• Jenny Ferris

Even more rhythm practice ideas!

So you've just presented a new rhythm, your students now know that the funky 4-sounds-on-one-beat thing is called tika-tika and they've even seen the symbol for it.


Now what?


I have discussed rhythm practice ideas before (you can check out the post here!) but here are some more to get you going!






In my mind, the Practice phase of the Kodály method can be divided into 6 different types of activities: performing, reading, writing, composing, improvising and listening.


Here are some great ways to practise each type!


Performing

Let's start off with the easy ones. Have your students perform known songs in rhythm names.

That being said, this is not as easy as it sounds. Students will not be able to rhythmicise whole songs straight away, so why not start by modelling it for them phrase by phrase and having them echo you back?


This can also be done using the new rhythm in unfamiliar contexts, ie a random 4-beat phrase. I like to call this activity a "clever echo" because it scaffolds my kids to be able to independently rhythmicise quite quickly. To begin with, the teacher claps a 4 beat pattern with the new rhythm while saying the rhythm names (eg. taa ti-ti tika-tika taa). The students echo this back. To level up, the teacher claps a rhythm but no longer says the rhythm names. When students echo, they have to put the rhythm names back in on their own!

You can also mix this up by performing the rhythm in a variety of ways - clapping, tapping, playing the rhythm on a piano/flute/violin etc. humming the rhythm (this can be an important step once minims/half notes are discovered, so that students can hear the difference between taa-saa and a minim)


A really important part of performing might not look like performing at all - the ability to inner hear parts of the music. I sometimes call this "using my thinking voice".

I have a stop/go sign (it's just two circles of coloured cardboard on a stick, one red and one green) which I use to to play stop & go with my students. When they see the green side, they have to clap the rhythm and sing/say the rhythm syllables out loud. When they see the red side, they should inner hear instead. You can scaffold this if your students are struggling by having them still clap everything the whole way through, but only rhythmicise out loud when they see the green side. I also love using the song "Snail, Snail" for this (which I've written about here)





You can build partwork skills when performing by splitting the class into groups and having one group only do the tika-tikas and have the other group do everything but the tika-tikas. You can also build on the aforementioned inner hearing skills by doing a "rhythm relay" in which you take it in turns phrase by phrase, bar by bar or even beat by beat! That means one person performs beat one, the person sitting next to them performs beat 2 and so on. Can get pretty tricky!



Reading

In addition to performing these new rhythm syllables, our students also need to be able to visually recognise them and link what they hear with what they see.


Once again, students can practise by reading known songs (written in either stick or staff notation).


They can also practise reading rhythm in unfamiliar contexts using tools like flashcards in the following activities:


- 4 corners: Teacher places 4 different rhythm flashcards in 4 different corners of the room. Teacher performs one of the rhythms and students must move to the correct corner. This makes for a great movement break!

- read & memorise: Show your students a 4-beat rhythm flashcard and ask them to inner hear the rhythm then immediately perform the rhythm out loud. As soon as they have inner-heard it, remove the card and check if they can perform it out loud from memory!-

- speed run: Similar to the activity above, this is a way of levelling up by seeing if your students can immediately read from one card to the next without any beats rest in between. As an extra challenge, try removing the card partway through the pattern to test their memory!


- Multiple choice: Show several options on the board, clap one of them and ask your students which card matched what you clapped


- Build a known song: Write out the rhythm of a known song and chop it up like a jigsaw into 2-beat sections. Have your students put together the jigsaw!


- Celeb heads: My students adore this game! Choose a student to come and sit in the "hot seat" in front of the board and write a 4-beat rhythm pattern above their head, so the class can see it, but they cannot. The class claps the rhythm which the student must repeat back by clapping and saying the rhythm syllables. As a bonus challenge, this student can choose the next student in the hot seat and can compose a 4-beat pattern with them.


- Spot the change: Show the students a written rhythm and tell them you're going to perform it, but you're going to make a mistake! Can your students spot where and how you changed the pattern?


- Rhythm variation: This is a fantastic way of transitioning between activities or introducing the next song. Display a phrase from the song you've been singing and alter the rhythm one beat at a time so that it gradually morphs into the rhythm of the new song and see if your students can recognise which song it is from!



Writing

The act of writing down known rhythms helps connect what we see with what we hear, strengthening the link between sound and symbol.


