into small sections (2 - 4 bars each)

  • Each section has an animal name

  • The student chooses which animal “to play.” Decide whether the student must achieve the chosen animal before working on another

  • Play the section accurately five times in a row to win the animal card

  • The parts should be reviewed frequently to maintain skills.

  • Maintain skills by playing sections learned on subsequent days. Set a goal-three times in a row; three out of five times or until s/he plays it three times correctly. Keep the animal if successful, put it back in the pile if unsuccessful.

  • Plan a prize or treat if all the animals are earned by the end of the week or other designated time-period.

  • Optional: Some students may be motivated to practice if they know they will lose an animal for every day they miss a scheduled practice.



PRACTICE GAMES FOR PERFORMING The best way to improve performance is to practice performing. Essentially, the more you perform the better you get at coping with the additional stress you are under when playing for an audience. Take every opportunity to perform for others whether the audience is big or small.


The opportunity to perform is one of the benefits of music education. These experiences teach the student how to prepare, practice and feel confident in front of a group of people. The student will be much more confident and is likely to play well if the performance piece is familiar, one s/he likes and has mastered.




This game is very simple, but it gives a quick and visual reference to how often mistakes are made. It also gives a clear target to achieve and an evaluation of how near the piece is to performance standard.


Place a pencil on the left-hand side of the music stand, piano, desk, etc.

There are three possible positions for the pencil-left hand side, middle and right-hand side. Win the game when the pencil is moved off the desk.

  • Choose a section or even the whole piece

  • Play through. The pencil stays where it is if a mistake is made. If the section or piece is played correctly, the pencil moves to the middle

  • Play the part again If the section or piece is played correctly, the pencil moves to the right. If it is played incorrectly, it moves to the left.

  • Keep going until the pencil is moved off the stand.

  • The piece or section must be played correctly four times in a row to get the pencil off the stand. 




  • If the pencil keeps moving between the first and second positions, use some other practice method to learn the notes. Then play this game, more successfully, again

  • If the pencil keeps moving between the second and third positions, it could be a question of maintaining focus on playing instead of “winning.”  Pay attention to one single aspect of playing, other than the notes. Try listening carefully to the dynamics or tone of the instrument.

  • If the pencil is moving smoothly 1 - 2 - 3 - off the piece is ready. It means the piece is totally secure and it is less likely the extra performance nerves will affect it negatively.


This game is "tough." Perhaps it should be used to evaluate student readiness to play a performance piece and/or readiness to move to the next section in a new piece. Students will recognize this game as a significant sign of progress when s/he "gets" to participate in the "Pencil Game." 



  • Use coins, pieces of candy, small toys instead of a pencil. Play the game for an undisclosed amount of time. (Set the timer.) The student keeps the items that are not on the music stand when the timer goes off or practice is finished. 

  • Change the game so that the student has to play the piece or section error free three times. The pencil will be on the right side of the stand rather than off the stand.




This is another game to evaluate performance readiness. It may be used to evaluate an entire piece or a section. Use this a couple of weeks before a performance when there is time to fix any issues.

  • Choose a performance piece or a section of a performance to practice.

  • Draw a ladder with seven rungs and put a small piece of BluTak on the bottom rung. Play through the piece or section.

  • If it is played 100% correctly, move up a rung.  if not, move down one rung.

  • Keep playing through the section, moving up one rung for 100% correct and down one for anything less.

  • Reach the top rung to win the game.


Pause the game and stay on the same rung any time to fix problems.


Allow plenty of time to reach the target goal. Getting all the way to the last rung and then having to go back to the first one can be extremely frustrating. However, this is one reason it is a good game for performance practice, but not so good for general practice. 

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