Let's talk about metre.
Metre is the feeling of strong & weak beats that groups our music into sections called bars. It can sometimes feel like a tricky thing to teach, particularly to young students. I know as a student myself it took me a while to get the hang of time signatures and I believe this is because of the way I was taught them.
As a student I approached time signatures from a very theoretical, almost mathematical standpoint. This became particularly tricky when trying to learn the difference between 3/4 and 6/8 time (surely they're like equivalent fractions, right?)
Looking back now, I realise that not once did my teacher make me get up and move to the music. And this is where my difficulties lay.
Metre is something that has to be felt. Students need to internalise the feeling of strong and weak beats by moving their bodies to the music in a way which will emphasise the strong beats and downplay the weak beats.
Let's take a look at a song that is great for this:
Bounce High, Bounce Low
The game I play with this song involves one student bouncing a ball in the middle of a circle (make sure they are bouncing and catching on the beat, not dribbling like in basketball). At the end of the song, instead of singing "bounce the ball to Shiloh" they will substitute in the name of another student in class who will come in to the middle of the circle and take over bouncing the ball. This continues until all have had a turn.
While on the outside of the circle, students can complete a 2 beat ostinato such as patsching their knees then clicking their fingers to reinforce the 2 metre feel.
Some other great songs in 2/4 time include Icka Backa, See Saw, Cobbler Cobbler Mend My Shoe and really any other song that has a strong beat and a weak beat.
I particularly like the three listed here because the games involved with them really emphasise the strong & weak beats (for example in Cobbler, Cobbler students remove one shoe and walk around the circle feeling a shod foot on the strong beat and an unshod foot on the weak beat)
As part of the preparation process, students should become familiar with a variety of repertoire in 2/4 time, paying particular attention to ostinati patterns that reinforce that feeling of strong/weak.
Have students consciously identify that there are 2 beats in this repeated pattern and work out which is strong and which is weak.
Have the class sing one of these songs with the ostinato while the teacher chants "strong, weak, strong, weak" and vice versa. See if you can also do this with half the class singing and half the class chanting, or even with students in pairs.
Once students can confidently identify the strong and weak beats in a range of repertoire, show them one of these songs written up on the board.
Explain that in music, we group each pattern of strong & weak into something called a "bar" and that we separate these bars from each other using "bar lines".
Demonstrate that the final bar line at the end of a piece of music is called a "double bar line" to signify that the piece is done.
I then like to sing through the song as if I were a musician reading this music for the first time and point out that we've already made it through one bar before we get to a bar line, which would make the musician stop and say "hmmm, I guess there must be strong and weak beats here. I wonder how many?" and that it would take them until the next bar line to count, until the next bar line to confirm and by that point they're mostly done with the song before they've been able to put in the strong & weak beats to their performance.
Therefore we need something at the beginning to tell us how many strong and weak beats are in our pattern. This is called a "time signature"
As an intermediary step, you may choose to express your time signature as a 2 over a crotchet/ taa symbol, to save the confusion of what the 4 on the bottom represents.
Now that it's been made conscious, there are lots of ways you can practise 2 metre! Given that there are a number of aspects to the concept of metre, there are a lot of different activities you can do to practise, including:
- Conducting: have students conduct while they sing a piece of music in 2 metre. Alternatively you can have them conduct along with a recorded piece of music to find the strong & weak beats. One good example of this is John Philip Sousa's "Liberty Bell March"
- Reading in 2 metre: Students need to get used to the appearance of bar lines and time signatures. Have students add bar lines or a time signature to known pieces of music. Alternatively, once they know a few time signatures, you can have them add bar lines to a previously unseen worksheet such as this one.
- Listen along: Print off the score to a piece of music in 2/4 time and have students follow along. Say "stop" periodically and have them highlight the bar they were up to.
- Manipulatives: Use paddlepop sticks to add bar lines between rhythm flashcards to create bars of music.
- Manipulatives: This is a super fun hands-on activity (though it does require a bit of prep on the teachers' part!) Take some pool noodles and chop them up into small segments, writing different rhythms on each segment. Have students complete a rhythmic dictation or transcribe a known song by threading the rhythm noodles onto a length of rope, making sure they insert a different coloured blank noodle whenever a bar line is necessary!