Rhythm Exercises for 4th Grade, 2017-2018

Here are the rhythm exercises that my 4th grade students have been working on this school year.  You’ll notice that many of the exercises are similar, in format and content, to those exercises found the Jump Right In General Music Series and in Feierabend’s Conversational Solfège.

In another blog post called “Record Keeping,” I explain how I use the boxes to keep track of student progress.  Scroll down in the category Rhythm Musicianship and you’ll find it.

I don’t have much new to say about these exercises.  It’s just an exciting part of teaching music—introducing division beats with beat-function syllables.

I wish I didn’t have to keep each grade so restricted in terms of skills and content:

1st grade, all aural/oral;

2nd grade, all verbal association;

3rd grade, all aural/oral;

4th grade, all verbal association.

I find, with my situation, that this works best.  It’s not ideal, but I often see students for only half a year (and sometimes not for an entire year).  If I were to vary the skill-levels more during each year, then too many students, those I see for only part of the year, would miss out on important instruction.  Of course, I don’t want my 3rd graders to forget the syllables they learned the year before.  What I try to do is bring back syllables in 3rd grade during regular classroom activities.  I might, for instance, sing a fragment of a song the kids are working on, and then ask them to sing it with the correct tonal syllables, or perhaps they might chant the rhythm of the melody with correct rhythm syllables.

To end this blogpost, I made a short audio clip with demonstrations of how I perform rhythm patterns with beat-function syllables.  My performance style is one that kids respond to very well.  See what you think.

Rhythm Exercises for 3rd Grade, 2017-2018

Here are the rhythm exercises that my 3rd grade students have been working on this school year.  You’ll notice that many of the exercises are similar, in format and content, to those exercises found the Jump Right In General Music Series and in Feierabend’s Conversational Solfège.

Let me take you through them. (Before I go into each exercise, I want to direct you to another blog post called “Record Keeping” in which I explain how I use the boxes to keep track of student progress.  Scroll down in the category Rhythm Musicianship and you’ll find it.)

Rhythm Exercises 3-1, 3-3, 3-5, and 3-6:  These exercises are similar to the ones I taught to the 1st and 2nd graders, except that I’ve included division beats.  Students tend to perform division beats easily when those beats fall on the 3rd macro beat.  This tends to be true for both duple and triple meters.  Notice that the students and I perform with only a neutral syllable.  When I teach this way, I’m following a basic rule of MLT: introduce every new bit of content (in this case, division beats) at the aural/oral level. And of course, kids and I are rocking side to side to macro beats as we chant.

Rhythm Exercises 3-2 and 3-4:  These exercises are similar to Feierabend’s “Forbidden pattern” exercise from Conversational Solfège.  Here’s how I do it.  At the start of these exercises, I’ll chant the “special” pattern with a neutral syllable and wait for the students to chant it back. A few of them will, and then, without giving any direction, I’ll chant it again.  Typically, several more students will chant it back.  Then the students and I will continue chanting it back and forth in a call-and-response manner several times.  Just when they think I’m going to spend the entire period doing this, I stop and say, “This time I want you to cover your mouths when you hear it, and say nothing.” Then I’ll chant the pattern again, cover my mouth while they cover theirs, and we’ll listen to the silence. (Sometimes one or two students will start chanting the pattern aloud by accident; after another try, they all understand that silence is what they should hear.)

At this point, I tell them, “The pattern we’ve been practicing is the ‘special’ pattern. You must never perform it aloud. When you hear it, cover your mouths. But all the other patterns I perform, you must perform aloud.”  Then we practice.  I’ll chant 3 or 4 patterns for the class to perform back; then I’ll chant the “special” pattern.  Most of the kids cover their mouths at the correct time.  Depending on my mood, I’ll ask individuals, or 5 or 6 students at a time, or sometimes half the class to respond.  Typically, I’ll give them 7 or 8 patterns to perform in echo before I perform the “special” pattern. Most students really get a kick out of this exercise.  They have a lot of fun with it.

Rhythm Exercises 3-7 and 3-8: These exercises are similar to the call-and-response creativity exercises that students did in second grade, but now they must create (and respond to) 4-beat patterns. I still encourage them to go first, but they must stand and rock side to side to macro beats.  I’ve found that most students have trouble creating if they are sitting motionless while they’re trying to keep track of how long their creative effort must be.  Sometimes they just keep going and going.  “You’re done after 4 steps,” I tell them.  “Then it’s my turn.”

