Shake, jingle, scrape, click! There is an excitement that fills the room when I bring in a rhythm band activity. The children can hardly contain themselves and want a chance to be part of the “performing band.”
I set up the boundaries:
- Real band members play their instruments with respect. If I see you using the instrument inappropriately, I take it. No questions asked.
- We practice without the instruments first.
- I give lots of opportunity to play the instrument, and we will switch instruments.
Most of the boundary setting is not spoken, but I have to know them as the “band director.” I do verbally state the first boundary about respect and no questions asked if instrument is used inappropriately. I will then head right into the activity. “Here are the patterns,” I tell the children. “I will say it, then you say it.” I point to the rhythm as I say it, and again as the children say it.
I use the words #1 = Ta, Ta, ti, ti, Ta #2 = Ta, ti, ti, Ta, Ta #3 = Ta, Shh, ti, ti, Ta #4 = Ta, ti, ti, Shh Ta so that the children have something to say when they are not yet holding their instrument to play it.
Next, I demonstrate with one of the instruments for each rhythm.
Scrape, Scrape, scrape,scrape, Scrape.
Click, Shh (don’t play), click, click, Click, and so forth. (I don’t talk in-between each rhythm. I just do them and play a different instrument for each rhythm.)
Now is their favorite part! We hand out the instruments.
Notice the plastic Easter egg half filled with rice and taped with duct tape. Notice the #10 can and ice cream tub. Notice the paper cup with chop stick. Notice the small blocks of wood with sand paper glued to them. Notice the egg carton and dowel. The instruments do not have to be expensive. (You do not have to have all of these different types of instruments. Four different types will do. Just make sure you have enough for each child.)
It takes at least 3 to 4 helper adults to pass out the instruments. (The adults need to know that we will switch instruments so that they can tell the children who say, “I want the other one,” that we will be getting a chance at several instruments.) Remember we practiced the rhythms BEFORE handing out the instruments.
I stay at the front of the room and direct the children’s attention. “As soon as you have your instrument, play with me. If you don’t have one yet, just say the rhythms with me.” I begin immediately on rhythm #1 and we go through all four rhythms. Usually by the end of that time most of the children will have an instrument.
“Freeze!” (I get the children’s attention.) “All of the scrapers – – guiros, egg cartons, and sand blocks – – play rhythm #1. Ready, play.” (Only those children play.)
“Freeze! All of the shakers – – – egg shakers and maracas- – play rhythm #2. Ready, play.”
“Freeze!” (I actually am pretty strict about them freezing their instrument and hands, and being quiet before I will go on.) “All of the clickers – – rhythm sticks, tone blocks, coconut shells, and paper cups – – – play rhythm #3. Ready, play.”
“Freeze! All of the jingle and thumpers – – drums and jingle bells – – play rhythm #4.”
“Freeze! I need one person to be the leader for each group. Keep your instruments frozen as they come up.” I choose 4 of the children and they come to the front of the room. I am standing by the whiteboard or chalkboard that has the rhythms. The call to freeze gives the children a chance to self-regulate and self-govern, in addition to bringing some order to a very fun, but could-be-chaotic activity. <grin>
I know that it seems like that process will take forever, but I’ve timed it and it takes 2 and 1/2 minutes, and sometimes 3 minutes. It is the “set up” for this next part.
“Okay band! We are ready for the song. We will all be playing at the same time. Follow your leader! Play your part over and over again.” I count off, “One, Two, Three, Four!” We start the rhythm patterns. After the first time through, I sing the verse and chorus to “Follow the Prophet” as they play their instrument part over and over again. At the end of the song, I make a big deal about cutting them off and stopping the sound. “Now, the band has to stand and bow.” We all bow.
“Find someone with a different instrument and switch instruments!” I let the children mostly run this process themselves, but it might need some adult guidance from some of the three helpers. I give this process about 30 seconds, then say, “Ready—– One, Two, Three, Four.” We play the patterns again as I sing the song the second time. (Not much talk, just doing and singing and playing.) Again, a big finish and a bow.
Sometimes the children will be singing with me, but often they are too busy concentrating to sing. If you have time, switch instruments yet again so that you are singing the song a third time.
How is this helping them learn the song?
- Steady beat is a huge part of being able to sing any song, and we are physically practicing it with our bodies by playing the instruments.
- Working as a united whole is necessary to sing in a group, and we are giving intense practice in doing that.
- The children are intensely involved and participating, which captures any song being sung to those rhythms deep within their memory through the back door.
- The attitude with which the children learn a song will stick with them longer than the experience itself. The excitement, the concentration, the sense of satisfaction at having played in the rhythm band, the fun of doing the activity…. all of that sticks with the children’s memory of the song. Those emotions come up again when we sing the song. This activity is well worth it!