Learn to read rhythm

Learning to Read Rhythms

A few months ago I talked about helping kids develop their natural sense of beat, and also shared some activities that let kids listen to and repeat rhythms. After establishing this foundation, kids are ready for the next step, which is learning how to read rhythm notation.

Ready for Reading 

I feel that the way rhythm notation is often taught is kind of backwards. A music student is shown the notes, told how many counts each one gets, and then asked to tap or clap out an unfamiliar rhythm. If you think about the way a child usually learns to read, you don’t start out by showing them the alphabet, telling them the sound for each letter, and then asking them to decipher words. What do you do first? You read to them. You make the sounds for them while they’re looking at the words. A time comes to learn the sounds of each letter and to be able to decode unfamiliar words, but that’s a more advanced skill.

Rhythm Story 

When using this more natural method to teach children to read rhythm, don’t worry about how many counts each kind of note gets. Show your child a simple rhythm and clap or chant it for them, then have them clap or chant along with you. I call this “Rhythm Story” because it is like reading a storybook together. Do this with lots and lots of different rhythms. It would be a good idea to make this a part of a beginning student’s daily practice routine. A great tool to use for this exercise is the heartbeat mat and notes included with the Complete Materials for Unit 1. You can also create your own heartbeat mat and notes by copying the one I use in my video lessons.

Visual Rhythm Games

Here are some more visual rhythm games you can play:

Dictation: Ask your child to write out or put on the heartbeat mat the rhythm for a song they know well. You can also clap or chant an unfamiliar rhythm for them to write out or put on the heartbeat mat.

Find my Rhythm: Using a rhythm fun sheet from our complete materials, or any piece of sheet music, clap or play one of the rhythms. Have your child pick out which rhythm they heard.

Rhythm Challenge: You clap a steady beat while your child claps any written rhythm, familiar or unfamiliar.

Composition: Have your child write out or arrange on the heartbeat mat a rhythm of their own making, and then clap or chant it for you.

If you don’t already know how to read rhythms yourself, you might want to get sheet music for some simple children’s songs that you are already familiar with, then use the rhythms of those songs in these activities. For example, the Wee Sing books are a great resource for this activity.

By giving your child lots of opportunity to associate the shapes of written notes with the sound of the rhythms they represent, you are helping them be ready for the final phase of mastering rhythm in music, counting! We’ll talk more about that next time.

Happy playing,

Joseph Hoffman

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