How to Tell the Difference Between the Rhythm & the Beat

How to tell the difference between the rhythm and the beat in a fun and engaging way

If you don’t play an instrument or haven’t had music lessons before, it can be a bit confusing to understand the difference between the rhythm and the beat in music. The beat is the steady pulse that you feel in the tune, like a clock’s tick. It’s what you would clap along to, or what you feel you want to tap your foot to. The rhythm is the actual sound of the notes, which in a song would be the same as the words.

Using Nursery Rhymes to Teach the Difference Between the Rhythm & Beat

Teaching the difference between the rhythm and the beat to kids through familiar songs and nursery rhymes is a good way to start. You can print off these free printables which make a fun clapping or rhythm game for Incy Wincy Spider, Hickory Dickory Dock and Pitter Patter Pitter Patter.

Printables for Teaching Kids the Difference Between the Rhythm and the Beat using Incy Wincy Spider, Hickory Dickory Dock and Pitter Patter Rain Song

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[ Since publishing this post we've had a few queries; just to clarify theses printables are intended as a teaching aid to help teach the difference between the rhythm and the beat and the relationship between the two. They are aimed at preschool children and while they are very useful to use together in a class for clapping , tapping, movement and rhythm games, they are not intended as worksheets to teach notation but rather preparation for this . Over the many years that I have taught this lesson, I have found it by far the most successful way to let the kids actually feel it physically rather than just teach it to them on paper.] 

Hickory Dickory Dock is a good one to begin with because the beat is the steady tick tock of the clock which you feel throughout. The rhythm is the same as the words with a sound for each syllable. If you want to practice finding both the rhythm and the beat of a song or rhyme one person should sing or say the words while clapping along to match the sound, and another should beat or tap a tambourine to make the sound of the steady beat at the same time. Once you’ve got the hang of it you can swap and make sure take turns to practice both.

You can follow this same pattern for both Incy Wincy Spider and Pitter Patter Pitter Patter. In Incy Wincy, the “Tip-Toe” of the spider represents the beat, while the stars represent the rhythm. In a similar way, in Pitter Patter, the rain drops represent the beat and the stars the rhythm. You can apply this technique to pretty much any nursery rhyme or children’s song, encouraging the kids to either clap the beat/rhythm or tap it with an instrument.

Teaching Kids the Difference Between the Rhythm and the Beat

rhythm and beat

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(13) Comments

  1. Christina Hairston - Reply

    Your worksheets are so cute and this is something even my 1st graders struggle with. I teach K-5 music and the only comment or concern I have with these printables is that the beats are not evenly spaced. I have found it is very important to have each beat be equally spaced to help them understand the concept that each beat gets the same amount of time.

    • Hi Christina,
      Thank you :) This particular printable is intended more for the teacher really. Generally I would do this lesson with 3-4 year olds (i’m not sure what age K-5 are?) and find that they respond much better to a more movement based/interactive lesson than sitting down with worksheets. The printables here are more to illustrate to the teacher/reader rather than to the child. Having said that, I would definitely agree that if you were doing this activity with children of reading age that would be important – tricky when the words are of different lengths, but I will look in to it, thank you very much for your comment, and good luck with your class!

  2. Pingback: Free Music Lessons: How to Tell the Difference Between the Rhythm & the Beat | Free Homeschool Deals ©

  3. Amy @ No Greater Honors - Reply

    These are really neat! I have a few of my children that take piano lessons, and they work on some music theory along with it, and this would be a great addition to work on during the day – I have never even thought about the difference!

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    • Sara_LetsPlayMusic - Reply

      Thanks Rebecca, much appreciated! it was a great line-up on the Sunday showcase this week, thanks for including us!

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