With Easter fast-approaching I thought it was about time I shared these little guys!

minion-themed shakers made from kinder eggs

Making novelty shakers is a fun way to make use of the plastic yolks from ‘Kinder Surprise’ eggs if you are lucky enough to have access to them.

Egg-sized shakers are a great percussion instrument/toy for children – the shape and size is perfect for little hands, and they can be used for rolling around, keeping a steady beat, making sound effects…

To make these minion-themed shakers:

  1. Clean off the plastic yolk and fill with dried rice, beans, beads, sand… you can have fun trying out all sorts of different fillings to compare the different sounds. Note that if you are making shakers with ‘normal’ plastic eggs you may well need to block any small holes in the plastic.
  2. Close the egg securely. Kinder Eggs are good for this activity as they are hard to open. If you are using other plastic eggs you will need to tape securely around the join. Either way, you may well need to remind your child not to try to open them or squeeze them too hard. It goes without saying (but I’m still saying it) that you should use your best judgement as to whether this activity is suitable for your child.
  3. Wrap blue painter’s tape around the egg with the top edge of the tape positioned just above the join. Make small cuts along the bottom edge of the tape and fold the tape under the egg.
  4. Cut thin strips of tape to make the straps for your minion’s overalls, and draw pockets, gloves or whatever details you like onto the tape.
  5. Choose one or two googly eyes and position them however you like. Note that PVA glue will not hold the eyes on firmly. If your children can’t wait to finish their minion, just take a note of where they want the eyes and super-glue them on later. Alternatively you could use round white stickers or a little white-out fluid for this stage.
  6. Complete your minion’s face and head with a mouth, strap for goggles, hair, eyelashes… just whatever details look fun.

minion-themed shaker toysAs you’ll see from these pictures – we definitely made these minions ourselves! I do not have a gift for crafts and my kids are all young, so you can see that this is a pretty straightforward activity.

E insisted her minion should be a girl; setting aside my thoughts about whether girls necessarily need to wear dresses and have blue eyeshadow I’m amused by her ‘glamour-minion’!

These particular minions like to shake about and sing along with various minion-style songs – a great way to join in with pretty much any song without knowing the ‘real’ words – bonus!


Bowie for Kids

I wanted to share some Bowie with the Kindergarten Music Club this week, and the vote from my own children was for Changes.  My theory is that the kids like this one because of the ‘ch ch ch’ refrain – they are, after all, big fans of repetitive sounds in popular music.

So for the listening section of our class today, we:

  • learned a little about David Bowie and looked at some pictures of his different styles and musical identities
  • listened to Changes using this very simple listening guide that I put together to help us identify the instruments and recognise the structure.

And while I worked individually with the kids on their recorders the rest of the group designed themselves a pop musician ‘look’ using this blank person template.

picture of David Bowie Changes album coverWhat a fun lesson, and what great music – thanks, David Bowie!

More Music with Halloween Treats

Hopefully yesterday’s post is helping you make use of your candy stash, but what about all those Halloween bits and bobs that aren’t edible? Let’s start up where I left off yesterday…


Did you collect your candy in a bucket? If so, turn it over (when it’s empty!) and start playing your Halloween drum. Looking for drumsticks? Did you get any pencils? If you got the sort with erasers on the end (or if you got any erasers with holes for pencils) then try using the pencil end and then the eraser end and listen out for the difference in sound.

If you have more than one little trick or treater who collected a can of pop they could both try tapping the sides with their pencil- (or lollypop-) beaters between sips to see who has the most left in their can. Listen out for the difference in pitch: a lower sound = more drink left in the can.IMG_3999

How about one of those mini slinky plastic springs? I tried stretching ours over small tub and using it as a sort of guiro/scraper. You can play it with your pencil or fingernail. NB. A container with rounded corners is useful for keeping your spring in place – you could also try taping it down if it keeps popping off, although it’s fun to experiment with the sound as you alter the stretch of the spring.

Which Hand?

My kids got a good variety of bracelets, stampsstickers and tattoos. For young children still struggling with knowing their right from left, you can use any of these things to help mark the difference.

Which Finger?

It can sometimes take quite a while for young pianists to get the hang of their finger numbers. Dollar store rings can be a fun way to help with this. The simplYoung piano student plays with novelty rings on fingersest activity is to challenge your kid/student to put a ring on (for example) left hand, finger 4 (or one on each of their finger 4s to help with the concept of the hands mirroring each other). You can do one finger at a time, or try to build up a whole hand covered with rings – kids with magpie-like tendencies enjoy doing this with a collection of colourful/shiny toy rings.

For my beginning students I put together a simple version of Mary Had a Little Lamb using rings to help identify which fingers to use. You can grab a copy at the bottom of this post if you’d like.

