Teaching Music Intervals and Musical Terms to Toddlers


Recently my two toddlers learned the intervals of a 2nd and a 3rd, a great way to get them to play individual notes in a somewhat organised manner. I played the song “Just a Second” from the Alfred primer piano lesson book and then isolated the interval of a second. While the interval of a 2nd can be played on both white and black keys, we just focused on going from one white key to the next. For example, C to D or C to B, so both ascending and descending. After the 2nds are mastered and the children can find that interval on their own, move on to 3rds. To teach the interval of a 3rd, simply have children “jump” over one note. For 3rds we used only white keys as well. C to E or E to C are examples of 3rds.

Forte and piano are also accessible for toddlers. Try a worksheet like the following which uses pictures to help children identify loud of soft sounds. If toddlers can’t remember what the animal or object sounds like, help them by imitating the sound.

Also, don’t underestimate the musical terms that young children can learn. Take a piano primer book and flip through it like a story book, singing songs as you go along. When theory pages or large illustrations of musical terms come up, point and name out the crotchets (quarter notes), minims (half notes), bar lines, etc. Then quiz the children by asking them “what’s this?”. Have them repeat after you and then eventually they will know the terms without your help. It’s amazing what children can take in from a young age!


“Ta’s” and “Ti-Ti’s” for Toddler Music Class


Rhythm is a very important element in piano lessons. And while we all experience rhythm from the very start of life, why not incorporate thought-out rhythm activities into our toddler’s day? I’ve been teaching my toddlers (2 1/2 year old twins) a little bit about minims (half notes), crotchets (quarter notes) and quavers (eighth notes) lately and they enjoy hearing and mimicking simple rhythms. They don’t know the technical names of these rhythms, but they are learning the kodaly words and feeling the rhythms at the same time.


One way of having a toddler feel simple rhythms is to use xylophone mallets like a drum stick onto a suitable surface. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Rather than using the toy xylophone itself we used a rubber frisbee as our “drum.” I had one mallet and one of my toddlers had the other mallet. The girls really enjoyed hearing me say and tap rhythms such as “ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta-a, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ta-a.” The girls took turn tapping along with me using the other mallet and they did a great job keeping up with the beat. Toddlers not only use their hands but also their whole bodies feel the rhythm and it’s really fun to see them bobbing up and down while they play.

The same basic exercise can be done on a piano. A toddler might play clusters of notes at times or else play one key by itself but they will stay in the same general area of the keyboard. My girls really hearing various rhythms on the piano and sometimes they would ask for more if I stopped playing. Notice how a child will also simply start playing on their own using “ta’s” or “ti-ti’s.” They can also try mimicking a rhythm that the teacher plays, but so far in our case playing together is the way that works for us.

What are toddlers learning by doing this exercise?

  • Sound (before symbol) and feel of crotchets, minims and quavers
  • Relaxed bouncing on the piano keys
  • Improvisation (if they create their own rhythms)
  • Listening skills–learning to listen to a music teacher and learning to listen for rhythmic nuances

Teaching “5 Little Ducks” to Toddlers



This week I printed off a sheet from with 5 little ducks and a mommy duck. The website has a variety of finger puppets available but I thought these would keep my daughters’ attention best. I simply cut them out and laminated them.


This is how we learned it:
Sing 5 little ducks, make them disappear one by one. For us, I found it was best when I held the ducks in my hand so that the girls didn’t make them disappear too quickly. I also found it good to make the ducks disappear into my girls’ pockets to keep them engaged. Sometimes I would say, “where did the ducks go?” or “bye-bye duck”. Then after all the ducks were gone Mommy duck quacks and all the ducks get pulled out of the pockets.

We did this in the middle of play time. Here a little and there a little will go a long way. Toddlers like to do things over and over again so I’m sure we’ll do this activity often. Apart from singing, this activity is also a good way to teach counting and subtraction.

Lately we also have been listening to through their iPad app to get more familiar with classical music. Another activity we’ve been doing as well is shaking an empty hand cream tub filled with rice at various tempos. I start slow and then speed up all of a sudden. Usually I sing a tune and shake it (getting lots of laughs in response when the tempo speeds up) but one of my daughters enjoyed trying to make our handmade shaker shake quickly, too!


Link to my related Pinterest Board: Toddler Music

From Preschool to Piano

imageAlthough 2-year-olds are young to take formal piano lessons, they are definitely not too young to become familiar with music.

Melody and rhythm can be introduced to toddlers and the sooner the better. Just like a baby needs to hear words in order to learn how to speak, similarly a young child should hear music even before learning to count beats or name notes. A few things my twin toddlers and I have added to our day-to-day life are:


Every morning and evening we sing the Psalms in our home and often during the day as well. The Psalms have a wide range of emotions (joyful, reflective, mournful, triumphant) and the tunes we choose often reflect the words being sung. Crimond is a tune we sing often for Psalm 23 (audio from sound cloud:

Rocking back and forth to music is really enjoyable for children and great bonding time as well. Rocking to music helps children feel the beat of music. Remember that beats are steady. And while rocking to a 4/4 song, for example “Old MacDonald had a Farm,” you can just do one rocking motion for the entire 4/4 measure unless it’s a particularly lively song. Also, action songs are engaging. If a child can’t do actions for a particular song, lead them to clap, stomp, point to their toes etc. and after a while see if they will do it on their own. A few songs we sing at home are: Lavender’s Blue, Old MacDonald, If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands, 5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day etc.


I found these for a very inexpensive price at a local shop and they are a fantastic resource for €1.50 each! For now the girls just play little tunes or glissandos across the xylophones. Also I sometimes play for them as well and I noticed that sometimes at least one of the girls would use the mallet to discover what noise objects other than the xylophone would make when tapped. Eventually we can do more activities once the girls can follow more complex instructions. I like Teach’s idea about creating a colour-based xylophone composition (link:

Piano Time:

Just explore and enjoy playing on the piano! Also, sometimes what we do is listen to the pre-set tracks on our keyboard such as “Turkish March” (the girls still enjoy bouncing along to this one!) or “Twinkle Twinkle” ( which has been a good way to sing the alphabet song to the girls).

In order to learn piano, simple things like knowing the alphabet or sol-fah names, counting, knowing the difference between left and right hand etc. are very important. Recognising colours, being able to hold a pencil etc. are also helpful for various pre-piano music activities. Gaining basic skills will allow more and more music learning to occur. Take small steps but seek to make the toddler years meaningful musically!

How Can I Give My Toddler an Early Start to Learning Piano?


Teaching Music to Toddlers

Flynn Piano Studio is still running on Saturday mornings here in Dundalk. It’s been great to keep teaching piano. During the rest of the week I mind my twin toddlers which is a full job in itself! Even though they are too young to start piano lessons I am still taking opportunities to introduce them to music. We don’t have a formal time set aside for music class yet but I’ve introduced various things as we are going about our day.

One of the first concepts I would teach a piano student is high and low notes on the keyboard. This can easily be taught to toddlers as well. My girls are not even 2 years old yet and they are starting to learn the difference. I hold one (or both!) girls on my lap and play the extremities of the keyboard. Say, “There’s the high/low notes.” I sometimes ask them “Where’s the high notes?” (using an enthusiastic high-pitched voice) and “Where’s the low notes?” (using a very low-pitched voice). They see me play the notes and imitate me and have learned the word “note.” It’s a little game for them but educational at the same time. Loud and soft (another way to put it is fast/slowly, see this article for more explanation: Dynamics: “Finger Attacks” and Animal Stickers) is another concept that can be slowly introduced as well.

Another way toddlers can get a head start to learning piano is simply by exploring the keyboard. Just hold them on your lap and let them play away. Also, let them hear you play the piano, or, if you can’t play possibly your piano is electric and has pre-recorded Classical pieces to listen to. My girls especially like hearing the Turkish March by Mozart which is pre-recorded on our keyboard. They are usually both sitting on my lap while we listen to it and I bounce my knees as the phrase grows, giving a higher and bigger bounce as the phrase ends (children like surprises!). Then we start moving to the music again when a new phrase starts.

Children love singing and I do too and it’s so fun to hear them hum along while listening to me or others sing. I also made a homemade shaker (an empty hand cream tub with rice inside) and the girls enjoy shaking that especially to a particular lively tune I sing to them, a sort of Tarantella style tune.

Something I plan to do in the future is playing matching games with my twins. I’ll start small by introducing simple rhythms and a few notes written in the treble clef (probably will start with ABC/do, re, mi). After they learn a few notes and values we can grow from there. This will not only be educational by teaching my toddlers to compare and think critically but will also give them a head start for piano lessons.

I plan to find more toddler ideas to implement while my girls grow so if this topic interests you check back for more ideas or subscribe via email (see my home page). I will only use your email address to send you posts about piano lessons from my blog.

Babies and Music

Babies and Music

Babies and Music

Babies may be too young to start piano lessons, but it’s never too early to expose them to music. Even from the womb babies hear sounds from the outside world and once they are born their senses become heightened as they more fully learn of their surroundings. Two practical ways to introduce babies to music are melody and rhythm.


Children love hearing singing. Looking at your baby in the eye while singing and seeing them respond with a grin is such a beautiful way to share a love for music with your child. Babies enjoy hearing a range of high and low sounds in melodies. They like both calm and lively tunes. I also believe that hearing a certain tune over and over again will help a baby to memorize that tune when they are older.


