by Ruth Alberici
A few months ago I was thinking about all of the resources that I have acquired for my piano teaching studio over the years. It’s fair to say that, like many music teachers, I have a lot! Some have stood the test of time, whilst others are gathering dust on the bottom shelf of my cupboard.
These thoughts led to an idea….to compile an A to Z list of useful music teaching resources. Useful means ‘tried and tested’ resources that are used regularly, and successfully, with my students as well as things that help me to organise my teaching life.
Hopefully this list will be helpful to those of you looking for a bit of inspiration and new lesson ideas.
As well as my own ideas, many come from music teachers and educators around the World. I am so grateful that the music teaching community is extremely generous in sharing their expertise and knowledge through social media and blog posts, videos, webinars and their own websites¹. Where possible, I have included links to their individual sites, so please do go and explore these further (I am not affiliated to any of these sites except for My Music Resource which I co-founded and run).
The A to Z list below covers a range of musical concepts and teaching styles that help teachers to engage with, and motivate, pupils in the learning process. Many add a bit of sparkle and fun to lessons and encourage student participation. There is a focus on piano, although a lot of these resources can be used when teaching other instruments. The majority of the resources are physical or digital downloads that can be printed out. They work really well in face-to-face lessons, whether with individual students or in groups, but many can also be used for online lessons.
The list is by no means exhaustive; the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that I haven’t included the most important resource for lessons, our instrument, because that was a little bit too obvious!
There will be many, many more great music teaching resources not included below, so please do leave a comment with your own favourite resources.
To download a printable version, click here.
A to Z of Music Teaching Resources
A b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
A is for Animal Toys
Soft animal toys can be a great resource for demonstrating many musical concepts with young beginners in a fun and engaging way. Here are just a few examples:
- High and low sounds e.g. Lion for low sounds and monkey for high sounds.
- Dynamics e.g. elephant for forte vs mouse for piano.
- Articulation e.g kangaroo for staccato vs fish for legato.
- Speed e.g. snail for snail speed.
Cuddly toys can also be used to spark the imagination when introducing improvisation and composition and help pupils overcome shyness when singing. In this short video from her ready to play musicianship series, Sally Cathcart introduces sock puppets to encourage singing to pupils who may find this hard.
a B c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
B is for Bouncy Balls
Photo Credit: Istock.com/EkaterinaZakharova
Bouncy Balls can be used for many Dalcroze-style activities to encourage pupils to develop their sense of pulse by experiencing it physically. For example, play a piece of music with a clear pulse and metre and ask your pupils to bounce a ball in time to the music, emphasizing the strong beats. For group lessons, you can get pupils to bounce the ball on the beat to their peers to help internalise the pulse.
Expanding hoberman spheres are a great resource for visually demonstrating crescendos and diminuendos in music, and they can also be used for warm up breathing exercises to help pupils relax. In a comfortable seated position, get your student to breathe in and expand the sphere for the duration of the inhale. As they begin to exhale, ask them to collapse the hoberman sphere.
Photo Credit: Istock.com/Membio
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C is for Chimes
Chimes have been really popular with my students and are a great tool for introducing simple rhythmic and melodic exercises. The set above includes 8 detachable diatonic colour coded chimes with the note embossed on the top, plus two beaters. They are relatively lightweight and durable, which is handy if you are a travelling music teacher. I like the fact that these chimes are detachable, so you can ask pupils to choose one purely for rhythm work and use the full set for playing melodies.
For rhythmic exercises, ask your pupil to pick a chime to tap, or alternatively tap the beaters together. For melodic exercises, choose an appropriate selection of chimes to use. They can be used to help with note reading or call and response activities.
Supplier: Percussion Workshop
a b c D e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
D is for Dice
There are so many uses for dice in music lessons. They can be used for many ‘off the bench’ activities and for adding a bit of chance to activity choices. Here are a few ideas:
- As part of a fun musical game, such as the ones below from some of the wonderful My Music Resource creators.
- For selecting which bar to start on in a piece.
- For choosing a numbered exercise at random.
- For deciding the number of times to repeat a task.
I use these large foam dice in my own lessons and my younger pupils love them. They are easy to pick up and not so easy to lose!
If you’d like to create your own dice for rhythm games, just download the FREE Summer music dice by Gwen Harborne.
a b c d E f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
E is for Erasers
When I first started teaching piano, I made sure to stock up on Iwako erasers. These long-lasting cute and colourful Japanese erasers come in a variety of themes, such as food or animals, and can be purchased from numerous retailers. There are endless ways to use Iwako erasers in lessons, and this great blog post from Teach Piano Today gives a few ideas.
