The 12 Days of Christmas Piano Practice
Use this fun Christmas practice incentive to get your students practing more and expose them to new practice techniques.
To get started, click on the image and print a copy of the handout for each student (this pracice incentive is free). During your next lesson give students an overview of the handout and how the activity works.
In this fun practice challenge, which accompanies the Christmas theory worksheets, kids get to try out one new practice technique per day and place a sticker or write the date next to the technique they tried during their practice session. Students who complete all 12 before the last lesson in December get a treat.
To earn their treat, kids don’t need to practice 12 consecutive days. Each technique does need to be done on a different day though–they can’t do two technqiues on the same day. (Note: If you’ve discovered The 12 Days of Christmas Piano Practice with not enough time left for one technique per day before Christmas break, you are welcome to modify the rules for your students to allow them to complete multiple challenges per day.)
After they have finished the 12 challenges, kids can earn a bonus treat. Scroll down to learn more about the bonus challenge, which my students are super excited about.
Here’s an explanation of the practice challenges:
Day 1: Pick a tricky spot in your music and practice it 5 times today
This first challenge teaches students about spot practicing. Too often, studets just start at the beginning of their piece and play through to the end. They know there are some trouble spots, but they just keep practicing the same old way–beginning to end.
To complete this challenge, students think about their piece and identify a tricky spot. It could be two lines long, or it could be one particularly difficult measure.
Students then practice just this one spot five times in a row, and then they can check it off on their handout. Remind students that they can use this technique any time they have a tricky spot in their music and encourage them to use this practice technique often.
Day 2: Write the counts in a song, count out loud and play the song 3 times.
Counting out loud–such a simple technique that can work wonders when it comes to playing the rhythm correctly. For some reason there are a lot of students who just won’t do it when they’re practicing at home. I know it can be easy for any of us, even more experienced players, to think we’re counting correctly when we count in our heads, but we’re almost always more accurate when we count out loud.
To complete this practice challenge, kids first write the counts in one of their songs, which is a terrific excercise. Then they need to count out loud and play the song three times. Yes, that means counting through the entire piece three times.
When they pass this one off to you, you can talk with your students about much easier it is to learn a new rhythm correctly when they count out loud, and encourage them to do so when they are learning new pieces.
Day 3: Divide one of your pieces into practice sections, then play each section twice in a row.
Dividing a piece into practice sections is a powerful practice technqiue, and one that I fear too many students don’t learn soon enough. We’ve already discussed how students often just start at the beginning of a piece and play to the end over and over. This typically results in them knowing the beginning of a song well, and then having trouble spots throughout the piece that don’t get the attention that they need. This can make it take 5 times or more longer for a student to master a new piece.
Dividing a piece into practice sections allows us to focus one just one manageable tidbit at a time. It also helps students spend the needed time with difficult passages. Have your students use a pencil to write a circled number above each of their sections. The sections might be one line long, one phrase long, or even just one measure long if it’s a difficult measure.
After dividing the piece into sections, the trick is to pick one section to focus on and then practice just that section multiple times. The challenge is meant to introduce this technique, so it asks kids to practice each section twice in a row, but you can tell your students that in some cases they might dedicate one day to just a single section and play that section over and over.
You will want to explain this technique thouroughly to your students, and probably sit with them and help them select practice sections if it’s the first time they are doing it. It does require some lesson time to do this, but it’s worth it, because students who know how to practice effectively make much more progress in their piano studies. Many students do not know how to practice effectively at home, and this topic does merit the attention. You will be glad you did!
Day 4: Teach a friend who doesn’t play the piano how to play Jingle Bells.
One of the best ways to better learn something is to teach it to someone else. In this challenge, your students become teachers themselves as they show non-piano playing friends how to play Jingle Bells.
Kids will get to show their friends how to place their hands on the piano, teach them which keys to play, and answer their friend’s questions. Along they way they will come to better understand why each element of piano playing that you’ve taught is important. And an added bonus for you is that if their friend has fun, you might gain a new student.
If they like, your students can use this Jingle Bells printout that I created. To use this worksheet, kids will just show their friends how to place their right hand on the C pentascale and then press down the correct finger number. The sheet only includes the first part of the song, so they can call it a success if their friend just learns the beginning, or they can challenge themselves to go one step further and figure out the rest of the chorus by ear. Either way, it’s a wonderful exercise that turns piano playing into something fun that can be shared. Your students will have a huge boost in their confidence after they discover that they can help someone else.
Day 5: Practice a song in this order: end, middle, beginning
By now you can probably tell that I think kids spend too much of their practice time starting at the beginning of a piece. Another way to work around this is to challenge your student to learn the end of the piece first. Once they’ve mastered the end of the piece, they can move on to the middle. When they’re ready to tackle the beginning of the piece, they’ll be able to focus on the beginning and then it will be a snap to put the whole song together.
