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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle

The Penny Game

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

With our 100 Days of Practice Challenge going strong, I’ve been exploring different ways to make practice both more fun and more effective. Yes, I’ve been a violin teacher for a long time, so you’d think I know a lot about practicing, and I do! But I’m always on the lookout for another good technique or helpful tip.

This past weekend, I found Dr. Molly Gebrian’s YouTube series on how current brain science can help musicians practice better. (If you want to watch it, it’s very good! The first video is here.)

In her series, Dr. Gebrian talks about how good practicing builds the neural pathways we need to play well, while it avoids building neural pathways to mistakes. (Yes, it’s possible to build neural pathways to play the WRONG way! This is why it’s important to know how to practice well!)

Her video reminded me of a game I’ve played with my young violinists for a long time: the Penny Game!

To play the Penny Game, you need seven pennies (or seven other small objects like markers or Lego blocks). You choose one small section of the music where you’re having trouble: one or two measures is plenty! (Maybe there’s a tricky fingering or bowing pattern, or a rhythm that isn’t quite solid yet.) Put all seven pennies on the left side of your music stand. Every time you play the tricky measure correctly, you get to move a penny to the right side of the music stand. Every time you make a mistake, ALL of the pennies go back to the starting point.

The goal is to play the tricky section seven times in a row perfectly, and get all the pennies over to the right side of the music stand!

If you play the Penny Game three days in a row, over the same tricky passage, you’ll find that the tricky measure isn’t nearly as difficult any more!

Parents, this is a great game to play with your young musician if you notice them making the same mistake repeatedly in practice. Maybe even let them put a sticker in their music book whenever they win the Penny Game!


For more information you can contact Marion Music Academy at 319-377-3343, or click here to sign up for lessons today.

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