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.
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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.
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