Rhythm Exercises 3-9 and 3-10:  I love the 4-layered rhythm of these exercises:  1) Macro beats (usually performed by 1 or 2 students on triangles); 2) micro beats (performed by a few students on claves); 3) a rhythmic ostinato (usually played by a few students and me on hand drums); and 4) an 8-beat series of rhythm patterns performed by individual students.

If the class is doing really well with this exercise, I’ll ask 2 students at a time to create 8-beat phrases simultaneously. A moment like this is what music education is all about!

Rhythm Exercises for 2nd Grade, 2017-2018

Here are the rhythm exercises that my 2nd grade students have been working on this school year.  You’ll notice that many of the exercises are similar, in format and content, to those exercises found the Jump Right In General Music Series and in Feierabend’s Conversational Solfège.

Let me take you through them. (Before I go into each exercise, I want to direct you to another blog post called “Record Keeping” in which I explain what the boxes are for.)

Rhythm Exercises 2-1,  2-2, and 2-5:  I start the 2nd grade year with two exercises spread out over two months because the beginning of the year is just too hectic for me to predict which weeks I’ll get to them; but experience tells me that I can cover those two exercises in the span of two months, and complete them by the beginning of November.  For these exercises, the rules are very simple.  I never tell students that I’m performing macro beats and then simply call it a day.  I establish context by chanting (or performing on an unpitched instrument) rhythm patterns in duple meter. Then I stop performing complex rhythm and I chant a series of macro beats with the syllable DU. I tell students that when they hear the word DU by itself they are hearing macro beats; if they hear me perform any other word, then they are not hearing macro beats anymore; they are hearing something else. Then I project two sentences on my whiteboard:

You were performing macro beats.

You were performing something else.

Individual students must read one of the sentences aloud in response to what I perform.  Then I’ll do the same thing in triple meter. Over the course of several weeks, I’ll use the same procedure to teach duple micro beats. I’ll ask students to read one of the following sentences projected on the whiteboard:

You were performing duple micro beats.

You were performing something else.

In January, I’ll repeat the procedure with triple micro beats.

Rhythm Exercises 2-3 and 2-6: These exercises are straight out of the Jump Right In General Music Curriculum, with subtle changes in the patterns.  Generally, the more micro beats you leave out, the more difficult the pattern is to perform accurately. Make sure that students are rocking side to side to macro beats with you.  Keep chanting to reestablish tempo and meter.  Rock along with students, of course. Be a real stickler for accuracy: If they chant the rhythms perfectly, that’s not good enough.  They must chant and synchronize macro beats in their feet. And by the way, don’t just rock on your heels.  Lift your feet off the ground as you sway side to side.  Students must make the connection between the macro beat moment—the ictus—and the shifting of their body weight; if they merely go up on their toes and come down on their heels, they might not feel a precise macro beat.  One’s heel does not always hit the floor with a precise ictus. So get those feet off the floor, damn it! Lift ’em up, put ’em down, lift ’em up, put ’em down. It’s a subtle thing. Don’t bend your knees too much.  Feeling the side-to-side shift of body weight is the key.

Rhythm Exercises 2-4 and 2-7:  I tend to do this one several different ways, depending on my mood. It’s one of the few exercises where I’m not consistent.  Sometimes I have groups chants patterns back to me (always with beat-function syllables of course); sometimes I call on individuals.  Sometimes kids are on their feet rocking side to side to macro beats; sometimes they perform in their seats. I perform combinations of macro and micro beats only—no division beats!  The combination may be familiar or unfamiliar, but typically I’ll save the unfamiliar combinations for the more advanced students.

Rhythm Exercise 2-8: I break a hard-and-fast rule during this exercise: I sometimes introduce division beats (usually only on the 3rd macro beat). If kids have trouble, then I simply “downshift” by performing only macro and micro beats. What about those patterns that students are to perform? I ask students to repeat and repeat and repeat them over and over until they have those patterns down cold. I like that kids respond to my patterns with more patterns: It strikes me as a more musical approach to Generalization-Verbal than simply asking kids to name the meter that I’m performing in.

