Free Downloadable Rhythm Cards and Game Idea

One of my studio go-to’s for an easy, educational game for group classes is Team Rhythm Dictation.

The students are split into two teams and are given a set of individual rhythmic note cards to use. (Click here to download a free set of individual note cards to use in your studio.) The barlines are made from some scraps of black foam board.

I indicate what the time signature is and then play a two-measure rhythm pattern on the piano. The students are encouraged to tap and count along, then see if they can place the correct note cards to replicate the rhythm that I played. Typically, I will play the rhythm 3-4 times, but after several patterns, the students were catching on quickly and often getting the dictation after only one or two plays!

A Fun Simple Rhythm Game for Piano Lessons

In keeping with our rhythmic focus for this year’s practice incentive theme, Beat the Pirates!, I’m trying to come up with new ideas we can implement in the form of simple, fun activities incorporated into a few minutes at the beginning of each piano lesson. Our latest one proved to be a big hit!

(This is a variation on the “Tune Tappin'” game included in 5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson)

  1. Ask the student to name her top 10 favorite Christmas songs and then list them on a dry erase board.
  2. Close the piano fallboard and place the board so we can both see it.
  3. Take turns selecting and tapping the rhythm of one of the listed songs and see if the other person can identify which song it is.
  4. And that’s it! Have fun with this super simple game to encourage good listening and work on rhythm skills!

Rockin’ Around the Rhythm Clock – A Fun Game for Piano Lessons!

A pair of super cool light-up rhythm sticks that my husband brought home from a work conference and a Rhythm Clock game idea from Janice Tuck, of the Fun Music Company, inspired this week’s rhythm activity: Rockin’ Around the Rhythm Clock!

I used the rhythm patterns emphasized in Piano Safari Level 1, notating a pattern to correspond with each number on the clock. After going over them with the student to make sure they felt comfortable with all the patterns, I turned on the perfect rhythm backing track provided by Janice and our challenge was to see if we could keep going around the clock for the duration of the track (just under 2 minutes). They loved it!

For a take-home worksheet, I put together a blank rhythm clock so that they can come up with their own rhythm patterns and then we can try them at next week’s lesson (feel free to download this free worksheet if you want to try it out with your students!):

We are having so much fun with our Beat the Pirates! practice incentive theme this year and I am already seeing huge progress in each student’s appreciation for and understanding of rhythm!

A Simple and Fun Rhythm Activity for the Piano Lesson

Since one of my main objectives this year is to help my students master rhythm skills, we are finding a variety of ways at each lesson to help students decipher, play, and notate rhythms accurately. Here’s a fun multi-sensory rhythm activity we tried this week that was very effective!
This is adapted from Have a Heart – Feel the Pulse, but instead of using a page of hearts I drew four hearts across the top of a dry erase board and then wrote the 4/4 time signature on the row below the hearts. I played a simple 4-beat pattern of quarter and eighth notes and had the student place small magnets inside each heart to show whether each beat contained one or two sounds/notes.

After placing the magnets, the student translated them into notes, drawing quarter notes where there was only one sound and a pair of eighth notes where there were two sounds. This was a huge help in reinforcing the importance of identifying and maintaining a steady pulse while playing various rhythm patterns!

Building Awareness of Rhythm in Piano Students

Joy Morin, of the Color in My Piano blog, has a fabulous article on Building Awareness of Rhythm in Piano Students in the latest issue of Soundpoint. She suggests that there are three essential components of rhythm (pules, meter, and rhythmic values), then goes on to discuss each one in more detail, along with specific activities that piano teachers can use to help their students develop better rhythm skills. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue lately and found Joy’s article quite insightful!

Monday Mailbag – How to Develop an Internal Sense of Pulse

I want my students to feel an internal beat; it seems that any kind of external beat (counting, tapping, metronome, etc.) can be  “warped” or ignored while concentrating on note location, etc.  But, I’m having trouble with some students who never seem to get it (it doesn’t matter what song it is). When approaching a new song,  what do you teach first – note locations or rhythm? And do you have any ideas to move a student from external to internal beat?

This question is very apropos right now because I have a young student struggling with the exact same thing, so I’ve been trying to come up with some ideas to address this issue. In my experience, students who are strong visual learners tend to struggle more in this area because they are very focused on reading the notes on the page and tend to not be as aware of the sound they are making. And I should know because I was one of those students! Thanks to the patience and creativity of my dedicated teacher, though, I think I have developed a pretty good sense of pulse and rhythmic flow. So, some of these ideas that I share will be ones that she used with me. I thought I would use this as an opportunity to do a brainstorm post and just bullet point every idea that comes to mind that could be used to help a student develop a better internal sense of pulse:

