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Fun activities for elementary music students. (Engaging Rhythyms).

Have you ever heard a student tell you that "It's too hard to count and play"? Have you ever taken on a transfer student who was missing a solid foundation in rhythmic awareness and execution? Although good rhythm technique is critical to successful musical progress, many students resist--and some teachers fail to persist in--the effort necessary to count correctly and consistently. As music teachers, we must make our students aware of the rhythm all around us, help them understand the importance of rhythm in the music they play and hear and teach them to respond correctly to the rhythmic notation they read--all while keeping ourselves energized and our students engaged. I have found ten short, private lesson activities to help beginning students establish that important foundation of solid rhythmic technique.

1. To demonstrate the fundamental importance of rhythm in music, play for your beginning student the melody of Jingle Bells using an incorrect rhythm--perhaps 3/4 time with a quarter-note, half-note pattern--and ask the student to identify the tune. Next, tap the correct rhythm on rhythm sticks, and ask your student what song he thinks you are tapping. Most students will be able to identify it as Jingle Bells and will be amazed to discover the song was more recognizable with the correct rhythm and no pitch rather than the correct pitches and incorrect rhythm.

2. To develop an awareness of rhythm in all the music we hear, point out to your beginning student the loud-soft-soft accent pattern of 3/4 time and loud-soft-loud-soft accent pattern of 4/4 time. First alone, then with your student, clap straight quarter notes in 3/4 and 4/4 time. Be sure to slightly stress the appropriate beats. Then, clap either quarter note rhythm and ask the student to identify it as 3/4 or 4/4 time. Next, using a standard single clap for quarter notes and a clapdown motion for half notes, clap quarter notes with half notes in each time signature and have the student determine whether the rhythm is in 3/4 or 4/4 time. Finally, either play on your instrument or play a recording of a piece with a distinctively obvious 3/4 or 4/4 time signature. Brahms Lullaby, selections from Bach's Anna Magdalena Notebook and simple folk tunes work well. Ask your student to name the time signature; continue with another piece. This exercise is particularly helpful for students having difficulty playing 3/4 time without adding extra beats or shortening half notes.

3. To establish an appropriate physical response to written rhythm notation, clap a specific, but unidentified, measure in a newly assigned piece. Have your beginning student join you in clapping the rhythm, and then ask the student to identify the measure on the music. These basic steps of clapping and identifying the rhythm engage even the youngest students in both reading and expressing fundamental rhythmic elements.

4. To further develop a physical response to rhythmic notation in your youngest students, tap a one- or two-measure rhythm on the student's arm, and then have the student clap back the given rhythm, tap it on his knees and tap the same rhythm on two other surfaces--a table, bench, drum or other rhythm instruments. By having your student use different physical motions that elicit different sounds and reverberations all while tapping the same rhythm, you will reinforce, for even the most active young students, both the fun and satisfaction of producing correct rhythm.

5. To reinforce the connection between notation and execution, show your early elementary student at least three prepared 5-by-8-inch or larger cards, each with two measures featuring a variety of rhythmic notations and time signatures. Clap the rhythm on one of the cards and ask the student to identify the correct written measures. Repeat using a different card. Then have the student clap two measures of her own design, and ask her to determine the proper time signature and correct rhythmic notation. Help your student correctly notate her measures using only time signature, notes without staffs and bar lines. This exercise is best for those who are not too chatty and who are able to write their names steadily.

6. To further develop rhythmic awareness, say a simple sentence like, "Mother, please fix me some toast," or "Have you done your homework?" or "Open your book for me," while slightly emphasizing the stressed syllables. Say the sentence together with your elementary student and clap the words with some emphasis on the accented syllables. Next, have the student determine how the sentence could be counted. (For example, "Have you done your homework?" would be "One two three four, one two three four.") Then help your student decide how the sentence could be notated and with what appropriate notes, time signatures and rests. Also, have the student write the rhythm with the time signature, pitchless notes, rests and bar lines. Later first-year or second-year students enjoy making this leap from ordinary speech to rhythmic execution to rhythmic notation.

7. To develop an understanding of the mathematical property of ties, create for your beginning student a tic-tac-toe game. Cut any light-colored poster board into nine cards, approximately 3 by 5 inches each. On one side of the cards, use a dark marker to draw nine different, easy tied rhythms, like a quarter note tied to a half note or a dotted half note tied to a whole note. On the other side of the cards, use a different colored marker to draw nine different and more complicated tied rhythms using lots of dotted rhythms and sixteenth notes. Using a different color of poster board, cut out five Xs and five Os large enough to cover the cams. Be sure to laminate all the cards, Xs and Os to guard against repeated use. With your beginning student, play tic-tac-toe by placing the easier tied rhythms face up in rows of three and giving him all of the Xs (or Os). Explain that each person will try to get "three in a row" of either Xs or Os by correctly clapping the rhythms on the cams. Have your student select a card and then count and clap the rhythm. If he claps the rhythm correctly, he can place his X on the card; then it is your turn. Select a card and demonstrate the correct clap before placing your O on the card and moving on to your student's next turn; continue until one of you gets three in a row. Use the more complex rhythms for your more advanced students. A great way to keep rhythm work fun, this game rewards the efforts of counting, and with the available rhythms always visible, students can mentally prepare for their turns and gain confidence. This tic-tac-toe game also works well in groups with up to three on each team.

8. To reinforce an elementary piano student's rhythmic confidence, play a simple five-finger, four-bar melody with a waltz bass on the piano and have your student clap the left-hand rhythm. Then have her clap the bass rhythm while you play only the melody; then reverse roles so your student plays the four-bar melody while you clap the bass rhythm. Ask your student to identify the time signature you are playing and help her determine 3/4 time. Explain that the waltz bass pattern is a frequent accompaniment in 3/4 time. Next, show the student several selected pieces with the time signatures covered and ask the student to identify those pieces with a waltz bass accompaniment. This activity is a great introduction to the waltz bass even for those students who have not yet encountered it in their repertoire.

9. To establish solid rhythmic technique when introducing a new piano piece, clap with your elementary student eight bars of a new piece, first the treble clef rhythm, then the bass clef rhythm. Next, have your student clap the treble clef rhythm while you dap the bass rhythm and then reverse. Finally, have your student play the treble clef bars while you clap the bass rhythm and then reverse. Later first-year and second-year students will enjoy building confidence by mastering different rhythms for each hand during this interactive exercise. Later-elementary ensemble students of single-staff instruments also will benefit from this activity. Have the ensemble clap the rhythm of the first four treble clef bars of Bach's Minuet in G, and then play it with correct pitches or in a unison single pitch. Next, have them clap the bass clef rhythm and play it either in unison or with correct pitches. Finally, have one group play the treble part while the other group daps the bass part, and then reverse roles as above.

10. To demonstrate properties of 6/8 time for your later-elementary piano student, slowly play a Tarantella while counting out loud to six with your student. Then play the piece a little faster while continuing to count to six. Next, play the piece up-tempo so the accents on counts one and four help the student feel the piece in two rather than in six. As you play up-tempo, switch the counting from 1-2-3-4-5-6 to 1+a-2+a and then to 1-2. Students with a flair for math really enjoy realizing the connection between tempo and rhythm in this activity.

Incorporating these tips and other creative activities into students' lessons sets the pace for many years of successful musicianship. Strong rhythmic technique, established early and reinforced through educational games, enables youngsters to advance on a solid beat.

Kirsten Allen Foutz has taught piano for over twenty years. She maintains an active music studio in Sah Lake City, Utah.
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Author:Foutz, Kirsten Allen
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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