Thursday, March 5, 2015

CUPS! All my Cup games and activities in one place!

CUPS are an amazing resource. You can drink out of them, they hold things (like popsicle sticks for one of my favorite games- BUSTED), and they make music! I don't know about you, but especially last year with the popularity of Pitch Perfect, my students LOVE cup games.  All classes from 3rd grade and up have mastered the basic cup pattern most of us know and love so I have to up my game and introduce many more variations on that pattern, or new cup games that get progressively more difficult.  Pitch Perfect 2 is coming out soon- so I am sure CUPS will be popular for a long time- but even if they aren't in the movies, CUP games are so fun! I always find it hard to remove myself from the game because I love them so much and my students are always asking to play as a reward because THEY love them so much.  I have compiled a list of some of my favorite cup games and activities- sound off in the comments about your favorites!

Students start to see cups early on when I do rhythm cup magic tricks.  I learned this at a work-shop a few years ago and students love it!  Unfortunately, I searched high and low for who taught this to me and I could not find the handout!  If this was you- so sorry you aren't credited! Let me know if this sounds so familiar, that you think you may have taught it at a workshop in Ohio 4 or 5 years ago :)

Basically I have four cups on a table (or music stand)- each representing a beat.  Hidden underneath all of the cups is a cup cut in half to represent ti-ti.  We tap the cups, think of "magic" words that only have 1 sound (Bam!, Poof!, Trick etc.).  We do this for a little, moving the cups around- stacking and unstacking them, etc. and then I tell them its time for the magic trick.  We say A-bra-ca da- bra! and the  Ta Ta ti-ti Ta pattern is revealed!  They then come up with a few "magic" words that have 2 sounds and we practice more patterns.  (Poof! Poof! Magic! Poof!)  Sometimes the ti-ti half cups are revealed, sometimes they are covered up. This is great for Prep OR Practice of Ta and Ti-ti- with prep, you can just continue to use magic related words when reading the cup patterns, but once they know the rhythm names, you can reveal a pattern and have them read it on rhythm syllables then notate it with manipulatives.  They love this activity! 

The teacher does have to practice a little to make the reveal of ti-ti cups smooth, without cups or cup parts falling all over the place! My 1st graders are always impressed though- even if half a cup gets stuck...   If you do not want to deal with actually cutting some cups in half, I am sure a thick black line drawn down the center of the cup would work just as well.  This would be less parts that could fall on the floor- though the kids are always super impressed when I slice the cup in half without scissors :)

You can also have the younger students write out their own rhythms or the rhythm of a song using cups as well.  Use big beat strips with hearts for each beat and then have students use BIG cups for quarter notes and smaller cups in a different color for beamed eighth notes. I have also seen using clear cups for rests. This idea I found on pinterest so check out the original pin HERE
Rhythm writing can be done in a different way as well- by writing 1 beat patterns on the edges of foam cups and then having students spin the cups until they find the pattern they want (great for dictation too!) and then writing in on a worksheet.  You could also having staff cups with the musical alphabet written on the edges of the cups and they spin the cups to write a song. Take it up a notch by combining the two.  This also comes from pinterest so check out the orginal pin HERE. 

As for cup passing games, I start but just teaching the typical pattern I learned at camp when I was 10 (and is the same pattern from the Pitch Perfect Movie).  Once the Pattern is learned on it's own I add it to I've Been to Harlem (AKA Turn the Glasses Over)so students can practice it continuously. When we are good we get fast and faster and students who mess up move to another circle so we can see who can do it the fastest and longest without making a mistake!   I also use it with Kodaly's Viennese Musical Clock.  We do the cup pattern in a big circle on the A section and then students lead non-locomotor movements to the beat on the B, C, D, etc. to show the Rondo form.  

When teaching the pattern I use the following phrases to keep my students on track, but I have seen it a few ways in various resources such as Game Plan so use what works for you and your students!  Phrases are in 4 beat patterns (beats are separated by a comma). After the 1st phrase, all actions happen on the beat- even if I say more syllables.  I have indicated a pause with a z to show the rest.

Clap, Clap, Tap-Tap, Tap  
Clap, Move-It, Over,  z
Clap, pick-it-up, hit-your-left-hand, down
Switch, Tap, Pass, z

I hand out the following half-sheet so students can practice at home- one side is just the words above and the other side (shown) explains each move in more detail. 

3 other cup passing games I love are: la ti do ti do ti la, Chevaliers de la table ronde, and Ludaim

One changes directions every other line or at cue of the teacher, one has changing meter (3/4 vs 4/4) and one has 2 cups (and a tricky time signature 8/8 broken down as 3/8+3/8+2/8).  ALL are super fun and challenging!  I have made videos of myself demonstrating the patterns for 2 of the games- slowing down and explaining each step.  They are slightly awkward because I am by myself BUT hopefully they will help you figure out exactly what the directions below mean (as I know written directions can be confusing).  I hope to be able update this post in the future with videos of student hands playing!

1: la ti do ti do ti la-This melody is really familiar to me but I can't place it.  For this game, the ultimate goal is to change directions at every line OR at the cue of the teacher.

Directions: Most beats have an action on the first half of the beat and the 2nd.  These actions have been separated by a slash. 

Beat 1: Tap the floor to the right of the cup with your right hand (RH)/ Tap the floor to the left of the cup with your left hand (LH)

Beat 2: Clap/ Tap the floor to the right of the cup with your RH

Beat 3: Tap the floor to the left of the cup with your LH/ Pick up the cup with your RH

Beat 4: Pass the cup to the person on your right, being sure to place it all the way in front of them. 

