A Thought for Thursday: “Shake Up Your Curriculum With Rhythm Instruments”

This article of mine originally appeared in Early Childhood News:


”Shake Up” Your Music Curriculum With Rhythm Instruments!
By Abigail Connors 
As an early childhood professional, you’re well aware of the seemingly insatiable need of children to express themselves by making noise – a lot of noise! Rhythm instruments provide a uniquely effective way to respect and satisfy this need, while gently guiding young children toward expressing themselves musically. Why Music? Music is a natural outlet for creativity and self-expression. The sheer joy of making music in a group promotes socialization and a wonderful feeling of belonging. It can bring shy children out of their shells and calm more boisterous personalities. Music can stimulate slower learners and help attention–challenged children focus For many of us, singing is the most natural way to express ourselves musically. However, many children will not participate in singing activities, either due to cultural influences (some cultures encourage more singing than others) or innate personality traits (such as shyness). Singing often occurs in the context of learning a song, which involves listening, remembering words, understanding words, pronouncing words, remembering, and singing a tune – and coordinating all these skills in a very short period of time. This is quite a challenge for many, if not most, preschoolers.   In contrast, rhythm instrument activities are so easy! Most playing consists of  simply copying one motion at a time. There’s nothing to memorize, but because it involves the body in keeping a beat and feeling rhythm, children participate fully. And children love to play rhythm  instruments!To Get You Started Here are some easy and fun activities to introduce your class to playing rhythm instruments together.

This Is the Way We Play Our Sticks (Rhythm Sticks) (Sing to the tune of “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush”)               This is the way we tap our sticks, tap  our sticks, tap our sticks,             

                                      This is the way we tap our sticks, so  early in the morning.(Tap sticks to the beat while singing.)   Other verses: This is the way we scrape our sticks… (scrape the smooth stick against the fluted stick) This is the way we tap them soft…(tap very softly) This is the way we scrape them soft… This is the way we tap the floor… This is the way we tap our shoes…  (Stretch legs in front and tap on toes)

Rainstorm (Rhythm Sticks) Have the children hold their sticks, but don’t tap yet. Say: One day I was sitting in my house. It was very quiet. All of a sudden, I heard some light raindrops on my roof. They sounded like this (tap very lightly and slowly, have children join in). After a while the rain got a little heavier (tap a bit louder and faster) and then a little heavier and then it turned into a rainstorm! (tap very fast for a while) And then it stopped (lay sticks on floor). When kids know this activity well, let them take turns leading it.

Different Ways to Play Shakers (Shakers) Put on a tape of instrumental music with a steady beat. Have the children copy you as you play the shaker in different ways. Here are some ideas:  •   Tap shaker into the palm of your other  hand •    Hold shaker upside down and shake •   “Rub” shaker on the floor •    Shake high in the air •    Rub shaker on arm •    Hold shaker horizontally in both hands  and shake •    Shake “out and in” – hold arm straight out in front, then bring it back in •    Make circles in the air with the shaker •    Shake up and down •    Shake side to side •    Shake shaker behind your back •    Rub shaker on your tummy •    Gently tap shaker on your shoe 

The More We Shake Together (Shakers) This activity helps children explore different ways to play the shakers. Children should be sitting in a circle. Sing to the tune of “The More We Get Together”:              

 The more we shake together, together,  together,              

 The more we shake together, the happier we’ll be.              

 For your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends.              

 The more we shake together, the happier we’ll be.    (Shake the shaker while swaying gently left and right. On  “For your friends…” point out with shaker. On “And my friends…” point to self. Reverse for the following line.)    Verse 2. The more we roll together… Roll shaker on the floor like a rolling pin.   Verse 3. The more we jump together… Hold “stem” of shaker and make it “jump” on the floor.   Verse 4. The more we vacuum together… Glide shaker out and in on the floor like a vacuum cleaner.   See what other ideas the children can come up with. You may have running,  flying, hopping, and dancing shakers! 

Circus Tricks With Bells (Bells) It’s circus time! Put on some lively music. “The Entry of the Gladiators” (a traditional circus theme) is fun if it’s available, but any exciting music is good. Then try these amazing feats:    Juggling. (Don’t worry, this is not really juggling!) Each child has one bell bracelet. With hands close together, gently toss bells from one hand to the other hand and back. Gradually increase the distance between your hands. If you want to get fancy, try tossing bells up (gently, maybe six or eight inches high) and catching them with the other hand.   Spinning Plates. This is the bells version of the trick where they spin plates on long sticks. Spin the bell bracelet on your pointer finger. After a while try moving your hand up and down while spinning the bells on your finger. Try moving your hand out to arm’s length and back while still  spinning the bells. 

Bells Tightrope Challenge. This is tricky, but fun even when you mess up. Put a long strip of masking tape on the floor to be the tightrope. Here’s the hard part: Put the bell bracelet on top of your head and try to walk along the  tightrope without the bells falling off. Be sure each child has a turn. 

Sand Blocks Like to Clap  (Sand Blocks) Sing to the tune of “Skip to My Lou”:                

Sand blocks like to jump up and down,             

Sand blocks like to jump up and down,             

Sand blocks like to jump up and down,             

And then they like to CLAP! (Hold blocks upright and make them jump on floor; on CLAP, (clap blocks loudly)   Other verses:  Sand blocks like to scrape scrape scrape; (scrape blocks together) Sand blocks like to tap tap tap… (tap sides of blocks);  Sand blocks like to twirl around… (hold red handles and twirl blocks in air).

Conclusion Music is a vital part of children’s lives, and when they can make music themselves, it is immensely satisfying for them. Rhythm instrument activities are a wonderful way to share the joy and excitement of music with young children.

Abigail Connors is an early childhood music specialist. She is the author of 101 Rhythm Instrument Activities for Young Children, published by Gryphon House, http://www.gryphonhouse.com.


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