At Brooklyn Music Factory, we’ve made music games for kids a cornerstone of the curriculum.
Kids hopping from one poly spot to another. Koosh balls being thrown at a happy face or a sad face. Chord dice being rolled on the floor.
If you walked into a Brooklyn Music Factory classroom, it is highly likely you would see at least one of the above activities happening. Could be in a band class or a private guitar lesson. And if this seems a bit different than the piano lesson you took as a kid, it’s because it is. In fact, our curriculum will probably feel radically different.
One of the questions people ask us more often than any other is: “Why do you play so many music games for kids in your classes? And what exactly is a BLAM game, anyway?!”
The WHY Behind Music Games for Kids
We play games in our music classes for one simple reason: they work. We have played music games for kids with thousands of students since we opened 10 years ago and they are incredibly effective at teaching the concepts (the music fluencies) we believe all students need to know and to play in a band. This type of game play is called “deceptive learning” and it remains the most effective tool we have found, especially for ages 4-11.
Games are fun, and fun is highly motivating. When they start, kids want one thing and one thing only from their lessons: fun. (Ideally, they’re having fun with other kids too, not just their teacher!)
Important: The goal of music lessons for kids is NOT just to get good at an instrument, at least not at first. The instrument is just the ticket to making lessons fun, and making lessons fun is CRUCIAL to kids wanting to continue music lessons. (And not quitting, like a lot of parents did when they were kids!)
Did You Say “BLAM”?
We call our music games for kids “BLAM” games, which is short for Big Lessons About Music. What exactly makes a lesson BIG, you ask?
We split our games into four categories: Melody, Harmony, Rhythm & Songwriting. (You can read more about BLAM games in this blog post.) Over time, these games teach important lessons musicians need to know.
For example, they’ll develop focused and strong listening skills and they’ll learn the building blocks of songwriting and composition, otherwise known as music theory.
Your Music Ear, Music Mind & Music Body
Musicians are like athletes. And like athletes, they need both great body awareness (developing fine motors skills) AND a sharp mind (knowing what to do with those fine motor skills under extreme conditions). At Brooklyn Music Factory, we use music games to help kids develop mind awareness. That mind practice is broken into games for strengthening ears and strengthening theory. (The body practice, while not simple execution, is much simpler to understand, because it’s what most people think of when they think of musicians. It’s the technique a musician uses to play the instrument. Students build their body practice through skill and technique practice.
More Music Games for Kids
We believe adding games to music lessons is not only fun, it’s essential to helping kids learn–no matter what type of lesson it is!
Want to try out some of our music games for kids at home? Our team of dedicated music teachers have created an entire library of free music games for kids of all ages on BMFTV. Try one out today!
Free Resources for Music Teachers
Whether you teach private lessons or music in the classroom, our music games can add a HUGE dose of fun to your lesson plans. Explore music games for kids of all ages on BMFTV!
We play lots of games– at Brooklyn Music Factory—we call them BLAM (that’s short for Big Lessons About Music) games. Melody Memory Maker is one of our online music theory games for kids, and it’s fun, creative and inspiring.
Read on to learn more about Melody Memory Maker from Nate, BMF co-founder—and prolific game creator!
Who Should Play Melody Memory Maker?
All of Brooklyn Music Factory’s in-person and online music theory games, including Melody Memory Maker, are designed to challenge kids from age four to 17! With fifteen levels—broken into three groups—Melody Memory Maker is a game that a young musician can spend years playing, developing their skills all along the way.
Kids ages four to eight start at level one, playing the game by singing or on a keyboard. (So no instrument required!) Then kids ages nine to 12 move on the intermediate series—levels six through 10. And then finally, kids ages 13 and up are ready to work on the really advanced levels, 11 through 15, which are perfect for pre college and college students. Advancing from level to level and group to group can take years. That’s the whole point.
Brooklyn Music Factory is an accelerated ear training and theory program, so we’ve created online music theory games for each age group and kids can move at the pace that’s best for them.
Why Play Melody Memory Maker?
I’m going to explain what a student will learn when they play this game, and I’m going to explain it with an analogy. Oftentimes, we describe music as a language. Just like we build fluency in spoken languages—English, Spanish, Mandarin, etc.—we can also build fluency in the language of music. Melody Memory Maker is a tool that teaches and develops one specific music fluency: melody.
