Rhythm is tricky. To be able to understand structures of time in relation to sound is not an easy task to do. Even today, I find myself facing new rhythmic challenges to figure out. As a piano teacher teaching lots of beginner students, I notice that the concept of rhythm is especially hard to grasp. When I reached out to parents and child-care professionals, they told me that children are very visual. While rhythmic notation is also visual on paper, the value of a quarter note, half note, dotted-half note is much less intuitive to them until they internalize what the notation means
So I wondered: How can I show rhythm to kids visually? I had tried teaching them how to compose, but the littlest ones still had trouble piecing the information together.
So I created Rhythm Rabbit!
Rhythm Rabbit is a game I designed to show rhythm fits within a 4/4 bar. Each of the quarter, half, dotted half, and whole note pieces are designed so they take up the amount of physical space equal to their rhythmic duration. For example, this dotted half note above takes up 3 spaces of the 4 spaces of a 4/4 bar. Not only do they see that the dotted half note takes up 3 spaces/3 beats, they have to find the quarter note piece to finish off the 4/4 bar.
I ask the student to build Rhythm Rabbit to get to his carrots, and they experiment with the note cards until they find a rhythm that fits. Then they have to make Rhythm Rabbit hop in rhythm towards the carrot. The little ones love this story!
If they have “holes” in their rhythmic path, I tell them Rhythm Rabbit would fall into the ground without a path! The children then understand that they must fill in the missing beats with something.
If they pick a rhythm that’s too long, I tell them that the long road covered up the carrot and now Rhythm Rabbit can’t get to it. Also, the excess of length against the main frame with the numbers is a good visual cue that it is incorrect.
I found this game to be incredibly successful in teaching the basic 4/4 bar with basic rhythm. In addition to playing the game, I ask the students to clap the rhythm of the road they built, to further solidify their knowledge. By connecting the visual cues with the audio cues, I feel as though I am bridging the gap between music and what they already know.
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