It’s that time of year where it is oh-so-easy to just let go and coast to end of the month. But, is that really what’s best for our students? No! Fun music theory ideas designed for the end of the year are the perfect way to highlight the amazing progress each student has made.
Regardless of whether your studio runs on a regular schedule, holds group lessons, has summer camps, or takes a complete break over the summer months, it’s important to recognize that our students need something different right now. They are tired, both mentally and physically.
Plus, with end of year exams, projects, outdoor sports and more out-of-town activities on the weekends … it really isn’t a wonder that our students, their families, and perhaps even us, as teachers, need a change.
Why It Matters
Since I know end of year is a time when everyone in my student is looking for a change (me included), this is the time when each lesson leads us closer to wrapping up in a positive way. When I make this a priority another benefit happens.
This is a time to make sure that clients are eager to re-register … and hopefully also send referrals your way.
This may seem a little odd for a music theory article, but remember that the activities you choose to do throughout the year say something about your studio culture. Are you a:
- “Play by the book” studio?
- “Use tech to support learning”?
- “Fun activities to learn in many ways” type of studio?
There is no right answer here. And, these don’t even scratch the surface of the types of studios out there. But, if you are that last one … then using fun music theory ideas for the end of the year fits perfectly with your ideal studio culture.
This month in my studio, we prepare for lazy summer days when I want my students to play the piano whenever they are in the room. I want them to have quick successes so that don’t lose that love of piano! And, I’m hoping to help you do the same!
In the rest of this article, I’ll be sharing ideas you can use for in person, online or travelling lessons.
Bring on the Apps
When I taught in person and travelled to my students’ homes, we used apps a lot. With online lesson lag, it’s not always easy to have the perfect way to share these with students from my devices.
Regardless of which format you teach (in person or online), apps undeniably have to be included in any fun music theory ideas for end of year. After all, that is the goal behind any app is to keep people engaged on the app as often and long as possible. Which is why I may have a slight problem when it comes to putting away the Solitaire suite app. But, that’s a different discussion.
Student Led Conferences
A great option is to have students choose an app to teach their parents during student-led conferences. They have to explain why they chose the app, which skill it helps their parent(s) practice and show how they will teach their parent(s). We use these planning sheets to make things super simple.
This was a very popular option when I was teaching in person because my students were using the apps on a regular basis. They loved having an excuse to play those apps again. However, this can still work for online lessons.
If you use an app on a somewhat regular basis during online lessons, remind students it’s one they enjoyed. Then, have them purchase their own copy of the app (if they haven’t already). The advantage here is that suddenly your student has an excuse to do a little music theory over the summer. (Cue the
evil devious delighted laugh.)
Review Through Apps
I’m a big fan of focusing on review the last weeks of the term. Students don’t tend to want to focus on learning a lot of new things at this point. So rather than fighting that battle, I really lean into going back to things they loved doing throughout the year.
Explain why they chose the app, what skill it practices, and how they beat their score from before (which requires them to look at past reflection answers).
For in-person or travel lessons, the sky is the limit here. For online lessons, you may want to stick closer to online apps like these ones.
Support Independent Playing
One of the dichotomies of teaching is that we want to help our students not need us in the future. Therefore, apps that focus on the skills they will need to play independently are another great category to look at.
Again, I used all of these extensively as an in person, travel teacher. However, I’ve experimented with these for online lessons as well!
Piano Maestro … Students love playing the songs and I like that they are building an internal steady beat. Plus, the LEARN button is a great way to train students on how to break down a piece into manageable sections.
For in person lessons, these activities can be done during lesson time. For online lessons, you can assign songs to students through the app so they can complete them during the week as part of their practice times.
Blob Chorus … We all need a laugh and what could be funnier than blobs exploding? Plus, student really need to listen to determine which is the correct blob. For in person or travel lessons, the app is available for Apple and Android devices.
Recently, I tried sharing the iOS app in our online Zoom group lesson. Unfortunately, it just wouldn’t share the image which meant my students didn’t get to see exploding blobs. (I know, disappointing to be sure.) However, this is the nature of tech so we quickly adapted. As the blobs sang, I held up my fingers to indicate 1, 2 or 3. My students showed their answers on their screens and majority was the deciding factor in which blob was selected. The kids loved it and still got a kick out of hearing the squelching and pop sound of the blobs. Thankfully not too many blobs were harmed during our group lesson.
It wasn’t until AFTER our group lesson that I realized Blob Chorus is available as an online app! Guess what’s getting added to our lesson rotation now?