There are many ways to do this, from transcribing known songs (in either stick or staff notation) to completing rhythmic dictations. Here are a few variations on these traditional activities:


Dictations

- writing in stick & stave notation (the original method!)

- Paddle pop sticks (students use paddlepop sticks to lay out the rhythms they hear. They can also add paddlepop sticks as bar lines to practice metre

- rhythm wallets containing individual rhythm unit cards. Students can arrange these manipulatives to show the rhythm pattern they've just heard, removing any coordination difficulties they may experience with writing.


It's worth noting that there are two types of dictation skill: continuous (this involves hearing a rhythm at a slow tempo and transcribing simultaneously, almost as soon as you hear it) and memory-based dictation (listening to the full pattern multiple times and then transcribing from memory). Both are important skills to cultivate.


Transcriptions


To scaffold & support students towards writing out full songs, you can give them some "Fill in the gaps" worksheets where the rhythm of a known song is written out already, but with a few empty spots, which the students must fill in.



Composing

One of the best signs that a student has really come to terms with the new rhythm is their ability to take ownership of it and use it creatively in new forms. Here are some fun ways to create composition tasks.


Chance elements: Students can compose by chance using a dice. They assign a rhythm value to each number (if they don't yet know 6 different rhythms, then they can double up or use even/odd numbers) then roll the dice to find out what rhythm they should play first. Set a specific number of rolls (eg. 8 beats) in order to keep students on task.


I like transitioning from this task into the "Not The Same Rhythm" game mentioned in my earlier post to allow each group to compare whether their chance composition had any beats in common with another group's piece.


Fruit rhythms

Have your students compose a musical fruit salad by using a Fruit Composition task like this one from Teachers Pay Teachers

Students arrange the fruits in the order they'd like, then translate the fruit names into rhythm syllables.


Rhythm card wallets

Using manipulatives like flashcards with rhythm units printed on them can be a quick and easy way for students to compose - especially your younger students who are still getting to grips with the manual task of writing with a pencil.



Improvising

Students can complete an improvising circle (either vocally or with instruments. I like using auxiliary percussion like claves or tambourines with younger students and progressing to mallet percussion in older years). Develop a "pattern A" that the class will play and which also functions as a safety net for students who aren't confident at improvising. The group plays pattern A, then pattern B is improvised by one soloist (students will take turns around the circle). Set some guidelines - for example, the rhythm must be 4 beats long and must contain the new rhythm at least once. The rest is up to them. If they're stuck for ideas, they can play pattern A again, or you can have some suggested rhythms on the board to help.


Another way to scaffold improvising is to give students the opportunity to make up new lyrics to a familiar song. That way they have a familiar melodic structure, a clear understanding of how long their improvised section is to be and a few rules and boundaries help give a framework to be creative within (which is sometimes easier than just making something up with no guidance!)


One example is the song Big Fat Biscuit:



Students can improvise a line about their favourite type of delicious biscuit, such as "hot and gooey" or "covered in chocolate" using the do re mi melodic framework.






Another favourite of mine (especially at Halloween) is the rhythmic chant "Witch's Stew". It's great for practising ti-tika and tika-ti.


"Black and blue, full of goo, I'll put frogs in the witch's stew"


Students get to choose what gross, icky ingredient they'd add to the cauldron (frog's legs, snail armpits, take your pick!) and add it to the mix by chanting "I'll put dirt in the witch's stew". Bonus points if they can rhythmicise it afterwards ("ti-ti ti-tika ti-ti taa).

This can then be turned into a composition task by having them notate their chosen ingredient on a worksheet.


Another favourite (I have too many favourites, I know!) for ti-tika is the song "Drunken Sailor" which I've written about here.


This list wouldn't be complete without one of my favourite sea shanties! Here's a video of shanty legend David Coffin singing "Roll the Old Chariot Along"




Listening

The skill of active listening and aurally recognising the new rhythm has already been practised in several of the activities listed above, but it's also important to have some songs containing the new rhythm reserved for the practice phase so that students can practise recognising the rhythm in new contexts


But it's not only folk music that our students should be exposed to. Art music examples containing the focus rhythm are an important aspect of practising musical skills (as well as exposing our students to music they might not otherwise listen to!)


I've listed a few of my staple Art Music samples for listening activities here, but a particular favourite worth mentioning is this video of the allegretto from Beethoven 7 (AMAZING for practising saa!)




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