What is a Melody?
What is melody? Simply defined, melodies are notes that are played one after another. So, when you think about a melody, picture a horizontal line of music. One note after another after another. Melodies can be broken up into short little phrases or motifs, like bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum or dot, dot, dot, dot. And those phrases can be strung together to create longer and longer melodies.
Melody Memory Maker introduces students to the concept of listening to a melody deeply, as it moves horizontally through time. Melody Memory Maker always starts with one note, and then adds another note, and another and another and another, gradually stretching the student’s musical focus, and specifically their melodic focus. Can they hear a melody that’s getting longer and longer and longer, and remember that melody, be able to sing or play the melody back on a keyboard, guitar or bass?
Ear Before Eye Approach
Brooklyn Music Factory uses what we call an “ear before eye” approach, meaning we want our students to be comfortable learning with their ears. Why? Because music is an aural art form meant to be listened to. Learning how to listen better and with more focus, and ultimately being moved by what you hear, is essential for musicians.
Melody Memory Maker challenges students as young as four to listen really intently to a set of pitches in a specific order. Melodies move in specific orders and follow patterns, and this online music theory game teaches students from a very young age to begin to hear and recognize melodic patterns in music.
Now, the focus part of Melody Memory Maker is a skill that is essential for playing and collaborating with other musicians. As we mature as musicians—regardless of the instrument we play—we are learning how to focus on the other instruments in the band. Sometimes we need to focus on the singer, and what they are singing, in order to know exactly what we’re supposed to do on the piano. And conversely, sometimes the singer needs to focus entirely on the melody being played by the guitar player to know when to start singing.
Using Music Games to Find Patterns
Melody Memory Maker really helps musicians learn and understand the power of focus. The game stretches the student’s focus and, as they pass each level, the game asks the musician to listen a little bit more closely. And a little bit longer.
Melody Memory Maker reminds me of the game Simon. Remember that awesome game where you had four colors and four buttons to push? Melody Memory Maker is like Simon on steroids. It gets more and more complex, meaning there are more and more buttons and more and more colors that students need to follow and remember. Think of melodies as combinations of different colors. Melody Memory Maker asks students to remember the colors in a very specific order in a specific pattern, and those patterns get harder and harder with each level.
What Does Melody Memory Maker Mean for a Musician?
Melody Memory Maker reminds every musician that there are two key skills that they’re developing around melody.
Number one: They’re beginning to hear melodic patterns and recognize the shapes of the melodies. I don’t need to see the music on a page, because I can hear it and know how to translate what I’m hearing to my instrument. Being able to do that allows two musicians to have a much more fluid “conversation” when they play together. When they share a vocabulary—in this case, melodic patterns—they can converse quickly and easily.
Number two: Melody Memory Maker helps a musician learn to focus for the entire length of a song. The average pop song is about three to five minutes long. That may not seem like a long time for you, but, for a four or five year old, focusing for more than 30 seconds on a melody or a rhythm or a harmony is asking a lot. Melody Memory Maker slowly stretches a musician’s focus so they are ultimately capable of being 100% engaged for the entire three or five or 10 minutes of a song.
What if you’re doing great at Melody Memory Maker? You’ve passed all five beginning levels, and you’re moving into the intermediate levels?
You can always couple Melody Memory Maker with another online music theory game like Rhythm Song Scribe or Complete the Composition. With Rhythm Song Scribe, you’re combining your ability to hear patterns of melodies with your ability to hear rhythms or lengths of pitches. Picture melodies as combinations of colors. How long does that color orange last before it goes to the color blue?
Tying in Other Online Music Games
In Complete the Composition, the teacher plays a short melodic idea, and then challenges the student to answer with their own melodic idea. The game encourages the student to listen to the teacher play a melodic pattern and then improvise or compose their own melodic pattern in response. That’s asking the student to hear the pitches or colors in patterns in the teacher’s melody and to stay focused long enough to respond with their own.
Developing Fluencies Through Online Music Theory Games
We think of BLAM games in terms of the categories or music fluencies that they strengthen—melody, harmony, rhythm and songwriting. Our musicians play different BLAM games to develop different fluencies, learning how to combine and build on them along the way.
