Making lessons fun for young students

Posted In: Teaching the Harp

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    eliza-bourgault on #189580

    I was just wondering what tricks you guys have up your sleeves to keep one hour lessons stimulating and fun for young children (under the age of say, 10). I’m teaching a young girl and I’ve noticed that after half an hour or so she starts to lose attention which makes it difficult to get anymore productive work done. I think if I included more musical games this might make it easier like call and response games?? Any suggestions or experiences in this area?? Cheers!!

    Angela Biggs on #189582

    I would suggest “Harp Games” by Lisa Lamb, available on Amazon. It has some musical bingo-type games, form exercises, aural exercises, etc.

    Are there reasons why her lesson shouldn’t be a half-hour, if that’s the length of her attention span?

    carl-swanson on #189587

    Eliza- How are you using the one hour lesson time now? I would think that for a child that young you could divide the hour into sections. One section would be working on technique(easy etudes, scales, etc.). Another section would be playing pieces. And the last section could music theory and reading music, which would be done completely away from the harp, at a dining room table for example. In any event, the most important job for you is to watch and listen carefully and as soon as she is showing signs of loosing interest or saturation point, stop and go on to something else. Ideally you want to stop and go on to something else BEFORE she starts reaches a saturation point.

    When I lived in France many years ago, I taught English as a foreign language to French adults, mostly businessmen. I quickly found out that if I did a lesson with them on, for example, making an affirmative sentence negative, they would work well for a certain amount of time, grasping the concept as I went around the class from one to another testing them. But if I did it for too long, suddenly it would start to unravel and they would start making mistakes on something that 5 minutes earlier they were doing well. So I’d just stop and go on to something else. Some of the other teachers at the school never grasped what was happening and they would just drive harder when the students reached this point, causing enormous frustration all around.

    Alison on #189614

    I’ve never thought of games before until recently when the 7 year old beginner, who’s slowly getting acquainted with the harp begged me to play a game and made this one up, simple but fun for her. The harpist plays up and down the harp – scales or arpeggios, say, the observer shouts out a note/chord name and the harpist must stop and play that – this showed me that she wouldn’t remember to use the levers for F# or Bb. For a slightly more varied version I made one of those paper fortune tellers (aka cootie catcher) with various choices of key and playing tasks (note, glissando, octaves, scale, arpeggio etc – you have to unfold it to work out which squares and triangles to write in – 4 outside squares, 2 sets of 4 choices and 1-1 tasks underneath, so the logic has to flow….. probably useful for testing scales etc for grades. Anyway it’s a reminder to us all to lighten up sometime….. have fun. I wonder what Tom and Jerry would do…..

    Aziliz Harp on #189648

    For my young students, if the mother and father want to have one hour per week I use to divide in two lessons (half an hour each.
    If it is not possible, one hour is too long for young children, so we do different activities.
    As already said one section for technique, one section for playing pieces, and for the last section the student can learn easy pieces by ears. I play on another harp and he/she can repeat but without looking at my fingers. I let the student try and find his own way to play the tune.
    Another activity that my students like is to play duet. I have a little harp so I can play with them. Sometimes they have a friend, a brother or sister who can play with another instrument.

    Andelin on #189666

    There is a woman named Sue Hunt, who has created many games for children and music. Her focus is violin, but I think many if them would be adaptable for harp. Her website is Some are more about practicing (think repetition, as required by the suzuki method) but again, probably adaptable for a lesson.

    There are also apps and computer games or worksheets for teaching music theory. I second the suggestion of having some of the teaching period be done away from the harp, if she loses interest. It amazes me how something so small, such as a change of location or focus, can breathe new life into a child’s attention span.

    Also, she may enjoy trying her hand at composing. My 7 year old, who plays violin, loves to make up songs. You can teach music theory through helping her how to notate her creations. Another thing he likes is to play pretend. Pretend you are in a concert hall. Or we go outside and map out the backyard and stand in a different spot and pretend we are playing for a friend or relative who lives there. I will post more ideas if I think of them.

    Hope this is helpful. 🙂

    Barbara on #190666

    Hi Eliza,

    To echo other posts, breaking up the lesson can be really helpful. Some ideas are teaching conducting patterns, having the student copy a beat by stomping it, and making music note shapes with his/her body (I got that idea somewhere on the internet). All of these can be done standing/away from the instrument.

    You can also check,, and Pinterest for ideas (I linked to one of my music boards). A book you might be interested in is Making Harp Lessons Exciting for Young Children, written by my mom. 🙂

    Hope this helps! Keep us updated please!

    Biagio on #190672

    A solid hour seems pretty long to me even for most adults. Breaking it up into – let us say – 15 minute periods as others suggest would be a good idea, with each section logically connected to the next. I think that anything can be made “fun”, even stamp and clap! But for specific games here are several:

    Play that tune: choose a short section from something not typically “harpy” – for example Presley’s “Hound Dog” refrain. Have the student figure out the melody by ear, and then a chord progression.

    Messing with keys and shapes: Again, choose a short section with I IV V triad progression, then try substitute chords and/or inversions; then different keys. What happens if we shift the whole thing up four notes? What happens if we keep the progression but change keys for the melody?

    Improv: Set up a regular chord progression and rhythm, then the student begins an accompaniment in the melody hand. Then you pick that up, perhaps changing tempo and dynamics. Back to the student and so on.

    In my experience, kids have the most fun when they are actually discovering things on their own rather than repeating an exercise (which of course is also necessary). Adults too, including me:-)


    patricia-jaeger on #190674

    This site has lots of good answers. In my studio I have an earlier model computer with ancient Windows 98, but it has some helpful sites for listening and watching: A short video of the Welsh harpist Ben Creighton Griffiths at 6 years old playing New Blues by Deborah Henson Conant; the Rhythmaticity game from years ago that was soon bought by another company; etc. Also, if the student conducts in several time signature modes, standing away from the harp and the teacher sits at the harp instead, watch the beat in order to change from waltz time to a march and so on as the student changes his/her beat. Also,try setting the metronome at a reasonable speed and after the hand clapping of your student can arrive exactly with the anticipated next sound, fit more claps, up to six, evenly into the space instead. Good fun. Also on a DVD player sometimes, or even a turntable, playing short segments from my library of celebrated harpists’ recordings can inspire students to practice more, as can your own playing.
    In the waiting area adjoining the studio could be the Reading Rainbow book:The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, by Karla Kuskin, with clever illustrations; the Fandex Family Field Guide “Composers” that opens out into a fan shape and features 47 classical composers’ pictures, dates, and most important works. (ISBN: 0-7611-1206-5,) and other literature for children.

    Gretchen Cover on #191019

    The Oct. 28, 2015 Wall St. Journal on page D1 has an article about music games for children to encourage composing.

    Compose Yourself is an exploratory board game designed to expose children to composing. The game uses 60 cards with printed musical measures that you string together to make a piece. You then plug the number of the card into a website to hear what you composed. This would be a wonderful “reward” to end a lesson. Distributor is Think-Fun, Alexandria. Virginia.

    A software program mentioned is Groovy Music. Children select a scenario which has its own sounds and instruments to create a tune. Others are Morton Subotnick’s Music Academy, O’Generator (ages 10-15 – tough age group to keep engaged) and Apple’s GarageBand.

    Barbara on #191280

    How cool that you have your students learn conducting patterns! It’s a great “off the bench” activity. You’ve inspired me to use it with more of my students. 🙂

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