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!
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!
Get musical inspiration into your inbox!
Receive updates from Let's Play Music straight into your inbox!