Music Games That Really Work: How to Turn Their Sour Notes Sweet

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You know that really sour note your child keeps playing over and over and over?

And you know how you keep reminding them over and over and over to play the right note next time?

Don’t worry. They’re not ignoring you. They heard you loud and clear.

But they’re not playing those sour notes because they want to. They just don’t know how to break their sour note habit.

Here’s an easy way to help your kids turn those pesky sour notes sweet! Try this game next time you catch yourself saying, “That’s an F sharp!” for the millionth time.

The Game

First, figure out what note is the problem.

Got the note?

Great!  Now, have them play the note slowly and correctly – 10 times in a row – before starting to work on the song again.

Now here’s the fun part: Tell them every time they’re about to play the note, they can’t play it.

Instead…they have to say a funny word.

Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. And let’s say I’m having a problem with the note when you sing “little” (this is an F sharp in a lot of editions of that song). I’m going to say “ROOSTER” every time I need to play the note “little.”

So when I play, it will sound like this to you: Twin-kle, Twin-kle, ROOSTER!, ROOSTER!, Star. How I won-der what you are.

Why The Game Works

When musicians haven’t mastered a hard part in their piece, the notes leading up to it are pretty stressful.  Sometimes kids speed up to the part right before, stressing themselves out a little.

Most of the time kids know what the notes should sound like. But once they get to that part, they worry they won’t play the note correctly and start freaking out. They’re thinking, “Oh no…This is going to be just like last time: all sour notes…again.”

On top of that, they’re frustrated because you’re telling them to play the note they already know they should be playing. But they can’t do it when all the other notes are jumbled in.

It’s like putting puzzle pieces together. You can put the corners together first and then fill in the rest of the puzzle gradually. Just because it isn’t completed doesn’t mean you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like in the end.  It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

To you, you’ll hear a funny word like “ROOSTER!” when your child stops the song. But your child will hear that note in their head every single time they’re saying “ROOSTER!” It’s a way to make playing the song less stressful and more fun.

And playing the note 10 times correctly before they start playing the whole song again proves to your child that they can play that note – it’s possible! Instead of playing the song over and over and over again with the chance of maybe or maybe not getting it right, they isolated their problem spot from all the other parts of the song.

That note is the last note they heard and it’s ringing in their head – and this time, it’s the correct note.

It’s like when you do something the wrong way for so long, you wonder if you can ever do it the right way again. Playing this game, helps your child prove to themselves that they can play the right note.  And now, it’s just a matter of putting it back into the song.

When You Should Play The Game

Repeat this game a few times a day or until they get bored of it. Don’t force the fun, because it won’t be fun anymore if you do (and that’s the whole point of this exercise).

You want this to be an activity they actually enjoy instead of something they should be enjoying. If one day they beg to play this game 20 times, and the next day they just want to do it 3 times, then call it quits.

The point is they’re working on the hard parts.

“Can They Play This Game With Their Friends Too?”

Sure! This is a really great game to play with a music friend. If your child has a friend in their music program, have them play the game together. Tell them to pick a song they’re both having problems learning and then each kid can take turns choosing new words to shout.

You wouldn’t believe how much this game entertains kids when they get together. You might have to pry those instruments out of their hands!

Hearing teachers and parents remind you 100 times to play the right notes can get pretty stressful when you’re just starting out. And it’s a lot to handle when you’re focusing on 20 other things you should be doing (like sitting or standing up straight, paying attention to your fingers, playing on tempo).

But learning how to tackle sour notes in a song while making it fun too? Those are the kinds of practices that make them want to work out the hard parts.

“I think this is too hard for them right now…”

If your child can’t seem to get the hang of the game (because playing, stopping and saying funny words are all too much to handle right now) tell them do this:

  1. Put down your instrument
  2. Figure out the sour note
  3. Sing or hum the sour note 10 times correctly
  4. Now, sing or hum the song the whole way through replacing that sour note with a funny word.
For the kids who would rather who 2 plates of vegetables than sing out a song, have them hum.  Don’t push the singing too much or they’ll just get embarrassed and want to run away from the music. And this is not the point of this game!

“But Moooommmm! That game’s for babies!”

If your child feels like this game’s a little too silly for them, then do everything I said…but don’t require them to say the funny word.

Instead of saying the funny word, tell them to do this:

  1. Play the sour note 10 times correctly before playing the song
  2. Stop playing completely when you get to the hard part of the song
  3. Pause! No playing the note – just sing or hum what the note should sound like
  4. Continue playing the piece to the end

Once they’ve done that enough times (play song, pause, continue playing song), put the note back in the piece and play it through without pausing.

Try this game at home with your child…and let me know what they think!

by Elizabeth Kane

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