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Reinventing Rhythm | Guest Post

Updated: Apr 15

hands holding a lightsaber against smokey blue and purple background

Reinventing Rhythm: Unique Activity-Based Approaches Geared Towards Expanding Your Students Understanding of Rhythm

Guest Post by Mario Licata

[HeatherAnne's note: While Mario references using these rhythm activities in lessons, parents can also use these to help their children. I especially love the lightsabers!]

Where would we be without rhythm? Take a moment to reflect: the power of a hip groove, how it has the ability to get us moving; tapping our feet and dancing our way through the day. Finding fun and engaging ways to teach rhythm to our students is one of the many vital components of a successful music education program.

Within this article, I want to share a few rhythm-based activities that my students not only find fun and engaging, but beneficial to their musical literacy. The activities discussed will work great within the music classroom, as well as private one-to-one lessons. Keep in mind, all of the activities mentioned in this article, as well as the other activities featured in Music for All: Activities for Every Classroom, are easily differentiated and adaptable making them worth storing in your tool box!

The first activity I want to share with you is called “Rhythm Duel.” This activity was inspired by my students’ love of Star Wars. For this activity, start by preparing pool noodles to mimic a set of lightsabers. Students will use their pool noodle lightsaber to duel out various rhythmic phrases. Duels should mimic the rhythmic phrase: hitting lightsabers on notes and putting lightsabers at their sides for rests. Phrases can be written on the board; on blank sheet music and/or rhythm flashcards can be used.

“Rhythm Duel” can be explored within any music setting, as students can battle each other and/or the teacher. This activity gets students moving and having fun, but more importantly, it has them interacting with rhythm in a unique way. The kinesthetic and tactile based experience this activity provides has really helped many of my students internalize rhythm, which in turn improved their playing!

The next activity I want to share with you is called “The Burroughs’ Way.” This activity was inspired by the approach used by both William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. For this activity, begin by handing out a pencil, scissors and blank piece of paper. Remind students of the current rhythms they have been learning about. Using those rhythms, have students write a rhythmic phrase. Once the students have written their rhythmic phrases, allow them to share them with the class and/or teacher by clapping said phrase. Once the students have shared their rhythmic phrases, have them take out their scissors. Using their scissors, have the students cut out each rhythm used, for example: if the student’s initial rhythmic phrase was three quarter notes and one quarter rest, they should cut each quarter note and quarter rest from the paper, leaving them with three individual quarter notes and one quarter rest.

Once the students have dissected their rhythmic phrases, let them know they can create new rhythmic phrases by rearranging the rhythms from their previous rhythmic phrase. Allow students time to create new phrases by “cutting and pasting” their previous rhythmic phrases. Once completed, make sure to provide students with time to demonstrate their understanding of rhythm by clapping the new phrase.

In reference to “The Burroughs’ Way,'' here is a great adaptation of the activity for a one-to-one instrumental lesson. Have the students choose a piece of music they are working on. Take the sheet music of said piece and make a photocopy of it. Before diving into the activity, have the students perform the piece as written. Once completed, hand them the photocopied sheet music and a pair of scissors. Following the directions stated earlier, have students “cut and paste” the piece, focusing on rearranging the melodic phrases; creating a new exciting piece of music. Once rearranged, have the student perform the piece.

As you can see, “The Burroughs’ Way” can be explored in multiple settings. This activity not only focuses on rhythm, but introduces elements of composition, while providing templates for early foundational skills in relation to improvisation. My students love the unlimited possibilities this activity offers them rhythmically. That being said, they really get fired up when they start rearranging melodic figures, as it opens up a whole new world of sounds.

I hope these activities provide a new avenue for you to explore with your students. If both you and your students find these activities not only educational, but fun and engaging, I recommend you checking out my latest book, Music for All: Activities for Every Classroom; which features over 200 content-based activities and is available for purchase directly from Amazon.


photo of Mario Licata, dark hair with facial hair, playing a banjo

Mario Licata is a father, educator, musician, and author. Mario currently teaches within the New Jersey Public School System, specializing in teaching music to students with developmental disabilities. His two books: Music for All: Activities for Every Classroom & Music for All: An Inclusive Keyboard Method Book are currently being used in classrooms throughout the world. 

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