Once your students have mastered the above pattern- reverse it to be as follows:

Beat 1: Tap the floor to the left of the cup with your LH/ Tap the floor to the right of the cup with your RH

Beat 2: Clap/ Tap the floor to the left of the cup with your LH

Beat 3: Tap the floor to the left of the cup with your RH/ Pick up the cup with your LH

Beat 4: Pass the cup to the person on your left.

Eventually students should switch every other line of music for a fun challenge..  A Super Challenge is to have the students switch at the signal of the teacher. The video shows how to do the motions both ways slow-mo style.

2: Chevaliers de la table ronde-  This one has changing meter AND you can change directions for a challenge!  Super fun and it has a beautiful melody!

Translation: Knights of the Round Table taste to see if the wine is good.  Taste see- yes yes yes.  Taste see- no no no.    (I usually just say this is about the knights of the round table when asked!)

This first video is a YOUtube video of men singing the song on a street in France. 
When there are 3 beats in a bar the cup is passed as follows:
Beat 1: Pass in front to the person on the right
Beat 2: Clap
Beat 3: Pick up new cup (passed from person to your left)
When there are 4 beats in a bar the cup is passed as follows:
Beat 1: Pass in front to the person on the right
Beats 2 + 3: Tap the rhythm ti-ti Ta on the cup
Beat 4: Pick up new cup (passed from the person on your left)
Challenge! When the melody repeats, change directions! 
There is no slow-mo video for this one because the motions are fairly self explanatory but I do hope to upload one of my students singing and playing the game soon, as they are learning it right now! This is one the teacher has to practice before teaching A LOT to be sure they are changing at the right time.  A tip is you are tapping "Ti-ti ta" in the 4/4 measures when you are singing "oui oui oui" or "non non non" so the words fit the movements really well at those parts. 

I prep this game by having students first just read the rhythm and show the changing meter by hitting the floor on beat one of a measure and then clapping the other beats.  Next we do basically the same pattern as the ultimate game, but on their laps before putting cups in their hand.   When it says pass students would tap the floor to their right and when it says pick up new cup students tap the floor to their left.  A clap is still a clap and when they would normally tap ti-ti ta on their cup, we tap our legs.  Only once most of them have mastered this action do we add the actual cups in a circle- and even then, it still takes a few weeks for some to master but it is still super fun!

3: LUDAIM- This is the one with the funky meter AND 2 cups! Super fun!
Translation: Geese,  Geese. There were twelve. All of the twelve were white.  (Note: this comes from google translate so it could be a little off, but I think I got the basic meaning).

Hint- start with cups of two DIFFERENT colors (ex. everyone has a red cup in their left hand and a blue in their right), because you always keep the cup that starts in your left hand! This way you can tell if you are on track when the patterns always alternates colors.  If you have two cups of the same color next to each other, something is wrong!

1st Eighth note: Pass cup in right hand to the person on your right while simultaneously passing the cup in your left hand to your own right hand.

2nd eighth note:  Clap

3rd and 4th eighth notes: Clap the rhythm ti-ka ti (ti-ri ti) on the cups (Right-Left Right)

5th eighth note: Click (Snap) Fingers  (this is always on the 2nd half of a quarter note in the melody so be sure to snap BEFORE you sing the next word!)

6th eighth note: Pick up both cups

7th eighth note: Cross hands and set cups down (cups switch places so cup that WAS in your right hand is now on the left and cup that WAS on the left is now on the right)

8th eighth note: Pick up cups to begin again!

This one I start right away with cups (after knowing the melody and words of the song of course!) The visual of having the two colored cups really helps in figuring this one out.   Of course we start slow, and without singing at the same time.  They are always so excited when they get this one! I think this year I may make a recording of the students singing the song after they have learned it so that they can then play the game to the recording and sing along when they are ready.  

Update: I attended a workshop this summer (July 2015) and we used these same motions with the song Land of the Silver Birch.  It worked really well and I can't wait to use it in my classroom.  My students learned Silver Birch last year so we will be starting the year off right- with a cup game!

The video just shows a slow breakdown of the movement so you can kind of get a visual.  It is not as hard as it seems! 


I learned all 3 of the trickier CUP games in Hungary last year from Lucinda Geoghegan during her Singing Games Class and they are great for upper grades.  All are challenging enough to motivate kids, but not so difficult that students will give up easily.  I had a lot of fun learning them all! 

In addition to playing cup games, I love to share the HARVARD CUPS! Videos.  2009 is my favorite, but the Harvard Percussion Ensemble THUD makes a CUPS! video every year.  Check them out on Youtube!

I also just saw this other great CUPS video that uses the traditional cup pattern to accompany Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  Super Cool!

I may have my older students make up their own CUP passing patterns to a given song this year- It would be a great activity for a sub. Rhythms we use in class would be a must in their pattern, but other than that they would have creative freedom!

Since it is currently winter (though I know... Christmas is past...), I have one more fun activity to share which I found via pinterest. This is a great Nutcracker Cup game made by Eric L. Young.  So fun! My students loved this activity- and making up their own cup movements to other Nutcracker songs this year!

Share your favorite cup game or way you incorporate cups into your classroom below! Do you use them for listening like with the Viennese Musical Clock by Kodaly or Trepak activity from the Nutcracker?  Do you use them to practice steady beat/ rhythm/ mixed meter? 


  1. WOW! What a great collection of ideas! THANK YOU! I bet your students LOOOOOVE cups!

    1. My students do love cups- they are often the requested games when students get choice time if they speed through a lesson. They were super excited when I got Character Cups from Target this year because they didn't have any solid color ones- I have Avengers, Disney Princesses, Hello Kitty and more :) Thanks for Reading!

  2. I am glad your kiddos like my cup game! Thanks for sharing with others.