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Lessons: Hand Drums and Rhythm Sticks

Lessons Utilizing Easily Sterilized Instruments

Roger Sams shares a collection of favorite music lessons that are perfect for teaching in person or remotely. They utilize hand drums and rhythm sticks which are easily sterilized and can be substituted with body percussion and found sound for students who are learning from home.

Hand Drums, Rhythm Sticks

  • Teacher recites poem. Students listen for repeated patterns.
  • “Did you notice any patterns that repeated?” (Hand drums. Rhythm sticks.)
  • Students join teacher on the repeated pattern. Listen to the contrasting pattern.
  • Students recite entire poem, with teacher and then without teacher support.
  • Teacher models body percussion. Pat on “hand drums.” Clap on “rhythm sticks.”
  • Students join teacher on poem and body percussion.

Transfer body percussion to hand drums and rhythm sticks. Perform with spoken poem.

Composition Activity

  • Use these hand drum and rhythm sticks cards to compose 8-beat patterns.
  • Each card is a 2-beat rhythmic building block.
  • Students arrange four cards to compose an 8-beat pattern.
  • Repeat that pattern two times as a B Section. Perform with the poem in ABA form

The Robin and the Squirrel

  • Due to the difficulty of reading the anacrusis, teach the poem by rote.
  • Clap what the robin said and pat what the squirrel said.
  • Support the students in figuring out how to notate those two rhythms.
  • Say the poem, but when you get to those patterns, have the students play them rather than say them.
  • Add the final body percussion sounds at the final cadence.
  • Transfer clapping to rhythm sticks and patting to hand drum.
  • Consider using this final cadence, following the last word of the rhyme, as an opportunity for three beats of rhythmic improvisation. You could also make it a four-beat improvisation by having the students begin improvising when they say the word, “stew.” You may wish to notate all of the possible rhythms that the students can play in three beats.

Hetty Hutton

  • Read rhythm of poem, using syllable system of your choice.
  • Add text.
  • Chant poem and clap rhythm simultaneously. Practice until students are independent of teacher.
  • Students chant poem and clap. Teacher chants ostinato and pats.
  • Rote teaching of ostinato using simultaneous imitation. “Join me when you’re ready.”
  • Divide the class in half. Half performs poem/clapping. Half performs ostinato/patting.
  • Transfer clapping to rhythm sticks and patting to hand drum.
  • If students are developmentally ready, consider using this simple hand drum ostinato to introduce down and up strokes on the hand drum. “Down, Up, Down, Rest.”

Click here to download a pdf of these lessons.

Roger Sams

Roger Sams retired from the music classroom in 2013 after 31 years of teaching music in public and private schools. He has served as adjunct faculty, teaching methods courses and supervising student teachers at Cleveland State University and has been on the faculty in teacher education programs at the University of St. Thomas, Cleveland State University, Akron University, the University of Montana, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and other venues throughout the US. Roger is a regular presenter at state, regional, and national conferences, has served on the AOSA National Board of Trustees, and has worked with teachers and/or children in Canada, China, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Poland, and Scotland. He currently serves as Director of Publications and Music Education Consultant at Music is Elementary ( Trained in Gestalt therapy, Roger is interested in the power of choice in the artistic process, teaching, and life. He is the co-author of “Purposeful Pathways: Possibilities for the Elementary Music Classroom” with Beth Ann Hepburn. He has published works for children’s choirs in the Crooked River Choral Project series and a collection of rounds and partner songs entitled, “A Round My Heart.”

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  1. Melanie Madill on January 20, 2021 at 4:48 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful free resource 🙂

    Melanie Madill from Edmonton Alberta Canada

    • Roger Sams on January 21, 2021 at 9:58 am

      You’re most welcome, dear Melanie. We’re glad that you find these resources helpful.

  2. Alli Grebe on January 20, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    Mr. Sams, Thank you for sharing these inspiring drum and rhythm stick lessons. My wheels were turning as I read through each plan. I’m excited to give them a try!!
    I have a question about the “Hand Drums, Rhythm Sticks” activity. Why is a rhythm written in measure three on the vocal line? Why isn’t the vocal line a whole rest? Are we supposed to make a sound or something?
    I look forward to some clarification on this! Thank you!!

    • Roger Sams on January 20, 2021 at 6:01 pm

      Dear Alli,
      You are both good and quick! I made a mistake when making that score and forgot to put the text in that measure. The text for that measure is “Making lots of music with”.

      • Teaching With Orff on January 21, 2021 at 9:39 am

        Thanks for the catch Alli! Roger provided an updated score and we have updated the post and pdf above. – Your friends at Teaching With Orff

  3. Edna Broadhurst on January 20, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    Remote music teaching presents so many challenges. Thanks for this great lesson. I am looking forward to sharing with my Kindergarten and 2nd grade student.

    • Roger Sams on January 21, 2021 at 9:57 am

      You’re most welcome, dear Edna. These are indeed challenging days, yet we’re all working together to do the best we can to enrich the children in our care with opportunities to make beautiful music. Thanks for the work you do in the world. You make a difference.

  4. Lucien Saurette on January 21, 2021 at 11:42 am

    Many things come with change, some bad, some good, some hidden. Thanks for this good!

    • Roger Sams on January 24, 2021 at 2:47 pm

      You’re most welcome, dear Lucien. Thank you for the beautiful work you do in the world. Our music teacher friends are doing heroic work and we value you so much.

  5. Jennifer on January 22, 2021 at 9:51 pm

    This looks so great! I can’t wait to use it!

    • Roger Sams on January 26, 2021 at 8:48 pm

      I hope you find some of the lessons helpful.

  6. Stephanie Brueggeman on February 8, 2021 at 7:29 am

    Thank you so much for this wonderful lesson! Roger, you are a Rockstar and so very generous for sharing your abilities with the world.

  7. Roger Sams on February 8, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    You’re very welcome, Stephanie! Have a beautiful day.

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