So, rather than thinking, “I want to complete all 15 levels of Melody Memory Maker,” we instead try to make sure that our students are growing in all four fluencies at the same pace. So, as a student passes level five of Melody Memory Maker, we’re also working with them to pass level five of Wait a Second or Rhythm Song Scribe or Beat Detective.
There are so many games to build melody, harmony, rhythm and songwriting fluencies, and we want our students to always work on fluencies in all four categories.
Where Does Melody Memory Maker Fit in the Big Picture ?
At Brooklyn Music Factory, we believe a Musician’s Journey should last seven to 10 years. So when a student starts a MiniKeys class with us at age four and plays Melody Memory Maker, or any one of our other Big Music Games, we think, “How are we going to help this student grow musically for seven to 10 years, before they head out into the world on their own as songwriters and collaborators and confident creatives?”
10 Years of Music Games!?
The most important thing to keep in mind with these games is that they are leveled very intentionally to last seven to 10 years. Our students love these games because they’re really, really fun and engaging to play. Most importantly, from our standpoint as we develop the curriculum, we want students to keep playing games every single year, year after year, so that they’re always strengthening their fluencies as musicians and communicators. We don’t want them—three or four years into their journey—to get hyper-focused on just becoming a really good technician on an instrument. We want to make sure that the student is always balancing music fluency with technical ability.
Learning Music as a Language
An easy way to think about this is when we’re learning a language, whatever language it is, we want to always be building a vocabulary and we want to share that vocabulary in group contexts. We’re not just technically capable on an instrument. We also understand what we’re playing on the instrument and are able to hear it in our head. We call that the “inner ear.” At each stage of growth over those seven to 10 years, we want students to be able to hear a sound, and then go straight to their instrument, and realize that sound on their instrument. Our students can do that because they understand and have categorized all of these amazing melodies and chord progressions and lyrical ideas, the rhyming patterns and song forms.
As they grow as musicians, they are constantly building these fluencies and developing an understanding of what they all mean and how to apply them on their instruments. Ultimately, they can use their instrument to collaborate with other musicians and be creative in their community.
A Special Note for Music Teachers Using Online Music Theory Games
Music teachers around the world play our online music theory games and ask all the time, “How do I implement this into my lesson plan? Are BLAM games appropriate for a classical program? Does the approach work if I teach only bluegrass?”
Here’s how we do it at Brooklyn Music Factory:
Our lesson architecture is structured very simply, and every single one of our classes or private lessons always includes at least one fluency game, and usually just one. So, for example, if I’m teaching a private piano lesson to an intermediate student, I will start with an improvisation game called “A Free and Easy Duet.” That’s just five minutes to say hello, using the language of music, to see how they’re doing and communicate without words.
Then I move straight from the improvisation into a fluency, BLAM or Big Music Game. The game, such as Melody Memory Maker, will last about 10 minutes, and then I’ll move into the song the student is learning or composing. If I’m working with a student on melody, then Melody Memory Maker feeds perfectly into an exercise where the student has to compose their own melody. Or maybe a piano player is learning how to solo over certain chords. I’ll use Melody Memory Maker as a starting point to talk about specific scales or melodic patterns they can use.
Finally, I always have the same simple intention: to meet the student where they are in their journey with melody, rhythm, harmony, or songwriting. I’ll challenge the student to work on melody or work on harmony or work on rhythm and get a little bit more comfortable, and a little bit more confident, being able to hear sound. I encourage them to analyze the sound using their musical mind, and then apply it to their instrument.
Want to try out some of our online music theory games? Play for free on BMFTV! It’s super easy to login and there are tons of games for all ages–even adults.
P.S. BMFTV is a great free resource for music teachers!!
You’ve probably seen or heard your child talking about playing musical games during their lessons, winning Big Music Game’s badges as they pass each level. Or maybe you’ve seen other kids with BMG badges (stickers) covering their lesson binders….maybe even stuck on their guitar case or even their forehead!
What do those stickers even mean?!
What’s a Big Music Game?
Big Music Games are ear training and music theory games and they’re woven into every lesson and every class at Brooklyn Music Factory. At Brooklyn Music Factory, students play these educational music games—regardless of the musical instruments they play or where they are on their musical journey—to learn music theory, grow communication skills and have fun with music!
