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Learn the language of rhythm

Popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners spell out musical grammar for first- and second-graders.

By Paul Bakeman, consulting educator

Teaching elementary-school-age children the basics of rhythm is easy with visual cues — and a bit of patience.

What you'll need

  • 12 Popsicle sticks (or 24 if both parent and child want to make rhythms at the same time)
  • Four (or eight) pipe cleaners of any color

How to do it

You will be making three different kinds of notes. Lay the Popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners out on the table.

Popsicle sticks that are laid down vertically represent quarter notes. Quarter notes get one beat, and their rhythm language word is "ta." Lay down two sticks and put another one across the top to make two-eighth notes. Two-eighth notes sound twice as fast and are spoken as "ti-ti." Bend the pipe cleaners to resemble quarter rests. Quarter rests get one beat of silence.

You're now ready to make some interesting combinations. Limit the number of beats in each rhythm to four. Remember that since two-eighth notes go twice as fast as quarter notes, "ti-ti" gets only one beat. An example of a rhythm you might create is "ta rest ti-ti ta." This is a great way to learn about music — and pick up a brand-new language in the process!

Paul Bakeman is a music teacher in Virginia and a Teacher of the Year award winner.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/19/2010:
"iloveit"
11/2/2009:
"The new thinking on the subject of language in music has changed. Ta and ti's are derived from the KODALY METHODOLOGY. Even strong Kodaly practicioners are switching to 'ki' for eighth notes."
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