5 Things students should practice with NO instruments!

Many teachers are contemplating how to teach a group of beginners with virtual or hybrid instruction.  In my district they are planning to have students come to the school for full time in person instruction, but I feel I need to be ready for if/when we all get sent home again.

I like seeing my beginners every day.  I feel I can ensure proper technique, keep them motivated, and ensure they are progressing.  Seeing them less often feels more risky, but kids who take private lessons only see their teachers once per week.  The rest of the time, they are on their own - practicing what has been assigned.  I think as we move to some online instruction, we need to take it slow, break everything down into even smaller chunks of mastery, and be very clear on exactly what/how to practice.

There is a lot to do to get beginners playing comfortably.  It takes a lot of time and skill.  I think students can prepare themselves to learn their instruments by practicing some skills AWAY from their instruments.  These skills work great for online learning and I believe will help students learn fingering and rhythm more effectively ON their instruments when the time comes.  

Here are some ideas for things students can practice AWAY from their instruments:


I have students practice finger taps with me when in school to learn finger numbers.  I just created an online game in Google Slides for practicing finger taps.  It can be used in classroom, or virtually.  It seems easy at first, but it gets harder!  Students learn finger numbers, but also work on coordination and dexterity. 

To use the game, push 'present.'  At the very bottom of the present screen, you will see some controls. Click on the gear and go to 'auto-advance.'  Change the timing to every 3 or every 5 seconds...depending on how much time students need to do the exercise.  (see pic below).

The music should start automatically, but if it doesn't start, push the play button at the bottom left.  If you don't want the music background, just turn the volume down.

When sending to students, you should 'Publish to Web' first and send that link.  This link begins with the slide show instead of a 'slides' editor screen:


Finger pops and flicks are great for building finger strength.  Just tap each finger and thumb together to create a 'popping' sound.  The stronger the fingers, the louder the pop.  Student can also build strength by performing a flicking motion with each finger and thumb.  It's more fun to do this with background music!  Or you can create speed challenges.  For example, create a practice sequence of  8 finger pops on each finger, then 4 on each, then 2, then 1..and see how fast students can do it.  


I don't use TikTok, but many students do!  This is a trend that was going around TikTok  - a emoji hand challenge.  It gets extra tricky when you try 2 hands at once!  I think this exercise help students move to a beat and build it's fun!  Student might enjoy as assignment where they practice this exercise...then create their own hand emoji pattern for other students to master.  You can find downloadable royalty free music to use for this at


This is another popular activity on TikTok.  I think students would enjoy learning the hand rhythm, then create their own.  This would also be a fun way to introduce basic notation.  There are some great YouTube tutorials below!  This activity builds rhythmic skills, coordination, and memory.


Student can do a number of exercises with straws.  They can form a bow hold and balance pennies, or ping pong balls on top of the straw or on top of their right thumb knuckle.  See my post HERE with ideas!  I think it would be fun for students to create their own practice video using straws...where students are the 'fitness instructors' and teach a full workout for straw-bow exercises.  I could create one for my students...but they might like to do their own....and I just don't have time!  Students can then practice with each other's bow workouts.   

Not sure if I'd show this particular work-out video example to students...but I'll post it here for entertainment.  :)  Imagine this being done with straws and bow holds!

Beginners do better when they build basic skills BEFORE they start on their instruments.  Now is the perfect time to implement a gradual start and build coordination and dexterity in our students.

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