30 November 2013

5 Ideas For Teaching Kids Rhythm

My good friend and all-round great guy Chuck Smeeton of The Cavan Project is a musician with a mission to share his passion. He's also a dedicated Dad and has agreed to share with us his tips on introducing your kids to making music. Take it from here Chuck!....

As a parent of four kids, getting them interested in music has always been a priority. Of course just because it’s my passion doesn’t mean it will be theirs, but at the very least exposing them to a variety of instruments is a start. All of them have some basic skills and have played everything from guitar and piano to flute, saxophone and euphonium in school bands. But there are two key areas that need to be addressed in getting the kids on board. Firstly, when I reflect on where they struggled there is a common thread: rhythm. Second, what instruments are the best for getting kids engaged? But it’s the first part that we’ll kick off with – and also something that you can work on with kids of any age.Actually being able to hold a beat – whether it’s strumming a guitar or even drumming – is something of a challenge. How do you teach kids to “feel” the rhythm in music and also lock into the beat?

1. Rhythm or beat

People often think the beat and the rhythm are the same thing, but not so fast! The beat is the underlying pulse that you find your foot tapping along to – it generally stays the same for the entire song. It’s the metronome of the song. On the other hand, the rhythm jumps around more but always within the timing of the beat – you’ll normally notice this in the words of the song. Think of basic nursery rhyme like Hickory Dickory Dock. Your foot taps out an even beat as you say it out loud, but if you clap along with the words you get the rhythm.

2. Marching

Now that you’ve got the concept, start with getting kids hearing the beat and then moving do it, and for that it’s hard to beat marching! Why? With big muscle groups that are reasonable easy to control, this is where you’ll have the most success. Put on some music and lead the kids around the room making sure they march in time to the song. Try a few different songs with different beats and work with the kids to help them hear that their stomps are in time.

3. Clapping

The next phase is to move to clapping – it’s a little harder to coordinate the hands, but it’s the same principle: clap to the beat of the music using some different songs. With clapping you can also introduce more rhythm exercises – like clapping along with each word they sing in a nursery rhyme.

4. Egg Shaker

While clapping and marching are great, they don’t really translate to actually playing an instrument as for most instruments it’s only one hand holding a rhythm (like strumming a guitar) or two hands playing different beats (like drums). A small egg shaker is a great way to introduce single hand dexterity – simply doing the same as before with shaking along to different pieces of music – whether it’s the beat or the rhythm.

5. The whole kit(chen) and caboodle

Finally you can break out the pots and pans and a couple of wooden spoons! Don’t do this too soon or they will just make a racket – they need to get the basic concepts of beat and rhythm. Then have them play along with songs using all the containers at their disposal!

That’s it really. Some simple exercises, but as you work through them you’ll see your kids developing some real coordination and dexterity – skills that will be critical when it comes to playing actually instruments.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks Chuck! For more on some good instruments to start kids off with, check out Chuck's story at The Cavan Project website.

Images: Steph Bond-Hutkin | Bondville

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