Way back at university when we were taught how to teach rhythm to children I learned something amazing! It was to use words and phrases to help children experience the length of note values and the pattern of a rhythm! We also learned to let them experience note values and rhythm through movement for an even better understanding.
What is so amazing about that, you may ask? Well, it was the first time I came across using words for teaching note values and rhythm even though we had class music at school and I had formal music lessons .
I had been exposed to counting as in “1-2-3-4”, and “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…” while playing on the recorder, piano or trumpet. Way back in Primary School two of our class music teachers had also introduced us to the French time names “taa” and taa-aa” and ta-te”. At that point in my life I thought this sounded rather silly because I had first been taught how to count.
So, if I think about it, my exposure to note values and rhythm had been “backwards”. At least that is how I would see it today.
Every Music teacher has his or her approach to teaching note values and rhythm. As a university student I had exposure to the different methods of teaching music such as Kodaly and Orff, to name but two. Since then I like to start with normal English (or German or Afrikaans or Zulu…) words and phrases to teach note values and rhythms, especially with young kids. Later we move on to French time names and then we move on to formal counting.
Learning to do it this way around as a student in university solved the issues I was having with rhythms, especially complicated rhythms. So I believe that following this order of teaching note values and rhythm could help avoid problems. It can also simplify rhythms for our music students.
In the second Beginner Recorder Lesson (click HERE) I introduce the first note values: the whole note, the half note and the quarter note.
These “official names” are however only introduced in the 6th lesson (click HERE). In lessons 2, 3 and 4 they are usually referred to as the “Hop”- note and the “Dong”-note.
The whole note is the exception because it already appears as a whole cake (and soap bubble) from the start. It is however also referred to as the ”Grandpa”-note, because he takes 4 counts, “1-2-3-4”, for each slow long-lasting step. This especially becomes the name for the whole note once the Tortoise family are introduced in Lesson 3 (click HERE).
In my lessons at school with the children, we also move to these note values. They love to hop on one leg or swing from side to side like the clapper in the bell. They also enjoy pretending to be the frail old Grandpa with his walking stick, slowly moving one leg forward while counting “1-2-3-4”, and then another “1-2-3-4” for the next step.
For the “Run-ning”-note introduced in the 3rd lesson (click HERE) they either have to run on the spot or, much to their delight, get the opportunity to run around the classroom, which in our case is a building on its own. The learners could also run to a certain tree or other landmarks closer to the classroom.
(This can also serve as a breathing exercise, because after running they will be breathing deeply automatically!)
Now all these note values can be put together to form a pattern or rhythm. The music students have to make sure that they get the order of their movements right, for example:
♩ ♫ 𝅗𝅥
“Hop! Run-ning! Dong_!”
In the 4th Lesson (click HERE) these note values are experienced and compared on rhythmic percussion instruments like the egg shakes, rhythm sticks, triangle and hand drum/tambour. If these are not available body percussion can be just as effective, like clapping, slapping legs and clicking fingers. In fact, this is a step best implemented before the percussion instruments are used.
I do mention how many counts the notes are worth, but when practising the rhythms we usually stick with the movement words mentioned above.
Then, last but not least, we revise the rhythm as owls with a breathy “too too-too too-oo” before we play it on the recorder.
You may have noticed that I am not making use of the music staff yet, but that is a topic for another post. So that is it for now. I hope that you have enjoyed these ideas. As professional music teachers, you may already be applying them in your lessons anyway or you may have different but just as effective ideas. I would love to hear about your ideas and experiences, so please share them with us in the comments below.
PS. You will find free rhythm sheets linked to the video lessons which you can use for speaking, clapping, playing on rhythmic percussion instruments and of course for playing on the recorder.