Day 6: Pick 3 practice sections. Practice each 3 times, then play the entire song
Day 6’s practice technique again helps kids focus on a practice section. Encourage your students to choose a section that is challenging for them. They should play that section 3 times in a row, and then play the entire song (or perhaps just the page if they’re working on a really long piece).
Again emphasize that this is a very valuable technique that can save them tons of time! Whenever they get a new song, kids should look for passages that will require more effort, mark that section with a pencil, and then play that section multiple times. They will learn pieces much faster if they will do this instead of just playing their song from beginning to end over and over.
Day 7: Circle all dynamics in a song. Play the song 2 times with the p sections extra soft and the f sections extra loud.
Sometime the dynamic markings get bypassed, so today students get to search through their piece and circle them all. Then students are asked to play the pianos extra soft and the fortes extra loud.
The “extra” requirement is just to help kids get better at playing at different volumes. Have them overexaggerate the dynamics in this song so that they will remember to watch for and play the dynamics in the future.
Day 8: Learn a Christmas song from a lead sheet; ask your teacher to show you how to add LH chords.
A whole new way to learn the piano is to play from a lead sheet. With a lead sheet, kids practice just the written right hand melody. Then they look at the chord names above the staff and then play the chords with the left hand.
Learning to play with lead sheets opens up a whole new world of fun, and also gives your students excellent practice with their chords. I have a two great options for kids on my website: Silent Night and Away in a Manger.
Day 9: Divide one of your pieces into practice sections, then play each section twice in a row.
Day 9 is a repeat. Why? Because I really want students to start using practice sessions! Although we’re repeating a technique, kids should use it on a different song. To complete the challenge, kids need to choose a new piece, designate the practice sections and then play each section at least twice.
Of course, if this happens to be a student working on a more advanced piece, you might not want to require her to go through the entire piece today. In this case, you could just ask her to do this with one page to complete the challenge.
Day 10: Complete a bonus theory worksheet or an extra page in your theory book.
On day 10, kids get extra practice, not with piano playing, but with theory. Today kids are challenged to go above and beyond in their theory studies. They can do an extra page in their book, or they can complete a worksheet. Click here for tons of free printable Christmas music theory worksheets. These worksheets are fun, colorful and kid-friendly, and you’re welcome to send your students the link.
Day 11: Pick 3 practice sections. Practice each 3 times, then play the entire song.
Day 11 again utilizes practice sections. Student should focus on the three sections that need the most attention, practice them each at least three times, and then play the section in the context of the entire song (or the page if it is a longer piece).
Day 12: Play a Christmas song while your family sings.
This challenge is a lot of fun and helps kids develop accompanying skills. Playing while others sing can be soooo different from playing solo. Learning to do this helps young kids learn to play without stopping if they make a mistake. Accompanying also helps kids learn how to tune in to another person to work together to create music.
Best of all, sharing music is fun. Your student will love getting to spend a moment in the family’s limelight and be congratulated for a job well done. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if gathering around the piano to sing Christmas carols became a family tradition?
Of course you will want to be sensitive to students who may come from unique circumstances. Students who may not be able to play for their family can still complete the challenge by playing while any other person sings–be it a friend, neighbor, or even you, their teacher. The goal is to give students pracice accompanying a singer, and there are lots of ways to achieve this goal.
Bonus Practice Challenge: I love this challenge because it gets kids spending more time on the piano. I could immediately tell it would be a hit because the second I told my students about it, they immediately started trying it out.
After completing The 12 Days of Christmas Piano Practice, kids can get a bonus treat by learning how to play any Christmas song upside down, like the Piano Guys do in this video:
Show the video to your students and then ask them if they think they can play one of their Christmas songs upside down. It’s actually not as hard as you might think. The trick is to cross your hands.
My students went NUTS over this challenge. In fact, you might want to wait until the end of the lesson to introduce it, because I had a hard time pulling my students back–they were so excited to practice the piano upside donw! I’ve already received emails from parents saying that their kids are really getting into it and spending a lot of time at the piano. And the whole family thinks it’s fun to watch the kids try to play upside down.
I’m glad that this is a bonus challenge for after completing the other 12 challenges and kids can get exposed all those great practice techniques. I’m also glad I went ahead and told students about it right away. After all, the goal is to get them spending more time at the piano, and this certainly accomplishes that!
Do you like this practice incentive? Here’s what you can do next:
First, leave a comment below and tell me about your favorite practice techniques. They could be techniques included in this activty, or any others that you know.
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Third, help your students spend even more time practicing at the piano, build confidene, and create their own fun and impressive music. Kids who apply their fundamentals to create songs develop a profound understanding of music that will bring them a lifetime of enjoyment at the piano. Get your free Quickstart Piano Improv Lesson for Kids by clicking the button below.