Along the way, students acquire Big Music Game badges for several reasons:
As a reward for passing Big Music Game levels
To measure a student’s musical growth
To see how your child’s ears are growing stronger
As evidence of your child’s music mind flexing!
Parents need to trust their child’s school, trust their teacher, and trust the plan. That goes for their music school and their music teacher as well, but stick with me!
I remember how shocking it was when I first sat in on my own daughter’s language arts class and the teacher explained the strategy called “Inventive Spelling”.
In a nutshell, the rationale behind Inventive Spelling is that letting a child decide the spelling of words in the beginning, even if the spelling is “wrong,” encourages them to write a LOT from the start, even if their language skills are just developing and they don’t yet know how to spell “correctly”. (In other words: We don’t tell toddlers not to speak until their language and grammar are perfect. Why prevent them from writing while they’re still learning how to spell?)
Writing a lot and writing early ultimately makes kids better writers and better readers. Why? Because kids (and adults) lose confidence and feel discouraged when corrected a lot. They stop wanting to do the one thing, writing, that they need to do to become better writers.
At first, it was really tough for me to accept that I needed to let my daughter misspell when doing her homework. But over time I came to understand that experience builds confidence, and people need to feel confident to be willing to learn and grow. Once my daughter believed in herself as a writer, she was ready and willing to learn different—aka, the correct—spelling from her teachers.
To believe in Inventive Spelling I needed to understand the why behind all of my child’s uncorrected ‘misspellings’ in her writing. Once I understood the path she was on to becoming a strong writer—and that this curriculum had been proven to work over and over again—I became a believer. My daughter has gone on to become a voracious reader and writer. In fact, she is now in her third year of college.
We Believe in FUN First
At Brooklyn Music Factory we take a similar approach, designing music games for kids and music players of all ages. We have seen that a fun first approach builds confidence and musical skills. And our Big Music Games teach the fluency of musicianship.
What does “Fluency of Musicianship” mean?
We play these interactive music games online and in person, and they fall into one of the four essential building blocks of rock and pop music. (They are actually the building blocks of all genres of music, but we focus on contemporary music at Brooklyn Music Factory.)
Start Hearing the Notes
Melody music games, like Wait A Second, challenge students’ listening skills so they learn to hear the distance between two notes. (Musicians measure distance in sounds.)
When a musician recognizes the distance from a C to an E by ear, she can then translate that information to her instrument and use motor skills to repeat back the melody. Musicians with strong listening skills can actually hear the notes they see on a page, rather than simply reading the notes.
In music pedagogy, educators call this an “ear before eye” approach. The Suzuki method is another well known ear before eye approach, though that one focuses on Classical music.
“Suzuki students learn to play music before they learn to read it – just as a child will speak their first words long before they learn to read them. Suzuki students generally won’t begin reading music until they’re reading words fairly fluently, usually about 7 or 8 years old.”
If melody is the horizontal part of music, harmony is the vertical one. Our harmony music games, like Major/Minor, challenge students to hear three or more notes at the same time.
Chords support melodies, and chords can move in progressions. So BLAM games played at our Students at our Brooklyn music school start by playing BLAM games that ask them to listen for a single chord quality (is it happy, meaning major, OR is it sad, meaning minor) and graduate to games asking students to hear one chord moving to another and then another. When students hear a chord quality and a harmonic rhythm, they then start to understand why they are learning how to play so many chords (on piano or guitar). They begin to listen more actively and hear MORE when they play music. And it all starts by playing music games!
Hear More Than One Note at a Time
If melody is the horizontal part of music, harmony is the vertical one. By playing fun music games, like Major/Minor, students are challenged to hear three or more notes at the same time.
Chords support melodies, and chords move in progressions. So students both online and at our Brooklyn music school start by playing BLAM games that ask them to listen for a single chord quality (is it happy, meaning major, OR is it sad, meaning minor) and then graduate to games that teach them to hear one chord moving to another and then another. When students hear a chord quality and a harmonic rhythm, they then start to understand why they are learning to play so many chords (on piano or guitar). They begin to listen more actively and to hear MORE when they play music or listen to their favorite songs. And it all starts by playing fun games!
