Ways to Practice and Prepare Rhythms

Happy Fall!! I hope your day has been filled with colorful leaves, cozy scarves, pumpkin bread and warm cups of tea (or whatever it is you like about Fall!)

Awhile ago, I wrote a post where I shared a picture of my "cheat sheet" I use when planning lessons. If you haven't seen it, you can read the post here.  One of our readers asked if I could explain some of the items in more detail, and I am FINALLY doing it!  Since it is a lot to cover in one post, I am going to break it up into two posts...one for melody and one for rhythm. So, without further ado, I present...

To start, I made you a pretty file that you can print out to refer to if you are looking for inspiration when planning your lessons. You can access the file here...


I tried to provide a short description of each activity below. Please feel free to comment with any questions!

1. Rhythm Question and Answer:
The teacher asks a rhythm "question." I usually use a four beat rhythm containing the rhythm element we are using. Students respond by improvising a four beat answer. Sometimes it helps to have four hearts or beat bars displayed. Then you can point to them as the student creates their rhythm to help them keep a steady beat.

2. Poison Pattern
The teacher claps a "poison" rhythm for the students. This is usually a four beat pattern containing the rhythm you are practicing. Then you clap a variety of four beat patterns, weaving in the poison pattern every now and then. Students stand and echo clap all the rhythms EXCEPT the poison pattern. If they clap the poison pattern, they are "out" and have to sit down.

3. Beat vs. Rhythm
This is a simple way to build part-work into your lesson. Divide your class in half and have one group pat the beat while the other performs the rhythm of whatever song or chant you are working on. Then switch. This can be done in partner pairs, small groups, etc.

4. Chair Dictation/Human Flashcards
This works best for quarter, paired eighth, half note, or syncopa. It gets tricky when there are more than two sounds on any beat. Set up four chairs and then have students sit on the chairs to represent the rhythms. For example, to write ta ta ti-ti ta, you would have one student sit on the chairs that are tas and two sit on the chair that is ti-ti. Then have the class perform the rhythm. You can give students rhythms to notate, have them make their own, or have them dictate what you play.

5. Fill in the Missing Measure
Write the notation to a song on the board but leave one or more measures empty. Have students fill in whatever is missing.

6. Sneaky Snake.
A description of this strategy can be found in "An American Methodology." Basically, you write a rhythm on a "sneaky snake" and cover it up piece by piece. It is great for musical memory.

7. Post Office
Each child gets an envelope with 6-10 rhythm cards inside. All envelopes are identical. They take out all the rhythms and display them so they can see them. Then, the teacher claps, performs or otherwise says a rhythm. Students have to find that rhythm and put it back in their envelope. The goal is to try to reveal the "mystery" rhythm, by putting all the correct rhythms back in the envelope until there is only one left.

8. Oops My Eraser Slipped
Write a rhythm on the white board. Once students have performed the rhythm, you "accidentally" erase one measure at a time until all the rhythm is erased. This is great for practicing musical memory. You can also have students write the rhythm back in once it is gone to practice notation.

9. Flashcards.
Read them, play them, walk them, clap them... :)

10. Glynnis' Game
This is sometimes called "I have, Who has." It takes a little bit of work to create, but it is a great way to assess individual students. In this game, every child has a card that says "I have (four beat rhythm), Who has (a different four beat rhythm)." Students say or perform their rhythm and it passes around the room. Look on TpT for pre-made sets!!

11. Drop 4, Add 4
Students and teacher stand in a circle. The teacher speaks or performs an eight beat rhythm. Then, then student next to them "drops" the first four beats of the teacher's rhythm and "adds" four of their own. The next student does the same and this continues on. For example...

Teacher: ta ta ti-ti ta, ti-ti ti-ti ti-ti ta
Student 1: ti-ti ti-ti ti-ti ta, ta ta ta ta
Student 2: ta ta ta ta, ti-ti ta ti-ti ta

12. Walk the Rhythm
You can either play or say a rhythm for students to walk or display a rhythm for students to walk. Great for your physical learners!

