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Rhythm Games (download)

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A gift to Pianodao readers, this set of 37 full-sized cards are mostly in Common time, with a handful in Compound time.

They include easy note values, rests, dotted notes, ties and syncopation. A couple of blank cards are also included for you to copy and use for your own additions to the pack!

pdf-logo  Flash Cards (download PDF)

The set is far from comprehensive, and is based on cards I used when delivering group keyboard teaching in schools – so I hope that you enjoy it as it is, and feel free to develop something similar to fit your own needs!

Some Games

Here’s a few ideas of games you can play with students which will put these flash cards to creative use.

Although the main focus here is on pulse and rhythmic development, the activities integrate many other aspects of musical learning, including the development of aural memory, sight reading, music theory and writing, improvisation and composition.

You’re sure to think of many more similar activities and games, so these are just a taster:

Sound Before Symbol

This is an aurally based activity that helps students make connections between notation and music.

  1. For this game select four cards (with the same time signature) that include rhythms previously introduced.
  2. Lay out the cards and start clapping the rhythm of one card repeatedly (as a loop). If you have an electronic keyboard you could add a drum beat while clapping, or you could use any suitable music recording as a backing track (but this isn’t necessary).
  3. Ask the student to join in clapping the same rhythm.
  4. Finally ask the student to identify which card you are both clapping.
  5. Then repeat using a different card (or selection).
  6. This game can also be extended using two cards as a repeated loop – now the student has to identify which two cards of the four have been selected.

Clapping Game

This activity helps a student develop instant visual recall of rhythms when sight reading.

  1. For this game select four cards and fix them where they can all be seen (e.g. stick them to the board/wall, or stand them on the book rest or desk).
  2. Ask the student to clap the card that you are pointing to repeatedly on a loop.
  3. When you are ready, switch to a different card.
  4. Increase the speed at which you switch card.
  5. Then try the same thing with two pairs of cards (making two bar/measure rhythms).

Create a rhythm

This activity uses the rhythm cards as the basis of composing and writing. It is excellent as a music theory activity because it links notational understanding to sound.

  1. Having clapped a set of several cards, invite the student to arrange four cards in order to create a four-bar/measure rhythm phrase.
  2. Clap the phrase together, and discuss what aspects of the rhythm work best.
  3. Make changes and try again.
  4. Finish by writing out the four bar/measure rhythm and clapping it one more time, this time using the version the student has written out.

Compose a Tune

This can be an extension to “Create a Rhythm”.

  1. Take a four bar/measure rhythm and set the student a home assignment of writing a melody using the rhythm.
  2. Encourage the student to compose an answering phrase using similar rhythms.
  3. In the next lesson the student can provide their written notation and play their melody.
  4. Check that what the student plays matches what they have written, as differences here will point to any misunderstandings they have about the rhythmic notation.

Improvisation Game

This is a really simple way to encourage a beginner to start making up their own improvisations.

  1. Select one rhythm card and ask the student to play the rhythm using one note, then two notes, and then three different ones.
  2. Expand the note pattern, using the same rhythm, to four bars/measures.
  3. Add a second card, and ask the pupil to include both rhythms in their improvisation.
  4. Expand this to 8 bars/measures.
  5. Continue adding more cards and extending the length of the improvisation according to the student’s ability and enthusiasm.

Detective Game

To finish off, an activity that links all the others back to the music that the student is actually learning.

  1. Take the cards used in previous activities, and pick the most difficult or newest rhythm introduced.
  2. Ask the pupil to find where that rhythm appears in a piece they are currently learning.
  3. Clap the rhythm within the context of the musical phrase in which it appears.
  4. Finally, play that phrase in isolation before going on to rehearse the full piece.

Good luck!

There are so many variations on these ideas, as well as many great alternative games and activities which work well with individuals, groups and classes.

So these are just offered as an inspiration to get you started, and I hope you have fun making up your own ways of using the cards to foster musical learning!

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.