Rhythm skills are so important for piano students. I try to squeeze rhythm activities into as many piano lessons as possible.

I find that it really helps students to work with rhythm outside of the context of playing music so that they have a good foundation and skills to draw from when tricky rhythms show up in music.

Here are five rhythm resources that I use regularly in piano lessons. Some of these work particularly well with online lessons. Since online lessons are a pretty regular occurrence in these COVID times, we’ll talk about how to use these resources both in online and in-person piano lessons.

Rhythm Flashcards

I printed these free sets of rhythm flashcards on card stock years ago and they continue to serve me and my students well!

Set 2 is very basic and I always use them to teach beginning students introductory note values. They give students a good mix of rhythms to work with that will likely show up in their music right away.

Set 1 includes eighth notes and I try to introduce those early on as well. Most of the piano books we use don’t use eighth notes right away, but students easily understand how they work. I like to introduce eighth notes well before they appear in method books.

We use these cards for all kinds of games and activities. Here are the ways we use them most:

  • Most commonly, we’ll tap the rhythms with rhythm sticks when we’re first learning rhythm values.
  • We’ll make a train of several cards in a row to practice tapping longer rhythm sequences.
  • We can lay out 4-6 different cards and have students guess which rhythm we tapped.

For online lessons, I’ll hold cards up to the screen to have students clap or tap them. Sometimes, I’ll also pull up the file on my computer and share the screen so that students can see them up close.

Fit-A-Rhythm Board

This brilliantly designed Fit-A-Rhythm board from E-Z Notes is an awesome manipulative for students. The board is magnetic and includes a variety of different note value magnets that you can place on the board.

Each type of note takes up exactly the amount of space proportionate to it’s value. This makes it really easy for students to visualize how how different notes and note combinations last different lengths of time.

Each time signature row is designed to fit exactly the correct number of beats in each measure.


For example, if you place a dotted half note on the 4/4 time signature row, there is only enough space left to add notes that equal 1 beat. Or, you could place any 4 of the 1-beat value magnets in one measure of that row.

The magnets that fit into the 6/8 time signature are red to help distinguish them from the duple meter notes.

Naturally, this is a great tool for in-person piano lessons because it is so hands on. But, it’s also really helpful for online lessons. You can create a variety of rhythmic lines for students to clap back. You can quickly change the rhythms by sliding the magnets around. Or, you could have the student talk you through which magnets to place on the board to complete measures.

You can find the Fit-A-Rhythm Board in the Pianissimo Store.

Rhythm Blocks

These rhythm blocks are another neat E-Z Notes teaching tool. It’s pretty simple – wooden blocks that you can flip around to see various rhythms. Similar to the Rhythm Board, the length of the blocks matches up proportionately with the time signature. For example,  the 4/4 blocks are the longest and 2/4 blocks are exactly half as long.


In online lessons, these can be used similarly to flash cards and it’s easy to flip between the different sides of the blocks.

These Rhythm Blocks are also available in the Pianissimo Store.

Rhythm Cat

There are a number of helpful rhythm apps, but my students and I have always enjoyed Rhythm Cat. A rhythm appears on the screen and the student has to tap it back. My students always respond well to a gamified approach to rhythm drills so Rhythm Cat does the job.

Rhythm Jenga

A common game that we play in the studio is Rhythm Jenga. I used a regular Jenga game and drew a variety of 4-beat rhythms on the blocks. We play the Jenga game as usual, except after we pull a block out of the tower everyone has to clap the rhythm on the blocks. This game is a big hit and a helpful way to reinforce common rhythms. Since we almost always play it in a small group, it also gives kids a chance to practice starting together and staying together as they clap.

Of course, with all of these rhythm activities, it’s helpful to have a metronome nearby to help students feel a steady beat. I either use the built-in metronome on my Clavinova or a metronome app on my phone or iPad. I teach my students to feel a pulse and count themselves off to the beat before they start a rhythm.


I also have this little djembe that we use in the place of clapping sometimes. Students feel super special when they get to use it and it makes rhythm activities even more fun.

What are your favorite rhythm activities for kids? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

 

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2 Comments

  1. Great article.

    I do notice that rhythmic solfège seems not to have made the list.

    This can be very useful at the outset of things. Here is a link to one published system there are many. The ta ta ti ti methods for example. There has been some refinement of these techniques though for example this system: http://www.personal.kent.edu/~sbirch/Common/PDF_BOOKS/Theory%20I/02-Takadimi%20Rhythmic%20Solfege.pdf I don’t of course endorse any system and actually I encourage students to make their own system.

    Another very important element in teaching rhythm in a physical sense is to teach subdivision in the longer values and rests. For example singing and clapping on the 2nd and third quarters of a dotted half note.

    Regardless it was full of interesting perspective and thanks for writing the article.

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