Also, do check out this teaching tip video from Sally Cathcart, Co-Founder of The Curious Piano Teachers, which shows how to use erasers as ‘practice buddies’ to help students repeat passages.
a b c d e F g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
F is for Frixion Pens & Highlighters
I just love my FriXion Pens!
In case you haven’t heard of them, they are erasable pens and come in loads of different colours and styles. These days, I use FriXion pens whenever I write, including for practice notes, because there’s no need for tipex or crossing out if you make a mistake. You just rub them out, like you would a pencil mark. For children, erasable pens remove the anxiety around making mistakes when writing. Whilst FriXion pens are manufactured by Pilot, there are many different brands on the market – just search for erasable pens.
Pilot also make erasable FriXion highlighter pens in a range of bright and vibrant colours. I use these for highlighting problem areas in a piece, such as wrong notes, then rub out the markings when the problem area has been addressed. Colour coding the markings i.e. pink for notation, yellow for rhythm, green for articulation, lets students know exactly what needs to be corrected.
a b c d e f G h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
G is for Groceries
OK, I’m not talking about snacks for hungry teachers, although these are a must when you have a busy teaching schedule! The groceries I use in lessons are little food and drink collectables that you can use for all sorts of studio challenges. I regularly use these for a ‘walk to the shops’ activity for technical work. If pupils play their scale / pentascale / arpeggio / technical exercise accurately, they can choose a food item to put in their trolley before embarking on the next challenge. This little game keeps them focused on the task in hand, and can open up a nice little conversation about their favourite foods. All groceries are returned to the store at the end of the lesson (and the trolley is kept well away from my piano to avoid scratching!).
My younger students are particularly fond of my M&S Grocery store, which I collected as part of a promotion a few years ago. You can also use grocery-themed erasers (see Iwako erasers above) or small collectables like shopkins.
a b c d e f g H i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
H is for Highlighter Tape
I discovered transparent highlighter tape a few years ago, and use it regularly to highlight patterns in a piece or problem areas. It is easy to peel off and doesn’t leave marks on the page. Although it is quite expensive, it does last for a long time.
a b c d e f g h I j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
I is for Index Tabs (sticky)
There are so many uses for these colourful, transparent sticky index tabs and they are definitely one of my favourite teaching resources. In fact, all of my pupils are given a pack when they start lessons. Translucent and writeable index tabs are particularly helpful as they don’t hide the information being highlighted and are easy to write short notes on.
Here are a few ways to use them when teaching:
- Stick them onto a score to highlight, isolate and focus on problem areas in a piece. Once the problem area has been addressed through practice, they are very easy to remove and reposition.
- Stick different coloured tabs onto a score to highlight similar and / or contrasting patterns in the music.
- Stick them onto music books to make pages / pieces which need to be practiced easier to find.
- Stick on piano keys to highlight notes, patterns and chords (just be careful that they don’t fall through the gaps in the keys!).
a b c d e f g h i J k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
J is for Jumping Frogs
This game idea was taken from this fantastic interview with autism specialist & clinical psychologist Lydia Meem on Piano Teaching Success. Here she tells us how these froghoppers can be used to help with index finger joint hypermobility (53 minutes in). With a curve in the finger, needed for piano playing, the frogs jump higher. You can play loads of games with these little frogs, such as getting them to jump over each other or having races on the floor. If you have a floor stave, you can get your pupil to jump their frog and name the note it lands on.
Supplier: Viking Toys
a b c d e f g h i j K l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
K is for Keyboard & Stave Stamps
This two octave piano keyboard rubber stamp is a relatively new addition to my teaching studio, but is already proving invaluable in lessons. The keyboard image can be quickly stamped onto a score, notebook or paper and used for writing note names and/or finger patterns.
You can also purchase music staff rubber stamps which are great for practicing note writing and composition, and for teachers to illustrate examples. My students have loved using these rubber stamps in their lessons.
a b c d e f g h i j k L m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
L is for Laminator
Photo Credit: Istock.com/Doomu
Whilst I try not to laminate cards and games too often due to the environmental impact of plastic, it can be useful to cover certain resources that are used regularly in lessons. It increases durability and any writing / marks can be easily wiped off the surface.
a b c d e f g h i j k l M n o p q r s t u v w x y z
M is for Metronome
Metronomes come in a variety of forms; mechanical, electric, apps and in-built metronomes in digital pianos and keyboards. My pupils find my mechanical metronome fascinating! They are a fantastic tool to help pupils internalize the beat and focus on rhythm without worrying about pitch and technique.