FUN FACT: Musicians can learn to hear what they will be playing on an instrument—whether they’re writing their own music composition or reading notes and chords on pieces of paper—before they even play it!! And this is what inspires them to WANT to play an instrument. They anticipate or imagine a sound, and then make that sound happen on their own instrument.
Inner Ear Versus Outer Ear
Musicians often talk about their inner ear versus their outer ear.
Inner Ear is that melody you keep humming that you can’t get out of your head.. It lives inside your head…Think of your favorite (or most annoying!) ad jingle. “State Farm is There” or “The Simp-sons”
The Outer Ear is what we think of when we think of listening. We literally hear an external sound (or harmony or melody) and then, if we hear it often enough (and it makes a big enough impression on us). we process it, remember it and it moves to our inner ear.
Music games (Big Music Games!) can be played on different musical instruments—or on no instrument at all—and focus on repetition and processing, while always trying to maximize the fun factor.
Get Your Groove ON: Rhythm Music Games
In rhythm music games like Groove Puzzler, students get to dive into notes of different lengths and combinations, starting with basic rhythms and ultimately learning how those notes form grooves.
We have found that rhythm is the #1 place to start when giving musicians the tools they need to play with others in a band—regardless of the musical instrument they play. Groove, groove, groove! It’s both the MOST fun and the MOST important. At least it feels that way in the beginning. Rhythm and groove are like the glue that binds melody and harmony together.
Groove Puzzler is a fun music game for kids that challenges the player to listen for patterns in rhythm and then put the note values in the correct order, left to right, to recreate that pattern. Kids love this music game, online or in person! And what they don’t realize is that they are actually learning how to read rhythms, in addition to listening to and transcribing them.
The Power of Songwriting
The final Big Music Game category is songwriting. One of my favorite songwriting music games is Word Beat. Word Beat challenges the player to listen to the words and syllables in the lyrics of a song and place them correctly within a measure of music. By “correctly,” I mean accurately placing each syllable where it falls in the rhythm sequence.
Take a familiar song like “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream”. In Word Beat, the game asks the player to count in their head and decide if the first “row” lands on beat #1 or beat #2 of the measure of music. Simple songs and simple rhythms like this one teach essential listening skills and the basics of music.
Why is this type of music knowledge SO important? For starters, kids get to listen to words and then drag them around the screen, either during in-person music lessons or online music lessons. They are addicted to this simple game!! So just from a focused listening point of view, Word Beat is a hit. In addition, this music game actually teaches the musician to realize how a song’s lyrics influence the overall groove or rhythm of the song.
Along the way, kids start to view lyrics differently. Lyrics are more than the story a song tells; they are a key element of the composition!
Tie It All Together With Music Games
Really smart musicians (those with advanced music fluency) use lyrics to trigger the part of the song they are playing on their instrument. For example, a drummer might know that every time “row” is sung, he is going to play his bass drum with his foot. OR a guitar player might listen for lyrics to recognize when exactly to switch from a G chord to a C chord. Word Beat and other music games for kids teach growing musicians to be more in touch with the story, aka the lyrics of a song, as they apply to the entire arrangement.
“I think most drummers have their own way of “charting” songs? Personally, I do like a lot of what others are saying. I’ll print the lyrics out and make notes where things will need to change, or where a fill starts and stops, pauses, builds up, etc. directly over the word where whatever needs to happen in the song. Having the lyrics also helps me memorize the song a lot faster as well.”
-Randy Cooke, Drummer (Drumeo)
Back to BLAM Badges
Big Music Games are so much more than simply games we play to have fun. These music games provide a holistic approach to nurturing the entire musician and encouraging them to lead with their ears and find joy at every one of the 15 levels.
Do Big Music Games get hard for our students? Yes.
Are Big Music Games leveled by age? Yes.
Do some students move more quickly than others thorough levels? Of course!
How long does it take a student to get through all 15 levels? As long it needs to!
Whether your child is taking piano lessons in Brooklyn, learning guitar on her own at home, or studying classical voice in Chicago, playing BLAM games can–and will!–level up their musical mind!
Check out our library of fun and FREE music games on BMFTV! There are BLAM games and fun music activities for all ages–even adults!
