Whether you’re new to music teaching, or an experienced teacher looking for fresh ideas, these concepts and techniques will help you enhance your learners’ rhythm skills. Let’s dive in!
The Foundation of Rhythm Training
Teaching rhythm is much easier when you have the necessary resources to hand. Start with rhythm games that teach the basic rhythmic values. We recommend beginning with the first three levels of note values, as represented by the MusicLand Rhythm Cards:
Set 1: Quarter Notes (Crotchets) and Eighth Notes (Quavers)
Set 2: Sixteenth Notes (Semiquavers)
Set 3: Mixed Quarter Note (Crotchet) and Eighth Note (Quaver) Rhythms
Rhythm games are a great way to start. Children (or indeed anyone!) will become much more engaged if you unleash your creativity, and teach them through fun, interactive activities.
Look out for our posts later in the year … we’ll be sharing recommended rhythm games for you to use in your classes!
The symbols on the rhythm cards provide an instant link between what the learners are hearing and feeling, and what they will later see on the page. This is crucial for establishing a strong, early link between the aural and physical aspects of music-making, and the written notation … even before a learner sets their eyes on a piece of sheet music for the first time!
You can take this a step further by mounting the cards to create a personalised ‘rhythm board’. Here is a rhythm board that Caroline created to use in her own class teaching:
[IMAGE GOES HERE]
This is a really useful way of expanding the range of games and activities that you can create. For example, you can:
- Ask learners to use different rhythms as you point to different parts of the board
- Changing the sequence of rhythms your learners are working with according to colour (level) or physical position on the board
- Splitting a class into different groups to work with different rhythm patterns over a shared pulse
The only limit is your imagination!
Progression and Engagement
When using a tool such as the MusicLand Rhythm Cards, you can structure your rhythm training so that your learners internalise each set of note values through a clear, carefully-graded progression from the simpler to the more complex notation.
This leads to better learning outcomes, through improved retention and understanding.
The Rhythm Cards are divided into 6 ‘sets’. Start with the white cards (set 1), to teach quarter notes (crotchets) and eighth notes (quavers), then move onto the blue cards (set 2) to add sixteenth notes (semiquavers), and so on.
Once your learners have mastered the notation elements of one set, introduce the next one. Then, start to mix the sets together until all of the previous sets become second nature to your learners, and they can handle all of the rhythms fluently.
The sense of progression will excite the students, which is very motivating, as they will become eager to learn the next level. Remember to incorporate lots of different rhythmic activities at every step of the way, such as clapping, using claves, and even physical movements.
By doing so, you will create a multisensory learning experience, which will provide a much deeper and more effective learning experience.
Interactive Rhythm Exploration
It’s important to introduce creativity to the rhythm training process as early as possible, by encouraging students to explore the different rhythm patterns and then create their own.
One approach is to place all of the cards on the floor, and invite learners to combine two or more cards to create their own unique rhythm patterns, which can then be played or clapped by other learners.
This activity can be extended to include instruments, for example with simple percussion or - for stringed instrument beginners - using open strings.
The more fun and interactive you make the learning process, the more learners will be able to express and develop their own creativity.
The Power of Rhythm Names
There are 32 cards in each set of MusicLand Rhythm card. On the back of each card is a word representing the movement that you make for each note value, using your body (for example by clapping, stepping, clicking your fingers, or using rhythm sticks).
People can usually understand rhythms much more quickly when the syllables of each rhythm are verbalised. On the back of each rhythm card you will find words to represent the rhythms on the front of each card, such as:
- ‘Slow’ = crotchet / quarter note
- ‘Quick’ = quaver / eighth note
- (‘Quick quick’ = a pair of quavers / eighth notes)
- ‘Semiquaver’ = a set of 4 semiquavers
Crotchet - pair of quavers - 4 semiquavers - crotchet
Would be spoken as:
Slow - quick quick - semiquaver - slow
As well as establishing rhythm names for each note value, you can extend the use of rhythmic phrases to utilise emotions and storytelling as part of your teaching.
For example, introducing puppet characters (such as the MusicLand Characters) into rhythm training, you can create stories through spoken rhythmic phrases like “Alfie Ant meets Bessie Bee” which tell a memorable story, and can also be matched clearly to specific rhythms:
[IMAGE OF ALFIE ANT AND BESSIE BEE MEETING EACH OTHER - IDEALLY WITH A RHYTHMIC REPRESENTATION OF A SPOKEN PHRASE]
Once your learners have repeated the rhythmic phrase a few times, they can also transfer it to their instruments. The physical movements required to replicate rhythm patterns on the instruments will help learners to internalise new rhythm concepts effortlessly.
An easy way to expand activities like this is to include everyone's names in the storytelling, making it relatable and enjoyable for all.
Establishing a Steady Pulse
Throughout rhythm training activities, it is absolutely crucial to maintain a consistent pulse. This is especially important for setting good habits in your learners when introducing rhythmic concepts for the first time.
Any music teacher should have an inherently strong sense of pulse, that is reliable enough to keep the beat steady whilst leading learners through exercises.
If as a teacher you find that your sense of pulse isn’t always steady when dealing with larger groups or teaching complex musical activities, then it is a good idea to practise the music in advance, with the help of a metronome.
For larger classes where an assistant teacher is present, they can be asked to maintain the pulse (for example by clapping or playing a steady beat), whilst the teacher explains and demonstrates the activity.
Gradually, learners will start to feel the pulse themselves, and this will allow their rhythm work to begin flowing naturally.
The Heartbeat of the Music!
Rhythm training is an essential component of music education, and it lays the groundwork for students to become confident and skilled musicians. As a teacher, you can use the ideas presented here to create an engaging and effective learning environment.
By utilizing rhythm cards, interactive activities, and name rhythms, students will develop a solid rhythmic foundation. And if basic concepts are introduced in a fun, engaging way, learners will stay motivated and excited about building up their core rhythm skills - especially when they become aware of their progress through the different levels of knowledge.
Remember, once people realise that good timing is fundamental to music-making, and that the pulse is the heartbeat of the music, they can truly start to build their musical confidence! So grab your rhythm cards, instruments, and a whole lot of enthusiasm, and unleash the potential of your learners!
This feature was based on conversations with Caroline Lumsden, the founder of MusicLand. You can order the full set of MusicLand Rhythm Cards here, or order sets individually according to level.