Building a Solid Rhythmic Foundation with Rhythm Vocabulary

What way do you teach rhythm? Do you teach it intentionally and systematically, or just as it comes up in pieces?

I recently attended a fantastic Kodály training week here in Dublin. In one of the many wonderful activities the teacher laid out a series of single bars of 4:4 rhythms on the floor. We clapped/tapped these rhythms while saying the rhythm syllables. The teacher then turned over two of these bars at a time so that they had to be clapped from memory. We did this exercise several times over the course of the week.

This exercise was tough for some at the start (there was a wide range of backgrounds and levels in the class) but as the week went on you could see the rhythmic patterns were really starting to sink in.

Building up rhythmic patterns in this way is something I’ve started to do, but it’s an area where I think I could use a more structured approach.

I wanted to have a clear progression of simple rhythms that students can internalise.

rhythm vocabulary cards

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Rhythm Vocab Cards

That’s why I’ve started designing these rhythm cards – so that I can build up a rhythm vocabulary that students can draw from. This is the opposite to the way most teachers teach rhythm in my experience. They wait for a rhythm to come up the repertoire, and then they help the students through it.

I want to be more proactive about rhythm than that. I think that in the style of Kodály or Music Learning Theory, students should be comfortable with a rhythm pattern long before they need to play it.

rhythm vocab cards

There are two versions of the cards in the download, with and without numbers.

rhythm vocabulary cards

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The numbers are simply there to help me keep track of which cards a student has already mastered. You don’t need to use the cards in this order at all.

How to Use

Of course these are just 4:4 rhythms, you can really use them in any way you want. They’re very flexible. 

With new students I’ll be sending home a couple of cards to practice each week. Then the next week we’ll check up on those and hopefully start a couple more. A simple system that will only take a few minutes of lesson time each week but long term should make for rhythm superstars.

For students who have been learning for a while already, I’ll use them more as an assessment tool and assign when needed.

You can of course also use any form of counting you prefer. Personally I love to use the Kodály syllables (ta, ti, ta-i, etc.) with beginners along with clapping actions to match each note value. I love to get the whole body involved in this way and I think it makes the learning stronger and more durable.

What next?

Soon I’ll be expanding these to include other time signatures and more complex rhythms.

What would you like to see in the next pack?

Syncopated rhythms? Triplets?

Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to accommodate!

3 thoughts on “Building a Solid Rhythmic Foundation with Rhythm Vocabulary”

  1. Hi , thanks for this post. I use this as a rhythm challenge at the beginning of lessons for this term – I call it “take aways”.

    Other time signatures would be great, compound times. Triplets, dullest and syncopation too.

    Reply

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