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

*Please note, this page contains affiliate links*

[ 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

We would love you to come and share your ideas for teaching preschoolers the difference between the rhythm and the beat with our readers over on our Facebook page!

For more fun rhythm games and activities, check out our Pinterest board below!

Follow Sara @ Let’s Play Music’s board Rhythm Games & Activities on Pinterest.

If you enjoyed this post, come and join us on Facebook, Pinterest and Google + or subscribe to our free bi-weekly newsletter for many more musical ideas!

(32) Comments

  1. Pingback: Freebie Friday: Music Resources - Monsters Ed Homeschool Academy

  2. Hi, I like the sample you given and I going to try another song by using “you are my sunshine” to teach my students which I’m the teacher don’t have any music background .

    How and what about the rhythm and beat the song of ” you are my sunshine” ?

  3. Pingback: 12 Months of Montessori Learning: Introducing Music Lessons

  4. I am a teacher who delivers in the Māori language here in New Zealand. I would like to thank you for your resource as this has helped alot to provide our kids a full understanding of the differences from Beat and Rhythm.


  5. Pingback: Sproutway | Hickory Dickory Dock: Clapping to the rhythm and beat - Sproutway

  6. Pingback: When The Saints Go Marching In Easy Piano Sheet Music - Let's Play Music

  7. I’m a dance teacher, but I’ve found your resources to be excellent tools for teaching the very confusing concepts of rhythm & beat to dancers of all ages! Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Pingback: Happy Birthday Easy Piano Music

  9. Pingback: The Grand Old Duke Of York - Soldier Songs - Let's Play Music

  10. Pingback: Top Ten Tips For Sight Reading - Let's Play Music

  11. 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!

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

  13. 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!

  14. Pingback: Hickory Dickory Dock : First Nursery Rhymes

  15. Pingback: Top 10 Songs and Activities of 2013 from Let's Play Music

  16. Pingback: The Sunday Showcase: Summer School | Here Come the Girls

    • Sara_LetsPlayMusic - Reply

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *