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The Best Types of Games for Online Lessons

You may have a file cabinet or bookshelf full of music games.  And, then you moved lessons online & they have sat gathering dust.  However, the best types of games for online lessons may not necessarily be an every growing library of apps.

What types work best?

First, we know that games have to be pedagogically sound.  It doesn’t matter where you teach, if the game isn’t designed well you won’t see great results from it.

Some games work very well for in-person lessons.  Some games work well for online lessons.  If we drew a Venn diagram of those games though, it would show that many of those games work for both.  It all depends on how you use them & the technology you have available!

In “Top 4 Tips For Playing Music Games During Online Lessons“, I briefly mentioned the top criteria for online games.

  • Easy-to-see images
  • Show progress
  • Easy instructions &
  • Works with Zoom (or your video/audio conferencing app of choice).

Notice that many of these criteria apply to in-person games as well.  The best types of games for online lessons have all four of these criteria.

Easy-to-See Images

You can choose to scan ALL your physical game boards & cards.  This is a daunting task & one that I haven’t been able to convince myself to do quite yet.  With so many projects on the go, I just can’t justify dedicating all those days (or even weeks) to placing laminated sheets in my printer & waiting for the oh-so-slow scan to complete for each page.  An alternative would be to choose one game a week that you scan to digital.

Once the game is scanned, make sure you are able to show both the game board AND any cards in a clear way to your student during their lesson.  In Zoom, you could do this by screen share & choosing to show your whole screen.  By having two separate PDF windows open, the easy-to-see images show.  Another easier option would be to use something like ManyCam to share multiple screens at the same time.

The easiest option is to use games that are designed for online lessons!  Rather than digitizing a physical board game, use something like Keys to Imagination’s “Online Music Theory Games” which combine access to 4 different games for online lessons.

Show Progress

One of my favourite tools in Zoom is the annotation tool.  This is something we use each & every lesson in my online studio.

If you are using scanned games, get students to move their game token (a square or circle) around the digital game board.  They love the interactivity of still moving the game piece even though it is all digital.  If you teach multiple students, they can each choose their own colour so the tokens don’t get mixed up.

Have you ever seen Michelle Sisler or Sally Ritchie demonstrate their “Online Music Theory Games“?  I got to participate in a game a few years ago at MusicEdConnect.  All of us teachers were like little kids excitedly waiting for the next clue so we could fill in our game boards!

Any games for online lessons should keep that enthusiasm going by showing student progress!

Easy Instructions

We’ve all been there.  “No.  Measure 3.  Not measure 6.”  During online lessons, instructions take longer.  We don’t have the shortcut of pointing to the student’s music (though we can do that in screen share) & we certainly can’t move a student’s hand into position on the keyboard.

Keeping this in mind, easy instructions are a must when choosing games for online lessons.  Games are meant to be fun, not a frustrating exercise in explaining the rules to a student!

Before scanning any games, check the instructions to see if they can be explained in 1 minute or less.  Is the gameplay straightforward?  Or is it a little like playing Risk which has, I kid you not, 16 pages of instructions?  (And, yet one of my kids loves playing Risk & can’t figure out why no one wants to play.)

Keeping in mind the potential frustrations of instructions during the rest of the lesson time, make sure gameplay is straightforward for your students so they have fun.

For apps, typically instructions are quite easy & tutorials are built-in.  Just watch for which ones will hear the sound from your student’s piano & which you will need to tap the answer.

If you use Keys to Imagination’s “Online Music Theory Games“, you can have students use their own devices & you can screen share the game board.  Everything is designed to be quick to set up & fun to play.

Works on Zoom

For all of Zoom’s great features, there is one that is a bane in every music teacher’s existence.  The fact that video is put ahead of audio for importance.  Some teachers would prefer audio over video.  Others, like myself, use both equally & look forward to a day when we can have both.

In the meantime, the best online games take the quirks of Zoom (or your preferred program) into account.

Avoid screen sharing games that require you & the student to do something at the same time.  Games that are turn-based work much better because they avoid audio & video lag.  If you & the student race to answer, chances are the audio will cut out for one of you at a critical moment.  Avoid the tears & play cooperatively or at least take turns.

For apps, you can have students screen share so you can see their progress.  Most of my students are still nervous about anything outside of the annotation tool so this is an idea to use with caution.

Instead, you can use online games designed to bypass the conferencing software quirks so students can use one device while seeing your part of the game on the lesson screen.

Games For Online Lessons

Regardless of what you choose, converting physical games, apps, or online games there is a solution for each studio & student.  One of the amazing things about music lessons is that we can add fun elements, like games, into them.

Be sure to check out Keys to Imagination’s “Online Music Theory Games” for a fantastic option that works for individual & group lessons!

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