  • Incorporate elements of Eurhythmics into the lesson. The basic idea is to use large motor movements to express the pulse and the rhythms, whether walking, dancing, swaying, marching in place, etc. (Don’t be afraid to make the student get off the bench and feel a little ridiculous if necessary. Even if they hate it now, it will be worth it!)
  • Grab a baton and teach the student basic conducting patterns.  I have a whole collection of kids batons and use them often with students to learn conducting patterns. They love it!
  • Listen to recordings of upbeat music and tap, clap, or play a rhythm instrument along with it. The Let’s Have a Musical Rhythm Band book and CD set is great for this!
  • Give the student a djembe and have them beat a steady pulse while you play or improvise a piece of music. I have this Toca Djembe and use it all the time in my studio – it’s a favorite for both the students and me! I especially like to have them emphasize the downbeat by hitting the drum harder or in a different spot to make it distinct.
  • Improvise duets together. Anyone whose been around here long knows I can hardly go a whole week without a reference to improvising! I use the Pattern Play series every day in my teaching, and it’s a great way to free students up from having to read musical notation to just listen and express themselves musically. Very helpful for cultivating more of an awareness of musical pulse and flow.
  • Record (audio or video) the student playing their piece, then listen to the playback and tap along with the beat. Have them keep a tally of how many times they hesitated or got off beat.
  • Find a book of duets at their level and have them learn one part to play with either you or another student. Ensemble playing does wonders for learning to keep the beat going!
  • When learning a piece (to address the other part of your question), have the student improvise whatever notes they want to, but play the rhythm as written. Sometimes to make the point that I really don’t care what notes they play, I’ll have them move onto the black keys and just play everything on random keys, but still keeping the rhythm accurate. The goal is to capture the character and flow of the piece, then later we will work on learning the written notes.

So, there are some of my ideas. I would LOVE to add to this list, though, so if you have other suggestions of how to help a student develop an internal sense of pulse, please let me know!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Bring the Sounds of Africa to Your Music Lessons: Guest Post by Alan Grainger

As a music teacher, you’re always looking for ways to brighten up the music room and bring something new to your lessons.

We think we’ve found the perfect instrument.

African drums much like the djembe are the perfect way to spice up your music lessons, and really engage with your students. Not only are they highly unusual and alternative, but they can teach pupils more than just the basic notes.

Here, we take a look at just how you can bring the sounds of Africa to your music lessons:

The benefits of African drums

African instruments can bring a whole host of benefits to education.

Djembe drums are unique instruments that are sure to brighten up your lessons. The goblet-shaped drum – constructed from Mahogany with a goatskin head – is available in a variety of shapes for players of all ages.

The handheld drum is played in a seated position, so is perfect for all children. You don’t need any additional sticks as the drum is played by hand. This all adds to the ease of playing, and increases their appeal to distraction-prone children.

As well as learning a brand new instrument, you can help educate kids in areas other than music.

The djembe is steeped in cultural history; it has been played in religious ceremonies for years. As you teach the instrument, you can also spark pupils’ interest in history, geography, and culture by discussing the origin of the drum, the culturally representative carvings on the body, and the times it would be played.

How to teach them

Before you can teach this drum, you need to be able to play it yourself.

The djembe has five basic notes:

  • Bass
  • Tone
  • Slap
  • Ping
  • Muffled tone

Each of these notes is played by striking the head of the drum in a different way, but each is easy to grasp. To see exactly how to play these notes, check out this great YouTube tutorial.

To teach your students the djembe, start by teaching them these basic tones. As they grasp the notes, encourage them to play more notes in quicker succession. You should then continue to encourage pupils to start playing their own rhythms as well as teaching well known ones.

The beauty of the djembe is that it is playing in a drumming circle. The leader starts off playing one beat, with everyone else joining in and playing their own tunes. If you have a number of students, this is a great way to teach the drum the way it should be played.

Top ways to include the djembe in your lessons

With such an exciting instrument to play with, there are a whole host of ways you can include djembe’s in your music lessons.

As previously mentioned, getting a group of students together to play in a drum circle is a great idea for getting a real feel of the drum. Using djembes, as well as additional hand-held percussion instruments, get pupils to sit in a circle.

Nominate one person to start by tapping out their own rhythm on the djembe. Then, when students feel ready, they can join in. The idea is not to play the same rhythm. Pupils play a complimentary polyrhythm that really enhances the drum circle.

You can also include African drums as part of a generic drum or percussion lesson.

If you’re teaching about different kinds of percussion or drums, including the djembe drum is a great way to spice things up. Include them by teaching children about the different kinds of drums and percussion instrument available. Bring in this new and exciting drum, and encourage students to try out as many as possible.

Bringing the sounds of Africa to your music lessons is one of the best ways to really engage with students. Not only do they learn to love music, they can get a real insight into exactly what makes the djembe so magical.

Djembe Drum Shop is an online retailer that sells a great range of musical instruments for children, including djembe drums, percussion instruments, and school percussion packs. Visit their website to find out more.

4 Tips for Instilling Rhythmic Precision

The longer I teach, the more I recognize the essential importance of teaching and working toward rhythmic understanding and precision in my teaching. Some students, of course, have an intrinsic sense of pulse; others, well, not so much. The Musicians Way has an excellent article about how to instill a better sense of rhythmic precision in your playing. I love this quote from Gerald Klickstein,

“Rhythmic exactness involves, among other things, how we place, articulate, color, and emphasize pitches and phrases.”

He then goes on to elaborate on four tips for establishing rhythmic precision without sacrificing musical expression:

  1. Vocalize and Move
  2. Toy With Your Timing
  3. Vary Your Emphasis
  4. Bull’s Eye the Downbeat

Read the whole article for some great, practical suggestions!