13. Dictation
Play or say a rhythm and have students notate what you say. This can be done on white boards or with pencil-paper. It often helps to provide students with a template where they fill in the measures.

14. Play on Instruments
Drums, pentatonic xylophones, rhythms sticks, you name it... kids love to play! You can have them read flashcards or echo play.

15. Fly Swatter Game
Post flashcards around the room and divide the class into two teams. Each team sends a representative up to the start line with a fly swatter. Then, the teacher says a rhythm and the two team reps have to try to find that rhythm and be the first to swat it. Whichever team swats it first gets a point.  I use this when I am teaching "Johnny Caught a Flee" and "Shoo Fly."

16. Aural Decoding
You play a rhythm and students decode it by saying the rhythm syllables. You can also have students play a rhythm for their peers. This is a great way for them to check if they are performing it correctly!

17.  Ostinato/Partwork
You can create a rhythm ostinato under almost anything!

18. Games/Hand Jives with Rhythm
Many songs and chants have hand jives that reinforce the rhythm. For example, the hand jive to E Poi Tai Tai clearly shows that there are four beats on the whole note.  These are great ways to practice rhythm, just make sure you draw students attention to the element you are practicing and make the knowledge known!

19. Rhythm Tic-Tac-Toe
You can check out my freebie on this of idea here :)

20. Rhythm Squares/Carousel
Put rhythm flashcards out in a circle. Students walk around the circle like a carousel while you play music (I try to choose something that we are using for a listening lesson.) Then when the music stops, they stop in front of a card. You can go around and have everyone read their card, call on specific students, or ask, "Who has...." to check their reading skills.

21. Heat beats above Words
Have the students draw the hearts above the words. This is great when you are in the prepare phase of teaching!

22. Fill in the Barlines
Write the rhythm to a song on the board and have students fill in the barlines. Simple and a great way to reinforce time signatures.

23. Rhythm Baseball
I'll be honest- I have seen this used, but not used it myself. I am sure that you can come up with some fun ideas, though!

24. Conducting
Having students conduct while they sing is a great way to practice longer rhythms like half note and whole note. They really feel that there is more than one beat for the sound!

25. Mystery Songs
Display the rhythm to a song without the words. Have students determine what the song is from reading the rhythm (or hearing the rhythm).

26. Song Sorts
Write each phrase to a song on a flashcard. Then mix them up and have students "unscramble" the rhythm. I often add an extra phrase to make it more challenging. There is an example of this in my Miss White file on TpT.

27. Composition
Having students compose is a great way to practice rhythms. They have to be able to notate correctly and represent what they think on the page. You can use whiteboards, do it as a class, have students write their own... I often find that once we start composing in 1st grade, I receive many, many "notes" in my boxes of songs students write. Once, I had a student give me a set of 100 flashcards he composed on index cards when they learned to write rest!

28. Rhythm Puzzles
Take an old (easy) puzzle and write the rhythms of a song on the back of it. Then have students put the puzzle together to reveal the mystery song/rhythm. They love it!

29. Worksheets
Search TpT....there are AMAZING resources! Also, if you have the McMillan McGraw music curriculum, there are many great worksheets in the Resource Masters that align with Kodaly instruction.

30. Listening Lessons
I always try to find a piece that clearly demonstrates the rhythms we are working on for my students to listen to. If you haven't yet seen "From Folksongs to Masterworks," I HIGHLY recommend you check out this resource. It has great listening connections to use!

31. Morse Code
In this game you have students work in pairs. A student taps a rhythm into their partners hand. Then the student who "received" the message tries to decode what they tapped.

Whew! Hopefully you gained an idea or two that you can take back to your students! Have a wonderful week!! 

1 comment

  1. Thanks for sharing, Kate! I just recently stumbled upon your music blog, it was great to hear you expand upon many of those ideas in this post!


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