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Songs for teaching rhythm to kids and young musicians

Bron, in Music lessons
Apr 21, 2021 | 3 min read

Are you teaching kids rhythm? Sometimes you want to teach with songs as rhythm examples – it’s a funner way to learn, while giving context to the rhythms. Here are some beloved popular songs with interesting rhythmic elements (in increasing complexity), appropriate for all ages – check them out! (Playlist available below.)

1. ABC Song

Sing this with me: A-B-C-D-E-F-G…
And there you have your first half note, or your first rest, however you want to teach it. It’s such a natural hold or pause that it’s a great way to demonstrate different note lengths.

Let’s keep going: H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P
And there you’ve got an intro to subdivisions, or eighth notes, with “L-M-N-O-P.”

And of course, throughout the song these occur again.

Alternative example: “Frère Jacques”, or “Brother John” for the English version. Similar rhythmic phrasing.

2. Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Since we’re talking about subdivisions, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is great for demonstrating the triplet subdivision with “merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,” as well as compound meter.

We recommend encouraging young learners to move to this song too – the lilting rhythms are great for them to embody a different feel.

  • Did you know you can use movement to help identify time signature?

3. Brahms Lullaby

A great piece to demonstrate triple time. The slow tempo also helps if you’re connecting movement to the song – you’ll just have to make sure no one falls asleep…

Alternative: “Edelweiss”, The Sound of Music

4. My Favorite Things, The Sound of Music

Another one from the aforementioned musical, and a fast-paced alternative to demonstrate triple time. If your students are more advanced, the hemiola at “When the dog bites, when the bee stings” is well worth discussing too.

5. London Bridge is Falling Down

Use this songs to teach dotted rhythms. Though the dotted figure only comes up in the title phrase of the song, there’s plenty of opportunity to create some rhythmic variations in the song. As an exercise, why not ask your students to add some dotted rhythms elsewhere in the song?

6. Un Poco Loco, Coco

A musically dynamic song from a beautiful movie – in 6/8 time with a sneaky hemiola in the beginning! For more advanced students, there’s a lot to explore with the different rhythmic accents within the band and in the vocals.

7. Here Comes the Sun, The Beatles

This Beatles classic is rife with syncopation, and the occasional 4-over-3 polymetric drum hits between verses would be especially fun to unpack.

Enjoy using these songs to teach rhythm!

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