Rhythm Exercises 2-9 and 2-10:  Last year, I tried something new with these exercises that worked really well. Instead of performing first and asking individual kids to respond, I asked individual students to start. In other words, students provided the antecedent phrase, and I supplied the consequence. I’ll make sure to do the same thing this year.

Rondo in C major, Op. 51, #1 by Beethoven

One of my piano students is working on this piece, and she’s more than half way through it.  I told her I’d work on it myself and play it for her all the way through.  I wanted to get this recording done by Beethoven’s birthday (12/16), but I didn’t quite make it.  Anyway, here is my performance of Beethoven’s Rondo in C major, Op. 51, #1.

PS. Hannah, I aimed for elegant Viennese Classicism, which means spare pedaling and clear passage work. Toward the end of the piece, I took some liberties with dynamics, pedaling, and even tempo changes.  See if you like what I did. Remember, these are just suggestions.  You do NOT have to play it my way!

Schubert – Impromptu in A flat, Op. 90, #4

The Schubert Impromptu and I go way back.  I played it (without repeats) for my 8th grade Spring Fling many many years ago.  The piano was a spinet with light-as-a-feather action, which allowed me to speed like the wind, without a thought about technique.  Forearm rotation… arm weight… who knew about such things?  All I knew was that if Arthur Rubinstein could play it, I could play it.

Anyway, here is my grown-up interpretation.  I hope you like it.

Rhythm Exercises for 1st grade, 2017-2018

Here are the rhythm exercises for 1st grade that I plan to teach this year.  Very little has changed since last year.  I’ve found that these exercises work well for this age level.

Many of the rhythm exercises are similar to those in the Jump Right In General Music Series and John Feierabend’s Conversational Solfège.

You’ll notice that the whole 1st grade year is strictly aural/oral, with a bit of inference learning thrown in.  No solfège!  Kids have to wait until 2nd grade to get that.

Notice also that students don’t start chanting patterns until March.  From September to February, I do things to bridge the gap between informal guidance and formal instruction.  Let me take you through the early exercises in greater detail.

September and October

1-1.      AURAL / ORAL:  Students move in a slow, continuous, weighty manner.

Procedures:

  • Students stand and face the teacher.
  • The teacher slowly moves arms, legs and waist in a continuous flowing manner for at least 3 minutes while students mirror the teacher’s movements.  (In Laban terms, the teacher should emphasize bound flow).
  • The teacher and students stop moving and everyone sits down.
  • The teacher asks the following questions:  Was the movement mostly fast or mostly slow?  Did we move as if we were under water, or did we move as if we were puppets on a string?  Did we ever stop moving, or was our movement continuous?
  • Students should respond by saying that their movements were slow (as if they were moving under water) and continuous.

I like to play recorded music during this exercise.  The Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s Lohengrin works beautifully.  Plain chant would work well also.  Anything without firm beats!

1-2a.    AURAL / ORAL:  Students pat macro beats in duple meter.

Procedures:

  • Students sit and face the teacher.
  • The teacher establishes the appropriate tempo in duple meter by chanting a series of patterns with the neutral syllables “bah” and “bum.”
  • The teacher chants continually in duple meter with varied melodic rhythm throughout this exercise.
  • The teacher makes large circles with his arms, lightly tapping his knees to macro beats.  (The right arm moves clockwise; the left arm moves counterclockwise).
  • As students mirror the teacher’s movements, they should do the following:  move their arms in a circular manner from the shoulder; tap macro beats lightly, bouncing their fingertips away from their knees after each tap.
  • The teacher should stop after a few minutes to point out to students that they have shown two things with their arms:  the large steady beat, and the space between beats.

1-2b.    AURAL / ORAL:  Students pat duple micro beats.

Procedures:

  • Students sit and face the teacher.
  • The teacher establishes the appropriate tempo in duple meter by chanting a series of patterns with the neutral syllables “bah” and “bum.”
  • The teacher taps his knees lightly with both arms to duple micro beats.  Even though the beats are small, the teacher should move his arms as freely as possible and avoid wrist movement.  The teacher may choose to tap other parts of the body (head, waist, stomach, shoulders).
  • The teacher chants continually in duple meter with varied melodic rhythm throughout this exercise.
  • As students mirror the movements of the teacher, they should do the following:  move their whole arms and not their wrists; bounce their arms as they tap and not rest their forearms on their legs; curve their fingers and tap their knees softly with their finger tips, not with open palms; keep their arms relaxed, loose, and bouncy as they move.

