Using Pennies to Teach 16th Note Rhythms

Years ago I first tried the idea of using pennies as a tactile way to teach the subdivision of 16th note rhythms. It’s been a while since I used it in my teaching, but now that all of my students are reaching a higher level of playing, it was time to break out the penny jar again!

At our final group class of the year I let each student select a rhythm instrument and pick 16 pennies from my penny jar. We started by stacking them in four groups of four and beating a steady quarter note beat. Then I had them separate them into eight stacks of two and beating the eighth note rhythms. Finally, we placed all of the pennies individually and played them as sixteenth notes with a slight emphasis on the first one of each beat to help maintain a sense of pulse.

We used these fabulous sixteenth note rhythm flashcards from D’Net Layton and I showed them what the rhythm patterns looked like, then we arranged the pennies to match the pattern, then practiced playing it on our instruments. The students really enjoyed this approach, and it seemed to help them understand both the mathematical subdivision of the beats and also how to play them fluidly within a beat structure.

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