To kick off our Halloween celebrations here at we’re delighted to welcome Dr. Melody Payne of The Plucky Pianista to share her most spooktacular suggestions for Halloween ear training.

Dr. Melody Payne

Halloween is almost here!

Most of our students are thinking about things such as finding the perfect Halloween costume, whether they can leave their music lessons early to go Trick-or-Treating, and which candy to eat first at the end of the day. Teachers are thinking very different thoughts this time of year: putting final touches on students’ performances as they prepare for the annual Halloween recital, organizing group classes with seasonal activities, and teaching new ideas and concepts, as well as reviewing important skills (such as listening skills!) with students.

Why are listening skills crucial for music students?

There are so many answers to this question! Students’ musical interpretation skills become stronger with in-depth listening. Excellent listening skills help students go beyond what’s on the page and open a new world of what music can become. Consequently, performances become more moving for the audience because of the listening and interpretation skills the performer has developed.

Not only are performances enhanced by listening skills, but a student’s ability to play by ear increases as well, which increases the student’s ability as a musician. What are some additional ways listening skills help students become finer musicians? Great listening skills improve students’ improvisation, transposition, and composition skills, to name a few.

Listening Skills at Halloween

How can teachers incorporate listening skills into lessons and classes during the Halloween/Autumn season? Listening skills can be incorporated into lessons and classes in a number of ways. For example, teachers can have students participate in improvisation activities that include Halloween or Autumn-themed ideas such as leaves falling, ghosts, hayrides, going to the pumpkin patch, etc.

Teachers can have students complete rhythmic dictation activities as well. These can be adapted for Halloween and Autumn simply by providing students with Halloween or Autumn staff paper. The same can be done with melodic dictation activities.

If students prefer to use Halloween melodies, there are several blogs that offer single-line Halloween and Autumn songs for free, that would be perfect for melodic dictation.

Halloween Ear Training at Home

Halloween Listening at Home

How can parents help students develop their listening skills at home? There are many things parents can do to help their child’s listening skills. Here are a few examples:

  • Parents can clap brief rhythmic patterns and have their child echo the patterns. If parents can’t think of any rhythms, they can use phrases from their favorite songs!
  • Parents can also play a simple 5-finger melodic pattern on the piano and have their child echo the pattern.
  • If parents hear a catchy commercial jingle, they can ask their child to sing the melody of the jingle, then play it on the piano or other instrument.

Do parents have to be able to read music to do these things at home?

Absolutely not!

Will students benefit from doing these fun activities?

Yes, they will!

Rhythm Skills Halloween Game

How can students improve their own listening skills in an entertaining way during the Halloween/Autumn season? They can play a rhythm ear training game specifically designed to help them with this skill!

The name of the game is “I Have… Whooo Has?”, an owl-themed Halloween game for elementary students that can be used in a large or small class, seasonal music camp, or with a group of friends outside of a formal music class setting. Rhythms in this game are two measures each, with four beats per measure, and include quarter notes and rests, half notes, dotted half notes, and whole notes.

Instructions for “I Have… Whooo Has?”

  • Print the cards onto white card stock. Laminate if desired.
  • Shuffle the cards.
  • Deal all cards to the students.
  • The student whose card says “I have the first card. Who has {claps and counts the rhythm on his card}?” begins the game:

    Halloween Ear Training Rhythm Game by Melody Payne 1

  • Students look at their cards to see if they have the rhythm/melody offered by the first student. The student who has it says “I have {brief rhythm}. Who has… {claps and counts the next rhythm}?”

    Halloween Ear Training Rhythm Game by Melody Payne 2

  • Play continues until students reach the final card which says, “I have the last card. The end!”

    Halloween Ear Training Rhythm Game by Melody Payne 3

Rhythms can be clapped, played using body percussion, played on a classroom percussion instrument, played on the piano, or sung on a neutral syllable if students are looking for a challenge.


The importance of listening skills permeates everything we do as musicians. These skills add a deeper sense of fulfillment to our performances and musical activities and create a more profound connection with the music we perform.

Instilling these listening skills in a variety of ways from early within our students’ musical journey can only deepen their appreciation for, their understanding of, and their enjoyment of, the music with which they are involved for a lifetime.

We encourage all readers to check out all the wonderful resources available at

Dr. Melody Payne

Dr. Melody Payne is an award-winning Nationally Certified Teacher of Music through the Music Teachers National Association, and she currently serves as President of her local chapter, Blue Ridge Music Teachers Association.

Her music business has many facets: teaching piano to students of all ages and abilities in her home studio, blogging at The Plucky Pianista, consulting with piano teachers, accompanying in a variety of settings, and creating music resources for teachers and students at

Melody and her wonderful and supportive husband Greg enjoy living in their home in Marion, Virginia, a small town nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Melody’s birthday just happens to be on Halloween!

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