This is another activity that you can do with stickers or stamps – stamping or sticking something on the sheet music and then putting a matching stamp, sticker or colour on the corresponding hands and fingers.

Memorisation/Keyboard Familiarity

Did your trick or treaters collect any glow sticks/jewellery? How about challenging them to play the piano in the dark with just the light of their accessories to give them the occasional clue (or stop them from getting spooked)!

Breath Control

As usual, a lot of my ideas are centred around the keyboard, but if you collected any bubbles, these are great for practising using a controlled breath for singing or playing wind instruments. Also, just the process of dipping the wand in the mixture (and not spilling it!) is great for hand-eye coordination. See, life skills – not just music 😉


Yesterdays post included a printable composition sheet. We found some cute little pumpkin stickers which could be used to make a composition that lasts a little longer than the candy version! You could use them for dictation activities, too.

Finger Strength / Fine Motor Skills

I love those little pots of Play-Doh as a Halloween treat/loot bag staple.

Try pushing fingeUsing Play Doh for Finger Strengthrs into the dough to practice using tips of fingers rather than pads (making circles rather than ridges) and strengthen fingers.

To make it more piano-specific you can flatten out a rectangle and score lines for the edges of piano keys and practice legato and staccato techniques.

You can also work on rhythmic values and patterns with rolled up dots and ‘sausages’ of dough.

Giving Back

Some kind people give out toothbrushes and dental floss in our area. I guess these are best used for the intended purpose. If you don’t need them you can always pack them up with some other essentials (and treats) and see if they can be used at your local hospital or homeless shelter (or cut out the middle-man and hand them over next time you pass a homeless person).

Of course, I can’t resist adding my musical spin…if you’re about to bin an old toothbrush, you could consider re-purposing it as a drumstick/brush – we made witches’-broom sound effects with paint brushes in our Kindergarten music class last week, but a toothbrush would make a somewhat sturdier sound!

And dental floss could used to make a harp or even string a guitar! I have a packet of dental floss that my youngest unwound while I wasn’t looking so maybe that’s best used for music rather than mouths!

One Last Halloween Treat…

… here’s the Halloween printable for beginner pianists I mentioned above, the clip art isn’t by me – I’ll add the credits to comments.


If you don’t happen to have rings in the colours or designs I’ve used, you can cut out the little pictures at the top of the sheet and stick them onto rings (or directly onto fingers). Alternatively, a dot of washable pen in the appropriate colour will do. Slightly older children will probably be able to follow without using rings/colours anyway. I personalised my copies with the names of my students; I’ve left a blank space for you to do the same.

Musical Uses for Halloween Candy

November 1st = an extra hour in bed and a house full of candy here in Calgary. 🙂

If your little spooks haven’t already devoured their Halloween stash, here are some candy-themed musical activities to try…

Music Notation

Candy Compositions using Rockets Draw an extra-large sheet of manuscript paper and use Rockets, M&Ms or any small candies to make musical notes.

For beginners you can simply practice placing notes on lines and spaces. You can also compose your own short pieces or play a dictation game with one person singing a melodic pattern for the other to arrange on the staff.

Feel free to grab my printable from the bottom of this post to try this at home.

Hand position (for piano)

RockPractising piano curved hand position using Rocket candiesets are a great shape for little hands to get used to the feeling of playing with the tips of fingers rather than the pads. Play around with tapping on the candies and pushing them around to try and get those fingers muscles working – you could try and select different colour candies for different finger numbers.

Making Patterns

Using any candies you could challenge your kids to continue sequences and complete patterns. Depending on the ages of your kids you can vary thCompleting a mathematical sequence using candy barse complexity of the patterns and the position of the missing candies. If they are finding it too easy you can introduce mistakes
for them to fix (your choice whether they are allowed to eat the mistakes!)

This is such a useful activity for early maths skills, too.


I fondly remember the days when my daughter used to call Smarties ‘shakins’, because we cruelly let her believe that they were percussion toys rather than sweets. Smarties, Nerds, Milk Duds… anything that will rattle or roll around in a box can be used to shake along to the beat of the Monster Mash… Even any crisps/chips that got squashed at the bottom of the candy stash can join the rhythm section!

And if you got a can of pop along the way – there’s your drum right there. Make use of those lollies as beaters.

And for the non-candy Halloween treats…

…tune in tomorrow! In the meantime, here’s my candy-ready manuscript paper – I hope you’ll find it useful. candycompositions



Thanks for coming to visit the Family and Friends Music Club!

I teach piano and group music classes in and around Bristol, UK. Please click on the Piano Lessons or  Group Music Classes tabs for more information.

I also blog about musical ideas and activities, please scroll down the home page, or pick a category to the right to have a look around.

Summer Camp 2015: What did we learn?