With beginners, I will set a beat on the metronome and get them to clap along or tap their foot, before moving onto simple rhythms. They can be used to practice scales and technical exercises, ensuring that these are played with a steady pulse and rhythmically. I also use a speed up metronome for my own practice to help me gradually build up the tempo of a passage.
I generally use a metronome strategically and with supervision in lessons, so that playing doesn’t become too mechanical and pupils know how to practice using a metronome at home.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m N o p q r s t u v w x y z
N is for Note Cards and Notebooks
Note cards are SO useful and can be used for a variety of games and challenges. One of my favourite activities with note cards is the 60 second, or one minute, note reading challenge. Susan Paradis explains the game here. You can find some more ideas for note games when you download my free note cards from My Music Resource.
Note reading apps, such as Note Rush and Flashnote Derby, are great to use in both lessons and for home practice. Levels can be set that are appropriate for each student and note rush has the benefit of linking to your instrument which helps students associate the notes on a page with those on the keys.
Flashnote Derby has a variety of themes – Fresh Air, Space Force, Pretty Pegasus and Reindeer Race – so pupils can select one that they like. Every year I run a studio-wide Flashnote Derby Challenge, which has been a huge success to date. I created a huge racecourse with racehorse cards for each student. Each week they aim to beat their previous score and move along the racecourse to the finish line.
Notebooks are important for writing practice notes, reminders and for general communication to pupils and parents. I created my own practice book for each pupil that I print out and use for writing practice notes each week. I charge back the cost of printing and labour. However, your pupils can bring in their own notebooks or you can subscribe to music teaching software, such as My Music Staff to help with planning and practice notes.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n O p q r s t u v w x y z
O is for Owl Erasers
These cute owl erasers, or ‘arpeggio owls’, can be used to teach arpeggio patterns to beginners and are a perfect resource to accompany Kate Thompson’s educational owl-themed Chord Inversion Pack.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o P q r s t u v w x y z
P is for Printer, Paper & Pencils
My printer is one of the most used resources in my teaching studio. I print out studio licenced games, activity sheets and music sourced from My Music Resource, or sheet music downloaded from other sites.
Printer ink can be expensive, so it is advisable to charge an annual fee to students for these resources plus the cost of paper / printing so that you are not left out of pocket.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Q r s t u v w x y z
Q is for Quiz Buzzers
Quiz buzzers can be used in many ways in lessons and always add that fun element. Here are a few ideas:
- Musical Differences: Play a short phrase twice, the second time changing one of the notes. Your pupil presses the buzzer when they hear the different note.
- Spot the Phrase: Allocate one buzzer for ‘correct’ and one for ‘incorrect’. Show your pupil a short phrase then play it either accurately or with a mistake. Ask your pupil to press the correct buzzer.
- Quiz Time: For group lessons, give each pupil / team a buzzer and ask some music related quiz questions. When they know the answer they hit the buzzer and respond. If correct, they get a point. If incorrect, the question goes to the next person to press the buzzer.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q R s t u v w x y z
R is for Rhythm Cards
As with note cards, rhythm cards are a fantastic resource for music lessons. They can be used with percussion instruments, such as chimes, to count and tap different rhythms and more cards can be added to extend the rhythm. Here is a great Build a Rhythm game from our My Music Resource creator, Rachael Inwood.
There are so many activities you can do with rhythm cards. Just choose the note values that you are focussing on in lessons and off you go.
Here are a few ideas from Dr Sally Cathcart, Co-Founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers.
Memory Master: The pupil randomly chooses 4 flashcards and places them onto a flat surface so that a 4 bar rhythm is created. The pupil counts and taps the rhythm. The pupil then chooses one card to turn over and tap from memory.
Making Connections: Choose a particular rhythmic feature from a piece that a student is currently working on or about to learn. Give the student a flashcard that reflects this rhythmic feature and ask them to find as many matches as they can. This can be done either in the lesson or as homework.
Hot Corners: Choose four rhythm cards that are already familiar to the student (s) and put each one in a different corner of the room. They stand in the middle and listen as you play one of the rhythms. They then move to the corner that has the rhythm you are playing, counting aloud and clapping.
