Practice Cards!

Teaching more and more voice, piano, and Conga Lessons has inspired a barrage of new teaching tools. Included in these are four sets of cards which have proved extremely useful (and fun to use!) when teaching and practicing with students. Let me introduce PowerPlay cards, Pick-a-Pitch cards, Rhythm Twist cards, and CrashChord cards. PowerPlay cards are specific to the piano, where the others can be applied to a variety of settings. The element of suspense while choosing a card and the randomness/luck involved somehow make everything feel more like a game!

All cards in use

Descriptions below:

PowerPlay cards

PowerPlay cards in use

Sometimes we need a little boost to make repetitive practicing more interesting and effective. PowerPlay cards are designed to shake things up once you’ve gotten a basic handle on a piano piece or section. (Most are specific to the needs of piano practicing as opposed to other instruments.) They are intended for use with small or medium-length sections, either in the second phase of practicing when you’re gaining speed and familiarity, or in the latter stages when you’re almost there, but still working towards consistency. Asking yourself to try to play a section while reading unrelated text aloud, transpose up a half step, or play one hand on your lap can be just the challenge needed to get over the hump!

Oh- and I should mention these cards are a hit with my students when we use them in lessons. Not only do they make practicing fun, but students are impressed with how well they’ve learned the section once we’ve applied a few cards. Depending on the student and the piece, I usually choose a selection of cards to pick from (not all cards may be appropriate for every situation), and I may expect varying levels of “perfection.”

Some of the ideas suggested on these cards were collected from my own teachers, some are particularly relevant to my current teaching approach, and many have been influenced by my Ph.D. research in music education and learning psychology.

PowerPlay card sheet

Pick-a-Pitch cards

Pick a Pitch cards in use

The Pick-a-Pitch cards are simple cards with the names of pitches on them which could be used for practice with any instrument. There are twelve cards, one for each pitch in the Western chromatic scale, and a “wild card.” If a pitch has two names (within a single sharp or flat), both names are written on the card.

We use these cards in lessons all. the. time. We use them to choose keys to play or sing scales, songs, exercises, chords and chord progressions, or to find pitches on an instrument at the beginning stages of learning. I used to use a 12-sided die, but became dissatisfied by the potential for repeating and skipping keys as well as the lack of customizability. With Pick-a-Pitch cards, I can take out pitches I don’t want to use, or we can be sure we get through all 12 keys, albeit in a random order. Pick-a-Pitch cards could also be used to learn and create the circle of 5ths, signal an answer in an ear training exercise, and make countless other learning experiences more “hands on.”

PickaPitch card sheet

Rhythm Twist cards

Rhythm Twist cards in use

We use the twelve short rhythms I chose for the Rhythm Twist cards to vary the rhythm of scales and other continuous exercises or pieces which have already been basically learned. Each card displays two identical beats in either duple or triple divisions. Subtle orange lines help students to read and feel the rhythms through a recognition of divisions, and can facilitate learning to read rhythm in the process. The accents included on each card are at the beginning of each beat and are critical to the effectiveness of the activity. Using the Rhythm Twist cards have a similar effect as the PowerPlay cards do, providing new avenues for learning through a disruption of an automated pattern. Students enjoy the challenge and variety to the repetition of scales and exercises!

Rhythm Twist card sheet

CrashChord cards

CrashChord cards in use

These are basic cards for drilling triads and 7th chords. They include each possible position or inversion of all triads and 7th chords consisting of major and minor 3rds (with the exception of the 7th chord chord built of 3 major 3rds, which spans an Augment 7th, enharmonic to an octave). This deck of cards came about after experimenting with dice (one for the chord, one for the inversion) and spinners, a process which again left me seeking greater customizability and less potential for skipping and repeating chords. We use these cards in conjunction with the Pick-a-Pitch cards when drilling chords in lessons, and I’m able to choose the quality or inversion most appropriate for the student. At the piano, we play the chords drawn and sing up the notes on letter names, although they could also be used by students learning theory, ear training, or other instruments.

There are many different systems for naming chords. These are the names (and abbreviations) I use first, and are those I learned and taught with at The Juilliard School. Students seem to transfer the understanding they gain while using these terms easily as we play from fake books and pop/jazz lead sheets, despite the possible difference in terminology.

CrashChord card sheet

Someday soon these decks of cards will be available for sale at! Currently, “beta” editions are available for purchase by my private students, and other inquiries may be made at 🙂

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