The summer break already seems a long time ago here. Those last couple of weeks of the holiday seemed to fly by and so it is only now that I’m spending a little time to reflect on what we learnt during our unofficial family and friends music summer camp.

I was frustrated that life seemed to be speeding by without me making time to share my experience and love of music with the children so I set myself the challenge of doing a musical activity with the kids every day (and documenting as many as possible) throughout the summer break.

Some activities sparked a lot of fun and creativity, some failed to live up to my expectations, but there were definitely a few valuable lessons along the way…

  1. Make time for music
    This was my biggest challenge during term-time, but once the kids were out of school/kindergarten/preschool and all the other scheduled and unscheduled activities I found time to realise that music doesn’t always need too much time anyway. Sure, I’m still struggling with making time and enforcing a regular piano lesson (and practice!) for L, but we found plenty of fun and learning in simply drawing attention to the musical moments in everyday life.
  2. Keep the instruments accessible
    Like many families, we had plenty of musical instruments around the house, but most of them had been hidden away in frustration when the noise got too much! We rescued all our maracas, harmonicas, recorders, drums etc. and stored them all in one, accessible place and suddenly making music became a viable alternative to watching TV (admittedly TV still won more often than I’d like!). Yes, there are still times when the last thing I want to hear is the children blowing into their recorders, but now the instruments are all together I find it easier to accept and enjoy the noise as a musical activity rather than just TOO MUCH NOISE!
  3. Involve the children in the challenge
    There were definitely some days when the children didn’t want to be coerced into another musical activity, but they are all of an age when they definitely want to ‘help’. As soon as I told them about what I was trying to do (introduce more music into our everyday lives, get back to teaching, blog about our exploits, etc.) their ideas and enthusiasm added immeasurably to the experience.
  4. It’s not just about the kids
    As we did more and more musical activities as a family and as I thought more and more about music I found my own passion for playing and teaching flourishing to an extent I hadn’t necessarily anticipated. I now find myself prioritising my own musical development to a greater extent. I’m rediscovering the pieces I used to play, learning new repertoire, and my current personal challenge is to work on memorisation, as skill I never mastered (or even really attempted) when I was learning to play.
  5. When in doubt, sing a silly song…
    If any of this sounds remotely ‘worthy’, please be assured that a lot of our musical activities involved parroting each other, singing nonsense songs and dancing around to Shake It Off. It’s supposed to be fun, after all!

If you’ve already dipped into any of the Summer Camp posts I hope you found something fun there to inspire you. If not, well, it’s not too late, just click on the Summer Camp category to find all the posts about songs we listened to, games we played, instruments we tried and all the other musical bits and bobs that kept us busy over the summer.

The blog has been having a bit of a break while I set up my real-life music classes here in Calgary (very exciting!), but I’ll be back with plenty more musical thoughts and ideas in the next few weeks – please stay tuned! 🙂

The Real-Life Family and Friends Music Club

The Family and Friends Music Club is venturing into the real world!

I’m launching group music classes for young children next week and will be adding private piano lessons later in the month. Please take a look at the Group Music Classes page for more information and, if you’re in NW Calgary, please consider signing up for some musical fun!


Summer Camp Week 5: 5 Sleepy Songs

So, after a week of singing and dancing, let’s calm things down a little…

1. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.

I can’t imagine this is going to be new to anybody, but it’s still one of E’s favourite songs so I couldn’t leave it out. You could also use it as an introduction to Mozart’s piano music…


2. Brahms’ Lullaby

Lullaby and goodnight, with roses bedight
With lilies o’er spread is my baby’s wee bed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed

Lullaby and goodnight, thy mother’s delight
Bright angels beside my darling abide
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast

This lullaby doesn’t necessarily have the most catchy lyrics, but once the melody is familiar to your child it could serve as a nice introduction to another great composer.


3. Golden Slumbers

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles await you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty baby, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby.
Cares you know not, therefore sleep,
While over you a watch I’ll keep,
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby.

When I was looking up versions of Golden Slumbers my youngest fell in love (or, more accurately, was mesmerised by) the version below, but don’t forget there’s also a Beatles version if you’re after something a little less saccharine!


4. Beautiful Boy, John Lennon

A favourite with my children ever since watching Mr Peabody and Sherman.


5. Sleeping Bunnies

So now the kids are all calm and quiet, let’s get them all bouncing! I’m sorry – I can’t resist including this – it’s not really a sleepy song, I know, but it never gets old in our house…

See the little bunnies sleeping ’til it’s nearly noon.
Shall we wake them with a merry tune?
They’re so still, are they ill?
Shhhh, shhhh….
Wake up soon [clap]!
Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop,
Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop,
Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop,
Hop little bunnies, hop then… stop!