Scaling the Heights: The aim of this game is for the pupil to play a scale in the key of a piece that is currently being learnt. The pupil chooses a rhythm card and plays the chosen scale using that rhythm.
I created this free Fruit Rhythms printable to help my own students learn rhythms in a fun and interactive way. Feel free to download it and pass on to your own students!
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r S t u v w x y z
S is for Stickers
Stickers can be a great way of rewarding younger pupils for achieving certain goals. I try not to give them out too frequently so that they don’t lose their novelty / reward factor, but do hand out stickers when young beginners learn a new piece as part of their repertoire challenge.
Whilst there are attractive themed stickers in every shape and size, the most coveted ones in my studio are simple dot stickers. These are awarded for mastering a scale or arpeggio. Dots are awarded on their progress trackers when a scale or arpeggio is played with the correct notes, recommended fingering, evenness and musical shaping. These have encouraged pupils to focus on a task and repeat it, and have been very motivational.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s T u v w x y z
T is for Tutor Books
Tutor books and a good selection of repertoire are likely to fill the shelves of any music teacher. There are so many tutor books out there, with more being published each year, so how do you decide which is the best one for you and your students? In this blog post, Sally Cathcart gives 5 questions to help you choose the right tutor book for your pupils.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t U v w x y z
U is for Utensils
Well, more specifically, chopsticks and forks!
There are many different ways of teaching the patterns of black notes, but I use Chopsticks for the two black notes and Forks for the three white notes on a piano. This approach is helpful because it helps with keyboard geography; in addition to giving a visual representation of the black keys, the white key C is before the Chopstick and F just before the Fork. When teaching beginners, I ask pupils to lay Chopstick and Fork cards on the correct groupings before moving on to teach the white keys. You can download Chopstick and Fork cards and activity ideas for free here.
Chopsticks also make great drum sticks for rhythm work!
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u V w x y z
V is for Voice
Despite not being a tangible resource, our voices are used in every single music lesson. We use it for giving guidance, instruction, feedback, asking questions and for singing. The way in which we talk to our pupils can set the tone of a lesson. We use our voices to demonstrate phrasing through singing, to teach sol-fa, to help pitch notes…the list is endless.
Our voice is one of the most important resources that we have at our disposal when teaching music.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v W x y z
W is for Whiteboard
Photo Credit: Istock.com/Volodymyr Kotoshchuk
Whiteboards are so handy for explaining music theory or other musical concepts in a lesson. I have two whiteboards in my studio that I use in face-to-face lessons. One shows the grand stave (drawn in permanent marker) and is used to learn landmark notes and intervals whilst the other is for writing theory notes.
When teaching online, I use the in-built whiteboard in Zoom.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w X y z
X is for Xylophone
I struggled a bit to find a word starting with X (don’t we all!) but xylophone seemed to be appropriate for a blog on music teaching resources. As with chimes and other percussion instruments, xylophones can be used in group and individual music lessons for creating new sounds and playing rhythms and simple melodies. Small, portable xylophones can add a fun element to lessons and really engage pupils.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Y z
Y is for Yearly Planner
It’s fair to say that I would be completely lost without my yearly planner! I use an old-school hard copy Passion Planner to track lessons, write to do lists, and note down all of the other things that need to be remembered (birthdays, events, children’s clubs etc).
There are also many online options available to make busy lives feel a bit more organised, such as online calendars and music teacher software like My Music Staff.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Z
Z is for Zoo Animals
I use the Piano Safari method with my young beginners and having a selection of cuddly safari animals is a must for teaching the 7 animal techniques, demonstrated here by co-author of the Piano Safari series Katherine Fisher.
¹I would like to say thank you to the following music teachers and educators for providing ideas and inspiration for this A to Z of Teaching Resources.
Julie Knerr and Katherine Fisher, Co-Authors of Piano SafarI, Sally Cathcart and Sharon Mark-Teggart, Co-Founders of The Curious Piano Teachers, Members of The Curious Piano Teachers Curiosity Lounge, Paul Myatt and Gillian Erskine, Co-Founders of the Forte School of Music and Piano Teaching Success, Andrea Dow and Trevor Dow at TeachPianoToday.com, My Music Resource Creators, Tutors at The Piano Teachers’ Course, Susan Paradis and all music teachers who have freely shared their teaching ideas to benefit the wider music teaching community.