A new off-bench game I’m loving!

A lot of my new piano students struggle with initial hand position setup. It’s hard! There are so many little pieces of information to consider (which hand, which finger, which note – and what’s that note called anyway?) – it’s easy to see why it’s overwhelming to find the correct hand position. We talk through this a lot in early piano lessons, but sometimes this issue lingers well into the first year of piano study.

Most often, I find the lingering issue is not actually because the student doesn’t understand, but simply because she doesn’t want to do the hard brain work of figuring it all out!

My older students know better than to think that I will answer a question like, “Where do I put my hands?” straight off – but that knowledge never keeps them from asking!

The dialog is always some variation of:

Student: “How do I set up?”
Me: “Tell me what you see on the page.”
Student: ……………..
Me: “Which letter name does your right hand play?”
Student: “D.”
Me: “Which finger plays that note?”
Student: “2.”
Me: “Show me how to set up like that”
Student: *does this*
Me: Can you repeat the process with your left hand?

etc, etc…

And this works fine, but it’s pretty boring. And even though I’m not directly giving the answer, it takes a lot of teacher cues to get through this dialog week after week – and students sometimes go home without really feeling EMPOWERED. So, this week, I put together a new little off-bench game to help put the power back in the students’ hands (pun not intended, sure, why not).

I call it… “HOW DO I SET UP?” (Brilliant title, I know!)

Included in the pack are flash cards that correspond with

  • hand (RH/LH)
  • finger numbers (1-5)
  • Alpha letter names (A-G)
  • Staff note names (Bass G-Treble G)
  • Keyboard landmark notes (white and black keys)
  • Bonus “fun” cards (Student’s choice, Teacher’s choice, bonus, and challenge cards)

off-bench piano hand position game

Click to download PDF.


Whip these cards out the next time a student is having trouble deciphering where to set up his/her hands at the beginning of a piece.

Put the cards upside down in piles, sorted by color. Insert the Bonus cards as desired (I set mine so there is about one Bonus card for every four-five cards in each stack.) There are multiple “levels” for this game – if you’re working with a pre-reader, use the keyboard landmark notes. If the child is working on identifying letter names on the keyboard, use the alpha letter names. If the child reads on the staff, use the staff notation cards (and feel free to eliminate notes that your student does not yet identify).

Have the student choose one card from each pile, and set his/her hand up on the piano as the cards indicate. Have fun with the bonus cards as they come up! This is a perfect off-bench game because it takes less than 5 minutes and covers a lot of keyboard basics all at once.

Possible extensions:

  • Choose both a right hand AND a left hand card for each turn.
  • Have the student play a five-finger scale for the hand position he/she selected
  • Ask further questions: Ex: “Since your 2 finger is on G, which note will your 4 finger be on?”
  • Race the clock! Have your student challenge himself to get the fastest time for each round (with correct answers, of course!)
  • For new staff readers, use both alpha name cards and staff name cards. Have them choose the alpha card first, then search the staff name pile for the corresponding note.
  • Use the cards for a completely different game! These are totally versatile.


To assemble the cards, first download and print this PDF. I used multi-colored card stock for my cards. (hands are yellow, finger numbers are green, letter names are pink, etc…) so they will be easy to sort and find.

You will DEFINITELY want to use card stock, otherwise your cards will be see-through (not to mention, flimsy!)

*Note: If you are using a different color for each category, you will want to print pages 1 and 5 twice in order to work. You may also choose to print the Bonus cards multiple times on different colors of card stock so they will blend in with each pile. 

Then cut your cards. If desired, you may laminate – and I recommend it, because you’re sure to use these a lot!

Have fun!

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