Sunday, December 14, 2014


Hey there!  I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted, I will definitely do better!

I recently gave the flashcards I use in my classroom a makeover and thought I’d share on the many ways to use flashcards in music lessons.  While it’s true that the true spirit of music learning should always be engaging and hands on, I’ve found that by making a game out of it, I can essentially get my students to “drill” patterns using flashcards.  I tend to use flashcards to practice reading and identification and have found that especially for melodic reading, using a quick flashcard activity in a lesson helps to give students a good workout on a variety of patterns and combinations quickly. 

Here are some of the ways that I use flashcards in my classroom:

1.      Rote Melodic Reading Practice on the Staff
When the students are just reaching the point in my process with an element where they are ready to read on the staff, I either hold the cards up, tape them to my white board, or use a power point with a new card on each slide.  At first, I usually need to sing and point while they echo after me, but after a few lessons they are able to read by themselves!

2.      Reading
Sometimes I choose to focus more on rhythm or melody in a lesson, but to still include practice in whatever I’m not focusing on, it just takes a few minutes to just hold up the cards and have them clap, speak, or sing each one.  For this, I often have a student hold up the cards and since they are not themselves performing for the group, it gives those kids that are not always likely to volunteer to lead other activities a chance to lead since it’s very low risk.

3.      Which Phrase is This?
To practice identifying and performing patterns, I may tape four or five melodic or rhythmic phrases to the board and perform one asking the students to identify which one they hear.  I tend to do this more with rhythm since I’ve found that my students are more likely to want to try to perform one themselves for the class to figure out if it’s a rhythm pattern, which then turns out to be a great way for me to assess where they are.  For melody, this is a great way to challenge those higher level learners early on in the staff reading process.

4.      Stick to Staff Matching
When I created all of my melodic cards, I made two versions of each pattern:  one written in stick notation with the solfa underneath and the other on the staff with a do clef.  Once the kids are ready to start working on the staff, a quick and fun way to get them practicing is to lay out one version (stick cards or staff cards) and call on individual students to match the cards up with their corresponding opposite (stick or staff).  To keep the other students engaged, when the individual student has made the match, the rest of the class has to double check their work to make sure it really is a match. 

For my flashcard sets that have many more cards (my so-mi set is a lot smaller than my drmsl set!) I give all the students either the stick cards or staff cards and everyone searches the cards on the floor to make matches.  For my bigger groups (my class sizes this year range from 14 to 34), I either buddy up kids so that two work together with one card, or I make the kids without cards the “checkers” and they make sure that all the matches are correct.  There’s no singing involved (but there definitely could be if you wanted to extend the activity), I mostly just want them to be able to recognize the notes’ correct placement on the staff.

For my larger sets, it has worked well to give everybody one card (I usually have to take several of the matches out) and then all the students mingle around the room to find the student with their match.  When they do find their match, they sit down and practice singing the card together.  After everyone has sat down, we go around the room and all the matches sing their phrase.  This gets them up and moving, while still practicing reading, singing, and working with a partner. And, since no one has to sing a solo, I’ve had great success in getting students to sing that do not normally volunteer to sing patterns on their own!

Once reading is going well, I try this matching game:  I give everybody two cards-one in stick notation and the other in staff notation-but the cards cannot match!  The students sit in a circle and one student begins the game by singing one of their cards (it can be the stick or the staff).  The student who has the match then sings the card again and they both put those cards in the middle of circle face down.  That second student then sings their other card and then whoever has the match sings the card again and so on.  I’ve only tried this activity with my smaller groups (My FCS musicianship groups are all much smaller than my school groups and I have one group at school of 14 in 4th grade and another of 14 in 5th grade), but it has been a great hit!  This is a great way to assess reading/literacy and singing!  While I have not yet tried this with larger groups, I bet this could work if kids buddied up and worked together (great for kids that need a little extra help) and if you keep things moving so that the game doesn’t take too long.

A game that works well in centers with the stick and staff notation cards is Memory:  with 2-4 players, set four sets of cards (8 cards in total) face down.  Each student takes a turn turning over two cards to find a match and when they do, they get to keep those two cards.  The game continues until all the matches have been found.  You can incorporate singing or not, either way it’s a great way for them to practice reading skills!

As you can see, I get a lot of use out of my stick to staff cards!

5.      Rhythm Walk/Music Walk
This is so simple, but great!  I made smaller versions of my bigger flashcards and then handed them out, one to each student.  I play some fun music (just one song so the activity only lasts about three minutes or less), and while the music is playing the students may walk or dance around the room to the beat.  Every ten to fifteen seconds, I pause the music and when the music stops, they must partner with the person closest to them.  Each student takes a turn speaking their card to their partner, then they switch cards and we do it again.  This was such a hit with my students!  More than just the rhythm practice that the kids are getting, I really loved that my students were helping each other out when they were having trouble reading their cards which resulted in students who had not quite gotten “it” yet, really beginning to understand and making real progress in just three minutes!

In fact, this went so well that I applied it to absolute note reading on the staff.  I gave out my recorder King of the Mountain cards (such a great game!) and played a fun song, pausing every so often, but this time the students speak the letters of their card.  After the song is over, we sit down and play King of the Mountain with recorders (which my kids love to play!  See Amy Abbott’s post here for an example:  Since we just did a quick and fun review, they are a lot better prepared to play.  King of the Mountain is another great game for assessment, especially now that I also use it for recorder.

I’m always looking for new and more engaging ways to get my students to really enjoy working on patterns to help boost their overall musicianship.  What are your favorite ways to work on patterns or practice with flashcards?

Have a Great Week!


P.S. I’m working on getting all of my flashcard sets up onto my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, be sure to check them out!


  1. Lots of great suggestions! I can think of at least one more to add to the list, this one for collecting cards. When I am doing an activity where each student has a flash card, I have them sit down after we've finished (usually in a circle). I then will perform the pattern on one of the cards, and the student with that pattern brings it up to me. I keep it moving fairly quickly so that the kids don't get bored, and I've found that the kids who have already turned theirs in have fun watching those around them to make sure they are paying attention. It's actually a great way to do a quick formative assessment!

    1. That is a great way to assess, I'll have to add that to my list of flashcard activities! Thanks for sharing, and Happy New Year, Rebecca!