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Friday, March 18, 2016

The Rule of Four Game: Building a Good Practicing Habit

4 squares game for practicing perfect
Rule of Four Game
We like to play squares of 8 in my studio, where the student plays a game of moving from square one to square 8 by playing a specific passage or instrumental technique 8 times correctly. I learned about this game from Philip Johnston of (, formerly known as "The Practice Spot"). I describe the game in a previous article (How to Beat a Speeding Ticket).

For my younger students, I have modified the game into the "Rule of 4." I fold a piece of construction paper into four squares. To negate the phrase that we "practice until we get it right," I reinforce the concept that a student should practice once he or she gets it right. The student needs to play the passage or technique correctly before even being allowed to "enter" the game.

Once the student plays correctly, I place a game piece or other marker on square number 1. Now the student must play once again correctly in order to advance to square 2. If a student misses, then the student moves back a square. Problems typically occur between squares 2 and 3 as the student becomes cockier at that point and does not concentrate or pay attention as well. When the student finally advances to square 4, the game is over for the day.

We added a special rule regarding square 4, because so many students really fell apart at this point due to loss of focus and concentration. If a student misses the attempt at square 4, then they get moved back to square 1! And I do not hesitate to add "pressure" when a student tries for square 4, because adding pressure seems to wake students up again and help them finish the game.

Recently one of my younger piano students made up a really cute game board for me, as pictured above. I would like to share her decorative artwork for each square and the middle between the squares.

Practice once you get it right!
Goal is four correct times!
This little square in the center reminds the student of the purpose of the Rule of Four Game: to practice once you get it right. The student's goal is to play it four times correctly.

Practice once you get it right
Square 1: Yay!

The student has to earn the right to place the marker on the first square by playing correctly. Once the student achieves that, the game really begins. Now that we "have it right," we can practice it to reinforce the new skill.

Pay attention and concentrate when you practice!
Square 2: Just Two More!

Square 2 reminds us that there are just two more squares to go. Sometimes students have trouble moving on to square 3.

Don't lose focus and concentration for the final push
Square 3: Don't Stress! 
Square 3 can be stressful, as the student may struggle to pay attention and concentrate! My artist student reminds us "not to stress"! Students need to be careful at this point because if they misstep, they must start all over!

You played it correctly four times!
Square 4: You Can Do It!

I hope that you and your students and children can enjoy this game as much as we do. My student seemed to have even more fun when she worked on the art project! I bought her sign and another sign from her sister so that I would be able to own the game for my studio.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird


  1. I love this idea, and I would like to try it with my students

    1. Thanks, Edward! I'm enjoying your practice tips from your blog too!