Making rhythmic patterns while bouncing, talking, winding, or tickling your baby is loads of fun. Pick a word (ex. “hi”) or a phrase (ex. “I love you”) and say it in a rhythmic pattern while bouncing your child on your knee. Also, you can tap their back, tickle them, or kiss their fingers using a rhythmic pattern. Rhythm is all around but these are some ways to use it alongside everyday baby activities.

Music is learned in little steps which build upon each other.

small musical
steps with your baby!

Falling Arm Weight and Dynamics: Some Word Pictures

Arm weight controls dynamics. If a student drops their arm heavily and quickly onto the keyboard the sound will be forte. If, however, the student  drops his arm with a slower and lighter attack, the sound will be piano. Recently a student and I came up with some word pictures that helped him to create a range of sounds on the piano. Word picture options are endless but here are a few ideas:

pianissimo (pp) is like a loom band or rubber band falling.

piano (p) is like a feather dropping.

mezzo piano (mp) is like a hot air balloon landing.

mezzo forte (mf) is like a stone or pebble hitting the keys. If a musical piece has crescendo from mezzo forte to forte, the student can think of the pebbles gradually increasing in size as they approach the forte mark.

forte (f) is like a basketball bouncing on a gym floor.

fortissimo (ff) is like a a heavy bowling ball dropping.

 Before incorporating these concepts into a song, the student should explore various dynamics individually by dropping their arm (and therefore finger) onto the keyboard. This will give students practice before they incorporate the dynamics into their piano pieces. I believe that using word pictures like these can make students more relaxed and controlled as they play dynamics. Perhaps you may try thinking of these or other word pictures the next time you play the piano.

Is Your 4-6 Year-Old Ready to Start Piano Lessons?

The answer varies depending on each child.  Some considerations parents should make before enrolling their young child into lessons are:

  • Can your child read?
    This is not necessary but helpful. If the child cannot read the parent(s) should be extra involved in practice time during the week. I like using easy-to-follow method books for young children. At the moment my top choice for young children is the Alfred All-in-One series (book one).

Alfred All-in-One, book 1

  • Can your child differentiate between left and right?
    Student need to know which hand to use while playing pieces, particularly those pieces that switch between the left and right hands. At the moment I have a student who didn’t know the difference between his right and left hand when we started lessons, so sometimes before he starts a piece I tell him, “raise your right hand” or “raise your left hand.” He seems to enjoy it when I ask him to do this.
  • Can your child obey instructions and sit still?
    Parents can prepare their students for piano lessons by training them to behave at home. Between the ages of 4-6 children process and soak up new information very quickly, so if a young student is obedient and listens well to his/her piano teacher, the lesson time can be very profitable!

I would recommend 20-30 minute lessons for most young children. For me it’s handy when an older brother or sister is also taking lessons because then I can vary the length of the younger child’s piano lesson. If 20 minutes is plenty for the younger student, I just add on 10 minutes to the older sibling’s lesson.

Kinesthetic activities are very helpful to keep things moving and interesting. I have young students do theory pages during class. Flashcards which involve questions about note values are also useful. Also, since young students love touching piano keys, I have them find and play individual notes (ex. “find a C/do, please;” “please play an A/la for me”).

Young children have a lot of potential, and especially with parental involvement they can profit from music lessons at an early age. Teachers who give lessons to this age group need to have a lot of energy! However, having young students enrolled in lessons is a fun and unique journey where both the student and teacher will learn a lot.

Teaching “Mary Had a Little Lamb” during a First Piano Lesson

“Mary Had a Little Lamb” has only three notes and three note values, so I find it a good song to teach to absolute beginners. I do not tell the students that they are learning this particular song. They discover that as they follow instructions and play the tune for themselves.

"Mary Had a Little Lamb"

How to teach “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to beginner students.

Before learning this song some groundwork needs to be laid. Play the scale match-up game (see article “First Piano Lesson”) or have students practice finding and playing C, D and E on the piano. They can also write out these notes on staff lines for practice. Students also need to learn crotchet, minim and semibreve (quarter, half note and whole note) values and notation. Also, feeling the weak and strong beats of 4/4 timing will help students understand why they will write out bar lines to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” which is in 4/4 time.

Using only one note (so students will focus only on rhythm), play the rhythm for the song, one measure at a time. Have students repeat what they hear. Next, have them write out the note values for what they have just played onto a blank sheet of paper. After the symbols for the rhythm are written out, add bar lines. Tell students that every time that the notes add up to 4 beats they can add a bar line.

