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Jazz for KidsThe two main components of a musical rhythm are the beat/pulse and the rhythmic unit. They both appear repeatedly in almost every piece of music. The pulse is simple and repeats in a continuous sequence from beginning to end, while the rhythmic unit is a little bit more complicated as it is a note-pattern that appears along the regular pulse but divides the duration between the beats.

To learn more about the differences between the two, let us listen to the well known song “If you’re happy”.

The original rhythm game asks to clap twice in the end of a phrase and by doing that we actually clap a rhythmic unit.

On the other hand clapping the pulse of this song means to clap only on these sounds and beats (X):

“If”…”Ha”…”And”…”Know”…”Clap”…”Hands” …”X”…”X”
“If”…”Ha”…”And”…”Know”…”Clap”…”Hands” …”X”…”X”
“If”…”Ha”…”And”…”Know”…”And”…”Rea” …”Want”…”Show”
“If”…”Ha”…”And”…”Know”…”Clap”…”Hands” …”X”…”X”

Why Play Rhythm Games?

  • expand the musical experience of listening and singing by using body sounds.
  • contribute in the process of learning math. It can illustrate an important math concept such as fractions.
  • develop good perception and sense of order and tidiness.
  • support gross motor and body coordination skills development.
  • improve attentiveness and responsiveness which are essential in group and ensemble work.
  • huge fun and helps to develop musicality.

Musical and social elements are interlinked in fun rhythm games and therefore it is hard to say which is the cause and which is the effect.

Rhythm Game Ideas
Provide toddlers and children various opportunities to experience all kinds of rhythms such as:

  • clapping hands,
  • tapping thighs,
  • shuffling feet and palms,
  • banging fists together,
  • fingers’ snapping, and
  • nodding heads.

In addition, exploring rhythm in movement will happen while marching on the spot, walking around, being in motion, dancing or playing musical instruments. Everything listed above can be chosen (one at a time only!) while chanting, singing or listening to music.

Jazz for Kids: Sing, Clap, Wiggle and Shake is one of my favorite CDs for playing rhythm games. It is a brilliant song collection that presents the best music for adults and kids.

  1. While listening to The Muffin Man invite the children to walk about the room. Walk entirely free and explore the beat.  Stopping the music surprisingly helps the children to renew their concentration and enjoyment. When we stop, we listen to the quietness. We do not speak and we communicate by eye contact only.
  2. We dance with maracas along with The Doodlin’ Song.
  3. School kids enjoy finding and playing the rhythmic patterns in Rag Mop.

Building Skills
The most important issue we need to be aware of, which is also the most complicated one even for professional music teachers, is to begin with very simple games and build up the children’s rhythmical skills gradually and systematically.

Kids under the age of three need to experience the pulse of the music daily. The progress will be shown in the accuracy of their movement and the length of their response. Older children can also join us in playing simple rhythm units that repeat themselves in a familiar piece of music or song. They should play with us and not copy us, as is commonly and wrongly suggested.

My advice is to play a small number of games rather than play a vast collection, and to observe attentively and look for the moments when the children find new rhythm expressions and conquer new challenges.

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Martianne Stanger
Martianne is a homeschooling mom with over 20 years of experience in education, youth work and dramatic arts both in the United States and abroad. With certifications as a Middle School Generalist and English 8-12 teacher, plus a drawer full of certificates from a wide variety of professional development workshops and graduate courses, she brings a comprehensive "traditional" background to her present-day creative pursuits. Visit Martianne at Training Happy Hearts.