The version on this video is slightly different from the version I usually sing, but I like it because it prolongs the bouncing – sometimes with really little kids it takes them so long to get up and bouncing that the song is nearly finished by the time they’ve got going. Of course, you can always just sing the hopping section twice through… or pause for longer while everyone gets up (if the rest of your group is patient enough).


+ Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

And while we’re bouncing rather than sleeping, here’s another great favourite. I love this version, from the brilliant Putumayo Animal Playground album.

Summer Camp Week 5: 5 Pop Songs

This category is very much down to personal taste, but my children all seem to enjoy a song with a singalong ‘la la’ or ‘whoa whoa’ -type chorus, so I thought I’d share a few favourites…

1.Something in the Water, Brooke Fraser


2. Be My Forever, Christina Perri feat. Ed Sheeran


3. Live Life, Jesse & Joy


4. Roar, Katy Perry


5. Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison


MMMBop, Hanson


I fear some people might not thank me for including this particular ear-worm, but since I’m featuring songs with ‘la-la’ or ‘oh-oh’ refrains I thought this one would also go down well with the kids. Unfortunately it seems to have reminded L of her desire to have her own drum kit!

I did also try the kids with Blur’s Song 2, certainly the most famous ‘woo-hoo’ song I could think of, but they were disappointingly lukewarm. Maybe it’ll be a ‘grower’…

Summer Camp Week 5: 5 Long Songs

As promised, here’s a selection of longer songs to keep little (and big) people occupied…

1. Old MacDonald

This one can be as long or as short as your knowledge of farm animals/vehicles/crops and the noises they make!

Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O,
And on that farm he had some cows, E-I-E-I-O,
With a ‘moo moo‛ here and a ‘moo moo‛ there,
Here a ‘moo‛, there a ‘moo‛, everywhere a ‘moo moo‛,
Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.

Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O,
And on that farm he had some pigs, E-I-E-I-O,
With an ‘oink oink‛ here and an ‘oink oink‛ there,
Here an ‘oink‛, there an ‘oink‛, everywhere an ‘oink oink‛,
A ‘moo moo‛ here and a ‘moo moo‛ there,
Here a ‘moo‛, there a ‘moo‛, everywhere a ‘moo moo‛,
Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.

And on that farm he had some sheep… with a ‘baa baa‛ here…

And on that farm he had some chickens… with a ‘cluck cluck‛ here…

And on that farm he had some ducks… with a ‘quack quack‛ here…

2. There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
That wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her;
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird;
How absurd to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cat;
Fancy that to swallow a cat!
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a dog;
What a hog, to swallow a dog!
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow,
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow;
She swallowed the cow to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse…
She’s dead, of course!

3. She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain

There are a fair few variations on this one; I’ve included some of the most common verses I could remember below. Not everyone includes the ‘aye aye yippee’ chorus, but it certainly drags things out if you’re looking to build up your singing stamina!

She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be coming round the mountain, coming round the mountain,
Coming round the mountain when she comes.

Singing aye aye, yippee yippee, aye,
Singing aye aye, yippee yippee, aye,
Singing aye aye, yippee, aye aye, yippee,
Aye aye, yippee yippee, aye!

She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes…

She’ll be wearing pink pyjamas when she comes…

Oh we’ll all go out to meet her when she comes…

We will all have chicken and dumplings when she comes… [or cake and ice cream]

4. One Man went to Mow

It’s up to you how many men end up going to mow this meadow, but here’s a song that is good for counting up with each verse and then counting back down rapidly every time.

One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow,
One man and his dog (‘woof!’) went to mow a meadow.

Two men went to mow, went to mow a meadow,
Two men, one man and his dog (‘woof!’) went to mow a meadow.

5. The Hokey Cokey

This classic action song, more usually known as the hokey pokey outside the UK, can keep little ones moving for quite some time – especially if you add extra verses to identify and isolate different body parts (shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees etc.).

You put your right hand in, right hand out,
In, out, in, out, shake it all about.
You do the hokey-cokey and you turn around.
That’s what it’s all about.

Whoa, hokey-cokey-cokey,
Whoa, hokey-cokey-cokey,
Whoa, hokey-cokey-cokey,
Knees bent, arms stretched, rah, rah, rah!

Verses continue with left hand, right leg, left leg, whole self…

+ 99 Bottles of Beer

In case Ten Green Bottles (suggested yesterday) isn’t long enough for you, how about counting down from 99 bottles of beer (or milk, pop, organic juice…)

99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer.
Take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall.
and so on until…
No more bottles of beer on the wall, no more bottles of beer.
Go to the store and buy some more, 99 bottles of beer on the wall.

Tomorrow it’s pop song suggestions, I hope you’ll join me for some woo-hoo and way-hay action!