The difference between the rhythm and the beat in music can often cause confusion. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t play an instrument or haven’t had music lessons before – here’s a simple explanation.
The beat is the steady pulse that you feel in the tune, like a clock’s tick. It’s the beat you’d naturally clap along to, or tap your foot to.
The rhythm is the actual sound or time value of the notes, which in a song would also be the same as the words.
How to Teach the Difference Between the Rhythm & Beat
Teaching the rhythm and beat to kids through familiar songs and nursery rhymes is the best way to start. 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.
[ Since publishing this post we’ve had a few queries; just to clarify these 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 to use together in a class for clapping, tapping, movement and rhythm games. However, they are not intended as worksheets to teach notation, but they are indeed preparation for this.
Over the many years that I have taught this lesson, I have found it by far the easiest way to let the kids actually feel it physically rather than just teach it to them on paper.]
Using Nursery Rhymes to teach the Rhythm & Beat
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.
How To Practice
- One person sings or says the words while clapping along to match the sound.
- Another person 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 this you can swap and take turns to practice both the beat and the rhythm.
- Follow the same pattern for both Incy Wincy Spider and Pitter Patter Pitter Patter.
- In Incy-Wincy, the “Tip-Toe” of the spider represents the beat. The stars represent the rhythm.
- In Pitter-Patter, the rain drops represent the beat and the stars the rhythm.
Make It A Habit
You can apply this technique to pretty much any nursery rhyme or children’s song. It’s a fun activity when introducing new songs too, and the repetition is a good way to learn a new tune.
So getting into the habit of always clapping or or tapping the beat or rhythm when you introduce a song is a really good practice. And one that kids really enjoy which is the whole point!
Check out this video for another explanation for the rhythm and the beat!
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