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Music Theory Games for 4 Year Olds


When I first started teaching piano to four year olds, I began to realise that my tried and tested teaching strategies needed to change, and fast! I started to understand that what these mini humans needed from me was an array of activities that would nurture things like gross + fine motor skills, basic language + reading comprehension, and numerical skills.

I strongly believe that four year olds shouldn't be expected to fit a mould during lessons, and instead these sorts of skills should be encouraged through play. Today I wanted to share four games that each focus on one skill. They can all be made more challenging depending on where the child is at!

To enter the Giveaway to win the Enjoy Piano 2016/17 Planners + Flashcards, please leave a comment on this post including your favourite game to play with this age group! It would be great for me and other teachers to hear what works for you. The winner will be announced Sunday 31st July at 3pm BST. Good luck!



Use Alphabet Cards to play a game!

Playing with alphabet cards + a quick memory game

Lay out one set of alphabet cards A-G on the floor. Put the A in front of your student, and ask them if they can find the next card in the alphabet. Can your student put the rest of the cards "in order"? Some children of this age won't know what "order" means, so be prepared to explain things in multiple ways! Gentle patience with yourself and the child is key.

If the child struggles, try humming the alphabet song to prompt their memory. If they are still struggling, singing the alphabet song with the words and stopping just before the next letter they need to place down on the floor could be useful for them.

Once they have put the cards in order, point to cards individually and see if they can work out/read what the letters are. Most students of this age will need to start at the beginning of the alphabet and move along until they get to the card you're pointing at.

If this is all easy breezy for your student, play a quick memory game by asking them to close their eyes while you remove one of the cards. Can they tell you which one is missing?





Copycat + Simon Says

When a student comes to me, the first thing I point out is the "twins" and the "triplets" - the groups of black keys on the piano. We talk about whether they have any friends who are twins and once they've answered I ask them what the names of the black key groups are again. If they remember, we're good to play copycat!

Play different rhythms on both of the twins (C# and D#), and ask the child to copy you. Can they copy the rhythm from the bottom set of twins all the way through to the top set?

If they find this easy, you could extend it to a Simon Says game:

  • "Simon Says play a triplet up high"
  • "Simon says play some twins in the middle"
  • "Play some low twins"

This helps the student with their confidence in playing all over the piano!



Using Rhythm Cards

Clapping Rhythms!

Once the note values have been learnt, one of the best ways to put them into practice is to use rhythm cards! Give your student a bunch of rhythm cards and ask them to put them "in order" - again, a good time to discuss what 'order' means. There are a few variations to this game which get progressively harder:

  1. Clap along the row that your student lays out, while counting out loud - in the above example you could say "1, 1, 1-2, 1, 1-2, 1", clapping together on the '1's and whispering the '2's so the child knows not to clap when you whisper.

  2. Put on a song in the background and clap the rhythm again. Your student might be surprised that the rhythm goes well with any 4/4 time song! I like this song for kids this age - catchy and note too fast - and reinforces the alphabet yet again. They love it!

  3. You could clap a rhythm and ask the student to put the cards in order - this is a great one for developing their rhythm awareness. If they struggle to do this, you could count aloud over the top of your clapping, so they have a more obvious way to work it out.



Story Time

One of the most fun games for exploring the sounds of the piano is using a story time set-up with animals.

Play some keys on the piano and ask the child to say whether they are high up or low down - change your tone of voice when you say high and low so they understand the difference! Then move into Story Time. Choose a few animals (you could print off some pictures or just talk about them) and ask your student where they might 'be' on the piano. A tiger? Low down! A little bird? High up! Play around with the notes to introduce things like speed and volume - can they scurry around quickly like a spider? Can they plod along slowly and loudly like an elephant? This game really helps to reinforce knowledge and bring a lot of fun to the lesson!

Extend this game by introducing the names of the clefs: Ask your student to draw the clefs out on paper, or follow a dot-to-dot line, and blu-tack them to the respective parts of the piano. Ask your student to high-five the clef which would match the animals you were using before!


Do you have a game you love to play with your 4 year olds? Please feel free to share it in the comments below! Everyone who comments will be entered into a draw to win my Enjoy Piano 2016/17 Planners + Flashcards! The winner will be announced Sunday 31st July at 3pm BST.

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  1. Ada

    On Game 3, no.3, you said you like this song for kids this age. Which song is that please?

    Sofie: Hi Ada! My links aren't showing up underlined, it actually links to this song on Youtube ( be warned - this will get stuck in your head for weeks should you decide to use it in lessons!!

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  2. Sofie Kay

    Thanks SO MUCH to everyone for entering this giveaway! The winner this time is Berry O'rourke, yippeee... I hope the rest of you will join in for the next giveaway!

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  3. David Freeder

    I like playing copy me and singing the notes.

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  4. Berry o'Rourke

    Hi Sophie, your ideas are always fun, my older ones spent the end of term chording away to My Grandfather's clock, even Dennis (88) and my 4th year medical student. Of this selection, I love the twins and triplets and Simin Says which I guess can be used for lots of different concepts. I'd love to explore more of your games and flash cards...

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  5. To practice finger numbers, I have a bag of party favor rings and tell the student to put a ring on finger 2, then one on finger 5 etc.

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  6. Kathy

    Love the ideas! Keep 'em coming! I like to simply toss a bean bag back and forth each taking turns saying the letters of the musical alphabet forwards AND backwards! We see how fast we can go without making a mistake.

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  7. Gill Eccles

    Just love your animal game, not heard of it before, can't wait to try it out with my young pupils.

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  8. A very simple one that often gets adapted...starting with 6 crotchet cards in a pile, we take turns to throw a giant dice and put the number of cards in a line on a big floor drum. Tap the rhythm with fingertips (any, or the finger number) saying the rhythm syllables (e.g. ta ta ta) Then run to the piano and play the pattern on any note or notes. Over time, there are te-te and then ta-a cards to choose from too. Non-competitive but so popular! And if we like a pattern we play on the piano we might repeat/ develop it: composing too!

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  9. Cara

    Love clapping rhythms!

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  10. Noreen F

    Great ideas!

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  11. Karen Ricks

    I love the game Triplets and Twins and Simon Says! I'm going to have to try that one with my two little granddaughters.

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  12. Dana McCabe

    Such great ideas! I do a lot of patterning games (visual then playing then auditory) with my littles. Their favorite is to make a visual pattern with manipulatives, then we try to trick each other by making a mistake or switching two pieces around.

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  13. Susan D.

    Thanks for the useful ideas! I anticipate having some 4-5 year-old students, and I especially like Game #2 because it involves listening and using/developing musical memory.

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  14. Olivia Carr

    My favorite game is definitely Simon Says! :)

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  15. My little ones love Keyboard Race. Place two tiny toy people or other markers at the ends of the piano. Give your student a set of alphabet cards, and keep a set. Take turns picking a card and moving your person to the next key of that letter. The first one to middle C wins!

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