P.S. I’ll also be running all our other favourite apps through an online search to see if I’ve missed other gems because these are fun music theory ideas for end of year (or any time of year).
Notes on Staffs and Keyboard:
NinGenius was one of my student favourites when I taught in person! I noticed a decrease in the time it takes students to find notes on staff or on the keyboard. Plus, my students loved that they competed against themselves and it was so easy to track their progress! If you haven’t tried out this app, the studio version is completely worth it.
It also comes in an online version with a 12-month subscription model (though I haven’t tried it at the time of this article). I’ll be checking in with both my budget and students to see if the subscription will be used enough in my studio to make this an incredible investment.
Rhythmic Village … Another studio favourite! If students have a choice of apps, I can guarantee that many will be choosing this one. It is also a great app for installing a strong sense of steady beat for students … something many students struggle with.
There is an online version that I just discovered here. This download gives a free trial with the option to purchase the full version.
I love doing studio challenges! These range from annual or seasonal challenges to ideas that relate to our current studio theme. Depending on my goal for the challenge these range from completely independent to only done during lesson time.
Make It Yours
Years ago, I remember wanting my students to practice regularly during the summer. That was the thing that all piano teachers were supposed to strive for after all. So, I did some research and found Teach Piano Today’s E-FISH-ent piano practice incentive . Granted I had to modify things since my students weren’t attending lessons during the summer. But, I was really excited that my students would magically all practice.
It didn’t quite work out that way. I had one family participate. In the entire studio. And, this was only because the kids really, really wanted a pet fish.
Over the summer, we want our students to play piano. We would LOVE it if they practiced … but, I’ve learnt to be realistic and aim for playing the piano for a quick bit. But, part of being able to pick up a piece of sheet music, learn a song by ear, or use a tutorial on YouTube is having the musical skills necessary to make it possible.
I still hand out a challenge in June. That way students who want the extra incentive can run with it. Those that just need a break can take it. And, I make sure regardless of the challenge that the time and energy I put in is minimal outside of lessons. Because there’s nothing worse than pouring your heart and soul into a project that no one wants. Right?
To keep things super simple, I would recommend using ready-made ideas (like I did with the above practice challenge) that build on what you’ve already done in your programming.
- Bingo: Use the 5 Ways Practice Strategies as a Bingo card to review previous songs. Have students point out the music theory concept for each strategy for bonus points!
- Sight-reading: Grab a few books that a well below level and have students sight-read as many as they can.
- Improvise: Read “How Music Theory and Improvisation Can Be Taught Together”. It’s one of my favourite activities and only takes minutes during lessons.
Any of these ideas will work great during lesson time (both in person or online) and can be used as take-home packages (both digital and physical).
Perhaps your students have already finished their regularly scheduled lessons, but you want to inspire them this summer.
Once I moved online, I began including a short series of exercises that my students could complete before the end of June. This helped parent feel that even though lessons ended earlier in the month their tuition payment was still going towards some type of learning. But, after my earlier disastrous results with summer challenges, I knew it needed to be a different approach.
Here is what I didn’t want:
- Hours of prep time for very few students completing the activities
- Hours of marking
- Complicated activities that would lead to lots of emails/calls/texts with questions
Yes, I realize those are all focused on what I want. But, you’ll notice that by this point in the year … I want a break too. Sort of. I actually get super excited about planning the upcoming year which means this last part of June is always set aside for that.
There are many ways you could have students learn independently. But, our studio favourite still is … digital escape rooms. (At the time of updating this, my students had just finished telling me they wanted more!) Digital escape rooms are the perfect blend of engaging for students with almost no admin work for teachers. Which makes it perfect for our fun music theory ideas list for end of the year.
Whatever you choose to do for self-study, just make sure you have walked your student through it during lesson time. This avoids a lot of questions that inevitably pop up when something has to be done independently.
Fun Music Theory Ideas for End of Year
While it is easy to slide into summer early, let’s give our students an AWESOME month of activities that set them up for success this month and perhaps even the summer!
I hope you are inspired to make this month one that your students will remember. Whether you do these during lessons (in person, travel or online) or send them out as a fun package (digital or snail mail) for students, you’re sure to get plenty of smiles along the way.
What is your approach to music theory before the holidays?
Let me know in the comments!
Here is a quick list of the resources I’ve mentioned to get you started!
NOTE: This article was originally published on June 9, 2017. It has since been updated with ideas for both online teachers and in person!