Click HERE to learn more about BMFTV and explore tons of free games!
What does Lebron James have to do with music education? Why, you ask, is he my musical hero?
It’s simple. Musicians are like athletes because—just like athletes—they need both body awareness (fine motors skills) AND sharp minds (knowing what to do with those fine motor skills under extreme conditions) to excel at their craft.
Lebron James—a power forward who can shoot three-point shots like a guard and plow through the lane, scoring at will—is my musical hero because he, better than most, can show us how to do it.
Yes, Musicians & Athletes Are Similar
Lebron embodies what all great musicians strive for:
An extremely well developed body awareness that comes from very refined motor skills
An agile mind that can react in real time to any number of given situations under pressure
In short, Lebron has what every mature musician needs:
The confidence to make thousands of choices while playing
The facility on the instrument to make executing those choices look effortless
Even more important? At the foundation of Lebron’s skill and ability is an infectious level of passion for both the pursuit (the learning process) and the product (the game itself) of his sport.
Three Categories of Learning
So let’s draw a few comparisons between Lebron James and music… and how exactly this thinking can be applied to music education. I like to break it down into three categories of learning:
1. Music Ear
2. Music Mind
We’ll start here because it’s the most visible piece of the puzzle and is probably the easiest one for most people to understand at first.
Music Body = Technique
Technique is everything from the ability to strum a chord progression in multiple keys to the ability to play three different scales during a guitar solo. Here is the key… Knowing how to play that chord progression, while also staying aware of how your body feels, is what ultimately makes it possible to maintain technique for long stretches of time (like the length of an entire show or recital).
This is the theory (or the building blocks) behind those chords and scales that you executed with that technique. The Music Mind is where many many musicians fall way short.
Maybe you can play a fast scale on the guitar, but you have no idea why you are choosing those notes or even why they ‘sound good’ over a certain chord progression.
All great composers and songwriters have strong music minds. They have the know-how and the knowledge to make the educated choices needed to create specific sounds.
And let’s be clear: This is true whether we are talking about Tom Petty or Mozart.
This is pretty self explanatory, even though it’sthe most neglected piece of music education. Sometimes called your ‘inner ear,’ this is the skill you need to be able to hear something in your head and then make it happen on your instrument.
It’s also what makes it possible for you to read notes on a page (sheet music, for example) and understand and hear those in your head before playing them on the instrument.
The Music Ear is actually THE most important skill all musicians need, yet it’s often the last one tackled. (Usually music students aren’t challenged to develop their inner ears until high school or college.
No cutting corners….
All three areas of growth are required to have any shot at becoming the Lebron of music.
Skip technique and you will be laughed off the court.
Skip the ear and mind work and you will have no idea what to do with all that technique on the court.
As a basketball player, a masterful three-point shot does you no good if you can’t read the court, run a play, or know exactly when to pull up and shoot.
Fast does NOT equal good…
As a musician, blazing fast scales on the guitar do you no good if you don’t know when to use that scale or how to listen to and communicate with the rest of the band, waiting for the perfect moment to place that guitar lick.
How Can I Help My Child Develop a Musical Mind, Ear and Body?
So where am I going with this? It’s important to support your child’s musical interests in many ways, not just asking if they playing the “correct” notes! Playing music is about so much more than reading the notes on the page. It’s the full package: passion and creativity, technique, playing on a team with others (or in a band!), and finding your individual voice. (And don’t forget FUN.)
At BMF, our answer to developing a music mind and music ear in a super fun way and early in your music education journey is through playing games.
Instead of waiting until high school or college to start developing the Music Ear with ear training, we dive in with our youngest students, so they can begin to learn music as a language, right from the start.
Each and every one of our games—called BLAM games: Big Lesson About Music—do just that: teach a BIG lesson about music, whether it’s strengthening harmony, rhythm or melody, or flexing your child’s creative Music Mind with songwriting.
We believe that every kid deserves to dream of becoming the next Lebron James of music. And they should also have a ton of fun while doing it!
Let’s give them all the tools needed to have a shot at their dreams!
Fun. I don’t remember my music lessons being very fun as a kid. Piano was a series of painstaking scales in a damp room and as someone who loved music, I never wanted to go. Needless to say, those lessons didn’t last very long.