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Simple Rhythm Activities

Module by: Catherine Schmidt-Jones. E-mail the author

Summary: Activities that encourage young children to be aware of rhythm as a basic element of music.

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Activity 1: Rhythm Imitations

Materials and Preparation

  • No preparation is necessary unless you want the students to read the rhythms


  • Clap any short rhythm (or, for music students, have the student read a written rhythm)
  • Have a student clap the same rhythm back to you, at the same speed.
  • For students who find this challenging (or if you have dificulty deciding whether or not they echoed your rhythm correctly), keep the rhythms short and simple. For students who do well, give them longer, more challenging rhythms to echo.


  1. Make the rhythm a collection of claps, stomps, and other sounds. (Keep it short unless the students are quite good at it.) Have the student copy it using the correct sounds.
  2. Make the rhythm a collection of sounds on any percussion instruments you have available.
  3. Make this a game, with students taking turns imitating your rhythm (change it often). Students have to sit down if they miss a rhythm, and the last student standing wins.
  4. Let the students have their turn making up short rhythms for each other to imitate.
  5. If you don't have very many students, you can make this a game in which each student gets more and more difficult rhythms until they miss one. Keep track of how many each student got correct before they missed.

Activity 2: Karaoke Percussion

Materials and Preparation

  • Prepare for a noisy activity
  • This activity is most fun for small groups, with each student having a different instrument so that everybody is contributing a unique sound.
  • Have percussion instruments ready for the class to use or have the class make their own instruments ahead of time. (See Percussion Fast and Cheap.) Don't forget the possibilities of "found percussion" (pots, lids, spoons, pencils, books, etc. and "body percussion" (claps, slaps, finger snaps, stomps, etc.)
  • Select music that you will be adding karaoke percussion to. Cheerful, fast-tempo music that your students enjoy is best. Have your tape or CD player ready, and have tapes ready at the correct spot or know CD track numbers.


  • Usually you add the vocal parts when doing karaoke, but in this activity, the class is going to add percussion parts. For very young children, this will probably mean simply adding noise. That is fine, although you can encourage them to add the noise on the beat or only during certain phrases in the music.
  • Encourage older children to add a particular repetitive rhythm to the music. Beginners may all want to be on the same rhythm. More adventurous students may each be given a different rhythm.
  • Have the students listen to the song first. Have them clap along, so that they feel the basic beat of the music. Children with some musical experience may be able to identify rhythms that are already being emphasized in the music. Encourage older students to come up with a steady, patterned rhythm that fits the music. It may be simply playing on the beat, playing off the beat, playing only on alternate beats or only on the first or last beat of a measure, or experienced students may be able to come up with something more complex. Students should be encouraged to play different, complementary rhythms, instead of all playing the same rhythm.
  • Let the students experiment and settle on their rhythms with the music playing, then have a "performance" with everybody doing their chosen rhythms. This is even more effective if students enter one at a time (you can point to a student when it is her turn to enter) and then steadily continue their chosen rhythm as more students enter.

Activity 3: No Karaoke Percussion

Materials and Preparation

  • If your students have a strong sense of rhythm, you can do Activity 2 with no background music.
  • Provide each student with a percussion instrument, or let them decide on their own "found" or "body" percussion.


  • Designate one student with a fairly loud instrument as the beat keeper. This student establishes the beat and plays steadily on the beat during the entire session.
  • Other students enter one at a time, steadily playing a chosen rhythm. If they do this well, the result should sound like the background rhythm track to a pop, rock, or Latin tune.
  • When all students are playing a rhythm, the beat keeper can end the session or can name any other student. The student named changes to a new rhythm.

Other Rhythm Activities Available

You can find other activities for children that explore various aspects of rhythm in Conducting, A Tempo Activity, Meter Activities and Talking Drums and Message Drums. For more about reading rhythms, see Duration: Notes and Rests and Time Signature.

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