Effective Music Lesson Strategies You Can Learn from a Toy

from the Lesson Zone

Did you play with SIMON - Milton Bradley's electronic memory skills game - when you were growing up?

When you turn Simon on, it plays a single sound, a button lights up, and it plays an accompanying tone.

Blue (beep).

To begin playing press the blue button. Pretty easy.

In fact, the only way you can mess up in the first round is by falling off your chair and not making it back in the allotted time to press the blue button. If you're able to avoid all that mayhem and get that blue button pressed Simon adds another button.

Blue (beep). Red (beep).

By this time Simon has you hooked. You're ready for round three, you're playing an incredible game, and you're having fun!

I’ve shared Simon with my students over the years to help them understand how Simon teaches players and how Simon’s strategy can be applied to music practice. The game illustrates a valuable lesson and it's a fun diversion from the regular routine.

Simon’s Teaching Strategy

There's so much that could be written about how clever this toy is in helping kids learn. To keep things short and to the point, here are the big ideas.

1) Simon begins with a very achievable goal - press one button. It's hard to fail. The button is gigantic, it lights up, and it gets your attention with a sound. Kids will be successful most every time and they'll feel rewarded and happy to continue playing.

2) Simon makes you good at pressing the buttons in the correct order by giving you goals that are so simple that it's almost impossible to fail.

3) Simon teaches you patterns visually and aurally, when the buttons light up and play a sound.

4) Simon teaches you patterns by touch, helping you to develop motor-memory during game play.

How to Apply What We Learn from Simon

Here are a few ideas to put Simon’s strategy into action and help music students make the most of their practice time.

1) Perfect Practice by Design - Students tend to start at the beginning and play at full tempo until they crash and burn. This strategy is designed for failure. Instead, ask students to pick an achievable goal. It doesn't need to be as easy as Simon's single button, but it should be easy enough to play correctly on their first performance. Maybe it's one measure of music. Maybe it's adding a crescendo to the passage of music that you already know.

2) Visual/Aural Teaching - Simon helps players learn visually and aurally with lights and sounds. Engage your students eyes and ears by showing them what they need to do and by telling them what they should be watching for as you provide the example.

3) Develop Motor-Memory - After students play it correctly once, ask them to drill it four more times. It's an ideal goal to make it stick.

4) Building on Success - Once that first challenge is mastered, add another one. Expand that first measure to two measures or try to play the first measure faster.


At some point Simon’s round of play ends. The challenge becomes too great. Kids will make mistakes when they're practicing too. We just have to do our best to help them to be successful more often. If we do, they’re sure to progress faster and smile more!