Darlene Abbott | Music Mom

Using Rhythm to Clean up Performance Material



Welcome!  It is my turn to blog for the Music Education Blogs 31 Days of Rhythm!  I am part of a group of fantastic music teachers and we have partnered together, in honor of MIOSM (Music In Our Schools Month), to share 31 days worth of rhythmic goodies.  Here we are on Day 15.  I can’t believe we are already half way through the 31 days.

Let’s take a moment to look at why we use rhythm syllables to begin with.  I really appreciate the way David Row explains it on Make Moments Matter.

Rhythm syllables were developed so that students could have a musical way to read rhythm. The ideas is that this system could get away from mathematical counting (which feels unmusical) while still showing durations and relationships between notes.  A rhythm syllable system gives the student a set of nonsense syllables or sounds to associate with written notation and beat formations.  Just as solfege syllables (Do, Re, Mi) give the student a tangible thing to say or think when representing an interval or set of pitches, a rhythm syllable system gives the student an easy way to understand note value.  Being able to “think/audiate” in rhythm syllables also helps students to decode rhythms that they hear, making dictation/memorization/performance much easier. 

However, it is fun to swap out rhythm syllables for words centered around a theme, food, a season, etc. I have some apple rhythm words and some pizza rhythm words that are undated and can be used anytime of year that I use in my class. For this post we are going to refer to those as fun rhythm words. Words like…..

  • “pep-per-ro-ni” or “moz-za-rel-la” for four sixteenth notes,
  • “pi-zza” or “ba-con” for two eighth notes,
  • “pan”, “pie”, or “crust” for a quarter note,
  • “me-di-um” for triplets,
  • “meat-lov-ers” or “pine-ap-ple” for eighth / two sixteenth note pattern,
  • “mmmm” for a half note,
  • “dominos” for two sixteenth/ one eighth note pattern.

Be creative!

One of the ways using fun rhythm words is most effective is when I need them to clean up a performance piece we are learning. Currently we are working on a piece that has a rhythmic speaking part. It mixes 8th note triplets and 8th notes and sixteenth notes. The kids were getting it for the most part but it was muddy. I used the “fun rhythm words” to duplicate the rhythm in the song. I placed the appropriate fun words under each beat that would help us clean up the rhythm.  We marched in place while saying the rhythm, had a small group keep a steady beat on drums or rhythm sticks, and made the rhythm notation with our bodies.

The next time we were working on the performance piece, we made the connection of the muddy rhythm in our song to the rhythm, with the “fun rhythm words”, that we had fun with in our previous class. We replaced the “fun rhythm words” with the original words from the performance piece and it was so much cleaner.

One of my favorite sayings is:

You can give a man a fish,

he can eat for a day. 

You can teach a man to fish,

he can eat for a lifetime. 


This is more than just a fun activity, it is a teaching technique that you can use with any performance piece you are teaching. Even if the section needing work is sung and not spoken as in the example. If you have other rhythm words that you like to play with, then use those.  The point is you are now armed with yet another technique that you can use, no matter what performance piece your kids are learning. The next time you are teaching a piece and a problem arises, you now have a method with which you can confidently fix the problem.

Thanks for sharing in the 31 Days of Rhythm and continue to check the Music Ed Blogs for more rhythm ideas for the rest of this month.







Movin’ & Groovin’ Part 2


In Moovin’ and Groovin’ Part 1, we talked about General Movement tips and Fun movement. Now, we will look at purposeful movements and how this benefits our students.

Purposeful Movements

  • Excercise. Movement, especially those to develop gross motor skills, often looks like exercise.  However, when paired with music, it develops the child as a whole. In music class, we call exercise “body engergizers,” it is still exercise. (smile)  Music Teachers need movement and Physical Education Teachers need music.  The two go hand in hand. The following quotes are as published in Early Child Connections. 

Music evokes movement, and children delight in and require movement for their development and growth.

Developmentally appropriate music activities involve the whole child-the child’s desire for language, the body’s urge to move, the brain’s attention to patterns, the ear’s lead in initiating communication, the voice’s response to sounds, as well as the eye-hand coordination associated with playing musical instruments

  • Steady Beat Movements. Movement helps to find the steady beat. This is also a precursor to pitch.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It really works!  Developing steady beat will develop coordination and pitch in children. Read the post on Pitch here to learn more. One of the most important points to remember when teaching steady beat is that you need to allow the focus to be on the beat.  Children, even though they are the same age, can be at different stages of development.  One child can sing while they are working on steady beat. Other children need to concentrate on one or the other. So, if you focus is steady beat, then don’t correct wrong words, just focus on the steady beat.

Early in my teaching career, I taught a First Grade Choir – ten boys and two girls. Pitch was scarce. I tried every trick I had been taught in my music education classes. Every activity and game we played, I tried to find an angle to teach pitch. Looking for some connection between pitch and some other developmental ability we would learn through music. Then I learned about Helen Kemp and her philosophy of steady beat being the basis for good pitch. So I revised my plan. Still using scale work and ear training, I became much more intentional about a steady beat. Finally improvement in the group as a whole. Steady beat improved, but so did their pitch.

  • Choreography Movements. Choreography with children is never going to be perfectly in sync and crisp.  However, there are a few things that we can do with our kids to clean it up. Make big movements hit on the beat. Or speak the movements in a rhythm that children can easily remember.  For instance the steps may include placing arms straight up in the air, then out to the sides, then down by their sides. I would say on the beat, “Up, side, down, repeat.” What about arms and pointing different directions or the face that some elbows are straight and some are bent?  This becomes and issue if you a holding the arms up for a length of time that the audience will have a chance to see the differences. If that is an important move that will be seen, work on it.  Stand several children up front with arms bent all the different ways that they will do the move, so that the other kids can see how bad it looks.  Everytime you rehearse that move, just choreography or with the song, make “much” about that move. (in a positive light of course.)  I know the children in my class or choir have this, when I tell them that we are about to do “_____” song. Then I will ask them, what do they think I will tell them to watch or listen for.  When they can repeat things like “straight arms, watch you for the cut off, etc.” then I know they have it.
  • Time Signature moves. I love to use moves to teach time signatures. When we use arms, I always start with arms straight in the air. From there the arms always go straight down on beat 1.  Next they could go in any manner of patterns to accomplish the time signature with which you are working. This allows for a very easy connection that when they are following the director, beat 1 is always straight down. When using legs, Beat 1 is going to be down, simply by the nature of a step.


Music is such a fun way to learn. Period.  Take the extra steps to plan the movements you will use in children, whether it is a Brain Break, or something specific you are teaching. Using movement successfully will not feel chaotic. As always you can email with quesitons. Thanks for reading!

Keep singing, (and moving),

Mrs. Darlene