After students have written out the rhythm and added bar lines, play notes one measure at a time and have students play what they just saw and heard while saying or singing the note names out loud. If a student is young and there is a staircase available, a variation is to assign three steps to the notes C, D and E. Sing the note names and have students hop up or down the stairs to the tune. This is a fun exercise and will help children release some of their energy while learning at the same time! After students play the notes, have them write out the note letters (or sol-fah) above the rhythm that is already notated from the last exercise.

At this point students are ready to play the whole song and they probably will recognize the tune. Have students play from the sheet that they just created. Afterwards, have students draw a staff lines on the same blank sheet, adding the time signature, bar lines, notes and rhythm for the tune “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The students can play the song a few times for assessment, familiarity with the song and for practice on the keyboard.  In addition to assigning students to practice “Mary Had a Little Lamb” during the week, a good follow-up assignment is for students to write a simple composition using the method used for learning this song–choose a rhythm, add notes, and notate it on staff paper.

If you are a parent to a young student and you can read some note names, a fun exercise to do with your child would be to sing tunes from a beginner method book and have students hop up and down the staircase to the melody. If you are a student, why not create a composition by creating a rhythm, choosing notes to go along with the rhythm, and writing it all out on staff paper? If you are a teacher, consider teaching this song to beginners since it will help students understand the steps to composing a basic musical composition and because it introduces a variety of simple yet important musical concepts.

First Piano Lesson

Individuals have unique personalities and diverse learning styles.  While every student is unique, all students can benefit from certain considerations during their first piano lesson.  I believe that a successful first piano lesson provides answers to at least the following four questions.

Why piano lessons? Motivations for taking piano lessons are varied and it’s good to know why a person finds himself or herself in front of my studio’s keyboard. Some students know just a little about music but are very interested and excited to begin lessons. Perhaps others already can play whether by ear or by reading music and want to learn more songs. Other students are taking lessons because their parents want them to study music. Whichever category a student falls into, it’s helpful to know what motivates them to study the piano.

Any hobbies?  Knowing if someone does many activities or has many responsibilities helps me have an idea of how much time the student is able to dedicate to music. Knowing a person’s interests is also useful because I can use analogies that the student will understand. For example, someone interested in art would appreciate the comparison of dynamics in a piece of music to hues of colors in a painting.

How much musical knowledge? Everyone knows something about music. Even a toddler experiences rhythm by marching or moving to a piece of music.  Students can quickly learn a few basic things about the piano: that it is a percussion instrument (which has a variety of sounds based on how quickly the notes are played), that the notes have a repeated pattern and that the notes have high and low sounds.  The first lesson is also a good time to assess how much a student knows about rhythm and music notation reading.

Rhythm needs to be felt in ways such as clapping, tapping or counting from the very first lesson.  A good example of natural rhythm is by having a student hold their hand over their heart to feel it’s rhythm.  A picket fence is a good analogy for explaining the consistency of rhythm.  Each beat is the same distance apart and some notes have one beat (“picket in the fence”), others have a few beats of duration.  Note value and time signature flashcards are visual helps.  The website “Color in my Piano” has a free download  of flashcards for both simple and difficult rhythms .  A nice aspect of these flashcards is that the dimensions of these cards change based on the length of the notes.  If I am teaching an absolute beginner I want them to learn three note values by the end of the first lesson: semibreves, minims and crotchets (whole, half and quarter notes).

Students match up the C/do scale using homemade laminated flashcards.

Students match up the C/do scale using homemade laminated flashcards.

Flashcards of notes are also helpful.  A simple set of flashcards is two sets of the C/do scale which can be hand-made and laminated. Set the scale in order so that students can match their mixed up notes from the second set of flashcards on or near the scale that is already in order. Alternatively students can place the flashcards in scale order without any aids. If students already can read notes a little, show them individual flashcards and ask them to play those notes for you.  If someone is an absolute beginner I like to teach at least 3 note symbols to students: middle C, D and E/do, re and mi.

If I am teaching transfer student I don’t assume that they have a good understanding of notes or rhythm values.  I isolate concepts to better see a student’s strengths or weaknesses (example: reviewing only note names will give an idea of how well a student can read notes) .  Sight reading a piece of music is also useful for assessment.  If students bring music with them, I ask them to play something that they have already studied in the past.

What can they take home? I either want to teach students something they can practice at home or help them with a piece that they have already started learning. If a student has brought no music along I typically teach the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (I plan to explain steps for teaching this in another article).  It’s important that a student goes away from the lesson having achieved something while also realizing that there are many other things to learn.

If you are a teacher, perhaps some of these suggestions will be helpful to incorporate into your piano lessons.  If you are browsing this site and are considering lessons, this article should give you a general idea of the first piano lesson at Flynn Piano Studio.