November

1-3a.    AURAL / ORAL:  Students pat macro beats in triple meter.

Procedures:

  • Students sit and face the teacher.
  • The teacher establishes the appropriate tempo in triple meter by chanting a series of patterns with the neutral syllables “bah” and “bum.”
  • The teacher chants continually in triple meter with varied melodic rhythm throughout this exercise.
  • The teacher makes large circles with his arms, lightly tapping his knees to macro beats.  (The right arm moves clockwise; the left arm moves counterclockwise).
  • As students mirror the teacher’s movements, they should do the following:  move their arms in a circular manner from the shoulder; tap macro beats lightly, bouncing their fingertips away from their knees after each tap.
  • The teacher should stop after a few minutes to point out to students that they have shown two things with their arms:  the large steady beat, and the space between beats.

1-3b.    AURAL / ORAL:  Students pat triple micro beats.

Procedures:

  • Students sit and face the teacher.
  • The teacher establishes the appropriate tempo in triple meter by chanting a series of patterns with the neutral syllables “bah” and “bum.”
  • The teacher taps his knees lightly with both arms to triple micro beats.  Even though the beats are small, the teacher should move his arms as freely as possible and avoid wrist movement.  The teacher may choose to tap other parts of the body (head, waist, stomach, shoulders).
  • The teacher chants continually in triple meter with varied melodic rhythm throughout this exercise.
  • As students mirror the movements of the teacher, they should:  move their whole arms and not their wrists; bounce their arms as they tap and not rest their forearms on their legs; curve their fingers and tap their knees softly with their finger tips, not with open palms; keep their arms relaxed, loose, and bouncy as they move.

January

1-5.      AURAL / ORAL:  Students stand and rock side to side to macro beats in duple meter.

Procedures:

  • Students stand with their feet apart and face the teacher.
  • The teacher establishes the appropriate tempo in duple meter by chanting a series of patterns with the neutral syllables “bah” and “bum.”
  • The teacher chants continually in duple meter with varied melodic rhythm throughout this exercise.
  • The teacher and students rock side to side on their heels to the macro beats.
  • As students mirror the movements of the teacher, they should keep their knees slightly bent as they shift their body weight from side to side

1-6.      AURAL / ORAL:  Students stand and rock side to side to macro beats in triple meter.

Procedures:

  • Students stand with their feet apart and face the teacher.
  • The teacher establishes the appropriate tempo in triple meter by chanting a series of patterns with the neutral syllables “bah” and “bum.”
  • The teacher chants continually in triple meter with varied melodic rhythm throughout this exercise.
  • The teacher and students rock side to side on their heels to the macro beats.
  • As students mirror the movements of the teacher, they should keep their knees slightly bent as they shift their body weight from side to side

Because exercise 1-4 is a bit unusual, I thought I’d talk about it in detail here.

 

Let me say two more things about these exercises.

First, I chant a series of patterns in duple or triple meter as the kids move; but it’s fun, sometimes, to play recorded musical examples too.  I already mentioned that I like to play the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s Lohengrin during Exercise 1-1.  The opening chorus of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (with John Eliot Gardiner conducting) is practically a celebration of triple meter.  And what could be better examples of duple meter than the “Anvil” Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and the 2nd movement from Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony, and the banjo solo “Arkansas Traveler”?  Kids also enjoy tapping duple micro beats to the Beatles song “Please, Please Me.”  And they have fun tapping triple micro beats to the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood.”

Second, when you model movement for kids, make sure you bounce your beats away from your body; don’t jam beats into your body.  Tap your knees with your fingertips and bounce away.  My motto is:  if I can hear it, it’s wrong.  Kids often tap too loudly (which is proof that they’re pushing rhythm into themselves, and not feeling a sense of buoyant flow with their arms).  Let them know that rhythm is not something they need to hear; it’s something they need to feel.