A Parent’s Guide to Beats and Rhythms

For the non-musician, sometimes musical terms can be a second language.  For many parents, some terms may be familiar, especially with the brilliant musical teachings of The Little Einsteins (Thanks Disney).   But it might not be easy to explain it to someone else, much less understand these concepts well enough to help your child develop these skills, or to know why it is important to do so.

Before we start, I need to clarify that this is for the parents.  PLEASE don’t feel compelled to try to use words with children to explain these concepts.  From birth to around 5 – 6 years old, they must simply feel each of the concepts in their bodies.

 

What is Steady Beat?  

 Steady Beat is the most fundamental property of music

and life.

It is the underlying, unchanging, repeating pulse. 

We each have our own internal steady beat, our heartbeat.

“… it starts as a heartbeat, and sprouted a rhyme”    – Village Do-Si-Do

 

You may feel this as you tap your foot or dance to a piece of music.

To illustrate a steady beat, tap with each underlined syllable as you sing the song.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,

How I wonder what you are.

The taps should have continued at an even pace throughout the song.

 

Make it a GAME:  Let the child choose a favorite song.  The adults clap the steady beat while the child sings the song, or as you sing it together.  Once it becomes easy, try tapping the beat on your child’s back, or on the bottom of their feet.

There are LOTS of ways to experience and practice steady beat:  See my blog posting:  “Catching a Beat” with very young Children.

 

TEMPO

The steady beat of a particular song may be fast, or slow; this is called Tempo.

The tempo of the steady beat may even change during a song.

Physiologically, beats that are slower than the heartbeat calm the body, allowing it to slow down and relax.  Beats that are faster than the heartbeat engage the brain, getting it ready to learn, and engage the body, getting it ready to move.

Make it a GAME:  First, the child and adult should FEEL each other’s heartbeat.  Choose a favorite lullaby song, sing it together several times, or listen to the recording while rocking to the beat.   Then feel the heartbeat again. 

Do the same with a favorite upbeat song while “dancing” the way it makes you feel – sung or recorded.  Feel the heartbeat.  Wow ! 

 

How does Steady Beat relate to Rhythm Patterns & Melodic Rhythms?

Rhythm Patterns

Within the steady beat of most ALL music, there is steady underlying pattern of a stronger beat followed by less strong beats.  In music, these are often carried by the percussion instruments, and help to keep the rest of the musicians playing together.

 At the most basic level, our human perceptions often “recognize” rhythms in a series of identical sounds, such as dividing clock-ticks into “tick-tock-tick-tock”. 

That is a basic 2 beat pattern.

 

MOST popular music from the Western side of the world has a 4 beat pattern, including marching songs, and folk songs like 

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,           How I wonder what you are

    1             2              3          4                  1           2              3                4

 

Make it a GAME:  Holding your child, or holding their hand, step forward 4 steps with the beat of “Twinkle Twinkle”.  Then walk backwards on the next 4 beats.  Continue forward and back throughout the song.  Make it more fun by standing in front of a mirror watching yourselves.  Or march toward and away from another favorite adult who is making funny faces when you get close.  Got it?  Try it with another song.

 

Waltzes and many lullabies contain 3 beat patterns, and have more of a swooping feel, such as:

 “Rock -a-  Bye    Ba—- by,  In the tree    top———”

      1  –  2  –  3      1 – 2 – 3      1 – 2  –  3       1  –  2  –  3

Make it a GAME:  Standing and holding your child, sing “Rock-a-Bye Baby” while swaying side to side.  Start moving the opposite direction on each count of ONE.  Feel the swinging motion.  Once that feels natural, change the way you are moving.  Try swooping the baby up to one side, then down and up on the other side.

 

Musicians around the world have enjoyed working with these familiar rhythm patterns in new and different ways, as well as exploring unique patterns of strong and weak beats.   Cultural music from Africa often includes a variety of beat patterns even within the same song. 

 

Melodic Rhythms

follow the melody of the music,

it is the beat of the words in the song

that are unique within each measure of that underlying rhythm pattern.

To illustrate this, clap along with each syllable in these songs  (with the X): 

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

    1         2          3          4  

   X     x     x     x    x   x   x

 

Notice that sometimes you clap TWICE for each beat (twink-le)

 

“Rock -a-  Bye    Ba—- by,  In the tree    top———”

      1  –  2  –  3      1 – 2 – 3    1 – 2  –  3       1  –  2  –  3

      x  –  x  –  x       x – — – x    x – x  –  x        x ———–

Sometimes you DON’T clap along with the steady beat (top).

 

These rhythms are unique within each set of beats.

A melody is a combination of pitch and rhythm, and is sung with the voice,

or played with a melodic instrument.

Nursery rhymes are basically melodic rhythms without pitch.

 Make it a GAME:  Find a book full of nursery rhymes.   Tap along with each syllable as you chant the rhyme.  The fun is to find new ways to tap.  Tap on different parts of the child’s body.  Tap on an upside down cooking pot.  Use a stick to tap on a tambourine as the child holds onto it.  Tap on the table of the high chair they are sitting in.        

For older children, play “Name That Rhyme” using just the beats of the words.  To make it easier for preschoolers, just make it a choice between TWO familiar rhymes that are in the book.  This makes it more concrete.

Experiencing beats and rhythms, repeatedly, in new and different ways,

is the best way to build a foundation for these skills.

 

Every class of Kindermusik is filled with beats and rhythms: in the rich recorded music, in the songs we sing together, in the Hello song we sing for each child, in the lap bounces that make us giggle, with the instruments we play, in the circle dances we share… in so many ways.

Kindermusik makes it easy and fun.  Come join us.

 

Find out WHY this is important for a child to learn at such a young age.

Learn about the developmental progression of steady beat.

Learn about the best teaching methods to help your child progress

Explore LOTS of ideas for each of these age group:  babies, walkers, preschoolers.

 

How do you share beat and rhythm experiences with your child?

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2 Responses

  1. […] Connections Benefits of Beats for Babies and BeyondA Parent’s Guide to Beats and RhythmsDevelopmental progression of Steady […]

  2. ‘Nursery rhymes are basically melodic rhythms without pitch’ ???! Better to keep the word melodic out of this guidance on rhythm – very confusing. Anyway if you sing a nursery rhyme it does have pitch. If you speak it it doesn’t (although speaking voice does have a smaller amount of pitch variation)

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