I love offering piano camps for my students each summer. It’s always a great way to immerse them in piano and take a break from the routine of piano lessons.
For the past several years, I’ve been using Will Baily’s Dreary The Dragon piano camp curriculum for beginners to get a group of brand new piano students started in the summer. This program is always a huge hit with my students and it’s fun for me to teach. Many of the students who participate in this camp become long-term piano students in the fall.
Will recently made the curriculum available for free on his website, willbailypianotunes.com. Any teacher can access it and use it!
How Dreary The Dragon Piano Camp Works
Dreary The Dragon is an exciting adventure story for kids to follow along with. As they learn a new part of the story there are piano concepts and song to learn that helps tell the story.
Dreary The Dragon has 2 chapters: Chapter 1 is “D Is For Dragon” and Chapter 2 is “Dragon Tails”. Each chapter includes just the right amount of material for a week-long piano camp. But, I could see other applications for Dreary The Dragon, too. It’d be perfect for a short-term introductory piano class that is maybe 4-6 weeks long.
During the course of a week of piano camp, you read the story bit by bit and learn the piano songs as a group as you go. By the end of the week, your students will know the first chapter of Dreary’s story and be able to play 9 songs on the piano.
The songs are intended to be played along with audio files which are super helpful for teaching kids to play together. And, they make the music really fun to learn and play.
By the end of the week, students are ready to show off all 9 songs and retell the story of Dreary The Dragon through a performance.
In this video you can see one of my groups of campers playing all 9 songs.
What You Get With The Dreary The Dragon curriculum
For each chapter of Dreary The Dragon, you can download the student book, lesson plans, supplemental activities and craft ideas and all of the audio files you need to play along with.
I always use my comb binder machine to make booklets of the student books for my students. I usually include a couple of the activity pages as well as a few of my own pages in the booklet.
The lesson plans give a day-by-day outline of how to introduce each song and concepts that go along with each song. It is a really good guide to know how much to introduce within each day.
The plans have tons of fun suggestions for activities to include in your camp such as a lights/dance party and ending with a pizza party after the final performance.
There is a separate document that gives tons of ideas of crafts and other activities that complement the story and songs. There are several printable templates that you can use for some of the crafts and activities.
One of the favorite songs from Dreary The Dragon is called Maskerade and the activities include a template so that the kids can make their own masquerade mask. My students always love this activity! They decorate them with markers , jewels and feathers. This year, I got sturdier masks from Amazon so that they would hold up well during the week.
The mp3 audio files are probably one of the most important parts of the whole curriculum! These really bring the music to life and help the students engage with the mood and excitement of Dreary’s story. Plus, they are really helpful for teaching the kids to stick together as an ensemble while they are playing.
It’s best to let students listen to the audio file just before they are learning each song. This helps them internalize the music they are about to learn. Then you can jump in to learning how to play the songs.
Other Activities To Do with Dreary The Dragon
I’ve taught Chapter 1 of Dreary The Dragon for several years now. (I usually only offer 1 week of camp each summer, so I haven’t taught Chapter 2 yet.)
There are definitely parts of the program that I keep the same from year to year and other parts that I change.
Here are a few supplemental things that I’ve added over the years.
I always teach the kids to play Hot Cross Buns by rote using the 3 black keys right at the beginning of the first day. This is a song that I like to teach to all of my beginners and it gives them a confidence boost to be able to play a song so easily and so quickly. It also sets them up really well to play the black key songs at the beginning of Dreary The Dragon.
I use Handy Houses to teach white key letter names on the first day of camp. This is clever little story that’s an easy way to teach kids to find each white key on the piano.
I usually find an activity to help reinforce finger number names. Sometimes we just trace or draw hands and label finger numbers, but I’ve also used a fidget spinner or plastic jewelry rings to turn naming finger numbers into a game.
I also find a lot of uses for my Piano Practice Pads during piano camp. We’ll use them to practice finding certain keys on the piano or to “air play” a song before we take it to a real piano.
Before we learn white key songs in Dreary The Dragon, I like to introduce a C 5-finger scale so that students know how to get oriented in C position quickly to play their songs.
Piano camps are the perfect time to play group games. We have tons of regular games that get played in my studio, but here are a few that show up over and over, especially in camps.
I use my homemade rhythm Jenga game to learn and practice note values. I use some basic rhythm flashcards to introduce different note values. The Jenga game has a bunch of different 4-beat rhythms on each block and the kids have to clap the rhythm before they stack their block on the tower.
Rhythm Cups is another wonderful group game options for kids. It gets kids tapping, clapping and moving plastic cups while reading different rhythms.
There are a lot of fun crafts suggested in the official lesson plans, but some days I like to bring in something a little different. Here are some things we’ve done:
- Painting Rocks – Kids always love this activity! They can find a spot for them in a garden or hide them for someone else to find.
- Making Shrinky Dinks – this was a new activity my own kids recently discovered, and piano campers are loving it too. We print out music designs paper and they trace them on shrink paper. You bake them for 2 minutes and they turn into little music charms.
- Art For Kids Hub Tutorials – This is an awesome YouTube channel that shows kids how to draw all kids of pictures. There are several dragon options, musical instruments and much more. We watch the tutorial together on an iPad and pause frequently so all the kids can keep up.
- Illustrating The Dreary The Dragon Story – I always have the kids split up each part of Dreary’s story and illustrate it. We make 1 drawing to go with each song, then when they are performing their songs for their parents, we display the picture that goes along with the song.
- Drawing With Sidewalk Chalk – This is an easy way to get outside and also show the kids how to draw a simple keyboard and different music symbols.
- Creating With Play-Doh – I use Play-Doh to accompany a relaxing, listening activity. I turn on classical music and tell the kids that it’s a time to relax and rest. They can make anything they want with their Play-Doh, but they have to stay calm and quiet. It works every time and it’s a really nice contrast to all of the more active parts of piano camp.
Other Fun Activities
Piano camp is just a good excuse to do fun things with a group of kids! I’m always open to adding in other elements that will get the kids excited and help them enjoy the week more.
I have this fun red treasure box in my studio. Each day, I have a surprise for the end of camp in the box and students get to open it up at the end of the day. It usually has something like bubbles, chalk or play-doh that we go outside and use right away to have a fun, recreational end to the day. I use the treasure box as an incentive to stay focused and get all of the “work” parts of piano camp finished for the day.
We make t-shirts to wear on the last day. This year we are making tie-dye shirts, but some years I have printed an iron-on transfer to match the cover of the Dreary The Dragon book to put on t-shirts.
We find an excuse to go outside every day. Most days, the kids like to run around and play outside during as a break, but we’ve done all kinds of relay races and music games outside over the years as well.
I try to keep treats to a minimum in my studio, but piano camp is a good time to share a popsicle or ice cream bar with the kids.
The Dreary The Dragon curriculum is a really fun and effective way to get kids started at the piano. These campers get a solid start to the piano and they are fully immersed into all of the best parts of piano lessons right from the beginning. It’s a really solid piano program, but allows for enough flexibility to make it suit your own teaching style.