Music Theory Fun and Games

Music theory lessons don't have to be dull. Concepts can be taught through motivating games and physical activities.

By Barbara Moseley


Music Games and Theory

The term "music theory" can be a little intimidating for some students. In truth, when I signed up for music theory in college, I had a sinking feeling the class would be extremely dry and boring. Well, it actually was, and most of my peers found the curriculum confusing and challenging. Now that I have been both a student and a teacher, I realize that it was the teaching approach, and not the topic, that was boring.  Reading a text book and regurgitating information is not fun when dealing with music. It's like trying to explain how to tie a shoe and then writing about it.

When talking to your student about music theory, I find it helpful to just avoid the word "theory" until after they are having fun. The usual reaction is "That was music theory?"  Music theory can be as simple as singing, marching, skipping or waltzing. The goal is to make theory exciting and nonthreatening so as things get more complicated, our students will be more willing to listen.  Does your student like to play games?  Music Bingo, word puzzles, music jeopardy, memory games, musical basketball, or a scavenger hunt are just a few examples that you may find on Lesson Planet. And don't forget the computer, the excitement of speed note drilling games is quite an adrenaline rush.

Music Bingo is great for teaching music notation. Create your own game with your student. That is half the fun. Your student should make four Bingo cards.  Approach this as a fun project to be done with colored pens and paper.  Making the game themselves will help them remember the terms.  For beginners, start out with the basics. For example, Treble clef, bass clef, 4/4, ¾, whole note, half note, dotted half note, piano, forte, crescendo, repeat sign and so on.  Now create a stack of cards with the same terms.  The student must rewrite the symbols again. By this time, you have mentioned each notation two times, explained their meaning, and they have written them down.  Usually, they can retain most of the information before you start playing. If not, that is okay too. 

All in all, music theory needs to include an activity that will help students internalize the information. Understanding music theory can open the door to your student's creativity and exploration.  

Music Theory Lesson Plans: 

Making a Musical Board Game:  In this activity, students create a board game using music history and theory.

Musical Jeopardy:  Students play Jeopardy using questions such as naming composers, symbols, notation, and musical math.

Music Basketball Basics: Teams answer music theory questions with a chance to earn extra points if they make a basket. 

Musical Notation and Money:  Teach Italian vocabulary for dynamics by means of a scavenger hunt.

Music and Technology:  Third grade students should be able to name notes and gain a musical vocabulary through practice with worksheets and use of technology.


Music Guide

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Barbara Moseley