Rhythm Cards, Manipulatives for notation

The colors of these simple rhythm cards can be used to link the iconic color name with the sound.  Whether you use Kodály, Gordon MLT syllables or the Frank Erickson number system, these cards help you see what the students understand.  Observe and assess the students immediately without lugging papers home to grade.  The students can copy and check each other while developing confidence.  In the world of mathematics, teachers use manipulatives as one of five ways to demonstrate conceptual learning.  When the students demonstrate the concept in all five ways, they have mastered that concept.

Simple Rhythm cards are three inch squares in Zip-lock baggies.  Each bag contains: seven blue quarter notes, six purple eighth note pairs with one side beamed and the other flagged, five red quarter rests with one side a simple Z and the other a “Cursive” quarter rest, two half-note cards that are 3 x 6 inches with the rest on the back, six cards with four beamed sixteenth-notes with a single eight and two sixteenths beamed on the back, two 3 x 6 inch cards with syncopation-eighth/quarter/eighth.

Beginners-dictation without the paper/pencil.

Use the cards for rhythm dictation in four-beat patterns and soon eight-beat phrases.   Later, the students can illustrate phrase endings that create a lift or connector with eighth notes, or a cadence with a quarter note, half note or rest.  Once the students are familiar with dictation from the teacher, have them move to the exploration stage and share their own phrases.

Second level-notate simple rhythmic speech

Begin with simple words such as student names, animals or food.  Have the students begin with simple time with words that begin with a downbeat or crusis (ie. Michael, Margrette, Patrick, Ben).  When they have the concept of strong and weak syllables add words that begin with an upbeat or anacrusis (ie. Mariyah, Alonzo, Patricia).  Once the students are familiar with word accents, you can move to nursery rhymes in simple rhythm.

You will need another set of compound rhythm cards to notate most nursery rhymes in English.  Make your own from the examples below.  The colors don’t matter once your students are this advanced   Single eighth notes are three inches tall by one and a half inches long.  You’ll need a few of these for pick-ups.  Or, students can just overlap flagged eighths from the simple rhythm set.  If you need a single eighth followed by a quarter, just turn the card upside down.  Yes, the flags are flying the wrong direction, relax.

4 1/2″ by 3″ 4 1/2″ by 3″
Dotted quarter note Quarter note, eighth note
On reverse On reverse
Dotted quarter rest Three beamed eighths

If you want a simple way for students to notate rhythmic speech, put rhymes on adding machine tape. Lay out the rhythm first and write the text under to get the spacing correct, then laminate the long strips. Remind the students to place the rhythm cards over the text.

Third level- rhythms to be completed

Following the examples found in Music for Children, Vol. 1, pp. 64-66 have the students listen to the first half of a phrase, then complete the phrase. Have the students use their cards to notate their own answer. For more on this idea read Keetman’s Elementaria beginning on page 53.

Fourth level-creating complementary rhythms with a partner

Have pairs of students work to create complementary rhythm ostinati. Complementary means the two rhythms complete each other. Avoid more than two consecutive beats of parallel rhythm. Two consecutive beats that sound the same are fine, but if my rhythm and your rhythm match anywhere for three beats in a row, the listener’s ears weld the two rhythms together and cause aural confusion. In other words, if the two rhythms are not complementary or different enough, they sound like one part. Here’s a way out of parallel problems: “Slide it, flip it, put in a rest!”

I hope you enjoy this addition to your assessment arsenal.

Cheers, Brian Burnett

Update January 2015: Thank you to Stephanie Petry for sharing these Rhythm Cards, already sized and read for you to use!

Rhythm Cards – Manipulatives for Notation

Brian Burnett

Brian Burnett taught elemental music & movement, K-6 near Toledo, Ohio. Brian now presents professional development courses and workshops across the country. His work has been published in Macmillan/McGraw-Hill’s Share the Music and Spotlight On Music. He serves on the conference committee for the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.

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  1. Marcia Working on September 27, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Thank you for the downloadable manipulatives.

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