Music Game #1: “Tip Jar” (Playtime For Teacher & Piano Student)

Feeling slightly “under the weather” but still wanting to teach, I asked 2 adult jazz piano students to meet online for lessons. Educators know that teaching over the internet requires extra energy to communicate, and I was a bit short of breath. What valuable lessons could I give my inquisitive students that would keep their fingers busy while I listened, hydrated,  and encouraged them, with minimal talking on my part? I took a couple hits off my inhaler and came up with a “game plan” (modeled after real life situations I’ve had as a performer), and tested it out on my students. Together we had a good deal of fun playing these online socially safe music games.

In order to play each game, the student will need about a dozen pieces they can play reasonably well, either with or without the music. (Having handy access to a fakebook is fine too.) Teachers will want to keep in mind what pieces each  private student has studied in order to create playable tune “requests”. This helps the both of you get the most enjoyment from the game.

Game #1: TIP JAR

The student pretends they are a professional pianist playing in a bar (or fancy hotel if you prefer). The teacher acts as a customer making requests. The pianist earns virtual “tips” in their “tip jar” if they play the customer’s request.  A $10 tip is earned if pianist plays the request all the way through without restarting, cursing, making excuses, apologizing, and must provide a convincing ending. Pianist earns a $5 tip for attempting to play the request, but had obvious struggles. $0 earned for refusing to even attempt the request.  When lesson time is up, the teacher/customer totals the number of requests, compares a potential 100% score with tips earned in the student/pianist’s tip jar!

Here are the requests I made of my first student, knowing the music he has learned over the past few years:

  1. Play Mack The Knife (I started with a tune he knew well)
  2. Play a movie theme
  3. Play a tune about love lost or heartache
  4. Play a tune in 3/4 time
  5. Play a standard blues or something bluesy sounding
  6. Play something with a Brazilian or Latin Beat
  7. Sing and play a tune
  8. Play the latest tune you’ve been learning
  9. Play your favorite tune (This one stumped him – as it often does me – because my favorite tune changes day to day. By then, our hour lesson was up!)

Note: If the student is stumbling so badly they are getting visablly stressed, the teacher may reassure their student by letting them know at a bar gig people are busy drinking, talking, and don’t notice every missed note. If you sense the student needs a fresh start, you might say “Sorry I stepped out while you were playing my request. Can I hear it again?” My first student of the day offered to “buy me another drink” for giving him a $10 tip when he thought he deserved only $5 – so you can have some leniency playing around with the rules. Teach your student the polite way to refuse a request is to say, “I’m sorry I don’t know that piece, but will have it ready to play it for you next time…” (Code for student will practice that music for next week’s lesson!)

Watch for Music Game #2: “Happy Memories Retirement Home” published here on under Insights & Ideas very soon.


2 Replies to “Music Game #1: “Tip Jar” (Playtime For Teacher & Piano Student)”

    1. Thanks Phil! Could you play it with your guitar students? Vocal teachers could have a singing version too.

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