Nature’s Second Instrument: Rhythm

It’s time to have fun with rhythm!

Explore possibilities of rhythm and form in Cyndee Giebler’s second installment on Elemental Composition!* Using just quarter notes, two eighth notes, and quarter rests, discover Cyndee’s ideas for using a simple 8-measure composition as inspiration for providing a ready-made musical context for just about anything you and your students are passionate about.  Simply stated, you can start having fun in a “snap!”

Let’s begin with three basic components: quarter note, two eighth notes, and quarter rest. These three items can be combined into two beat “blocks” in a variety of ways:

In the above examples, numbers 6 to 9 are a bit trickier than 1 to 5, especially for students still developing literacy skills. This is, of course, highly dependent upon the experience and skill level of your students, but for now, we will use only the first five blocks, like so:

Here comes the fun part: you can combine these blocks any way you wish to make an interesting rhythmic piece! This can be accomplished through the miracle of:


Think about simple forms for a moment. What are the possibilities? Here are a few:









That is a long list of possibilities created with only 3 components! Let’s make some music out of all of this.

  • Choosing two blocks, let’s make an A phrase using numbers 5 and 1;
  • Now, a B phrase with 4 and 3;
  • Finally, we will select a form from our list of possibilities: ABAB;

Our resulting piece would look like this:

As my students would say, “Mrs. Giebler, this sounds REAL!”  It sounds real because:

a) it IS real


b) it has form

Try it with your students if you haven’t done something similar already. They will feel very successful!

Here’s another example. A= 2+3 and B= 5+5.

The form is AABA. (Yes, it’s really AA’BA, but A’ is just a rhythmic variant of A). I added words for fun:

A musically satisfying piece in only 8 bars! Wait a minute, does it say manipulate the rhythm? The A section rhythm has already been manipulated somewhat, but the whole piece can be transformed through the magic of:

Dimunition and Augmentation

Diminution means assigning the given note values ones of shorter duration. The overall effect is one of an increase in tempo. Here is the original piece in diminution, again with words:

Augmentation is changing the original note values to ones of longer duration. While the tempo really has not changed, it will seem slower. Here is our example in augmentation:

We can combine all of these examples into an even bigger piece with three independent lines. Use the augmentation example as the foundation. Layer the original rhythmic example on top. Note that you will have to repeat the original example in order to accommodate the length of the augmented example. The example in diminution will need to be repeated four times:

Consider having students perform their compositions using body percussion, speech, small percussion, pentatonic melody, and movement – the possibilities are plentiful to have fun with rhythm!

*Read Cyndee’s first installment in this series on ACEMM’s website: Nature’s First Instrument: The Body

Cyndee Giebler

Cyndee Giebler lives and teaches in northeast Wisconsin. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and completed her master’s degree at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. She has presented workshops for American Orff-Schulwerk Association chapters around the country as well as state, regional, and national conventions. In her spare time, Cyndee enjoys composing and arranging music for classroom use, children’s chorus, and elementary strings.


The American Center for Elemental Music and Movement is to committed to promoting the artistic and pedagogical possibilities of elemental music and movement. In the belief that all human beings have the capability and need to express themselves through these media, the Center will offer educational programs and performance opportunities for children and adults. The goal of the Center's work is to provide learning opportunities for all ages that center around the intrinsic value of elemental music and movement experienced in an artistically meaningful way. Encouraging and creating opportunities for the study of pedagogical approaches toward facilitating experiences in elemental music and movement within and for a variety of communities is an extension of our main goal. This is accomplished through the creation of programs for educators and community members that explore and develop the skills to perform and create as well as foster the appreciation of elemental music and movement styles. We invite you to explore our growing resources and articles. Add you voice among our supporters! Our programs are expanding, and our impacts are creating positive ripple effects in classrooms across the U.S. and the world.

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  1. Mrad Hilda on November 14, 2018 at 11:47 am

    A huge thank you Cyndee from Beirut – Lebanon

  2. Kristine Olson on November 14, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Cyndee Giebler, you’re amazing. This is so clever and useful.

  3. Anne Benthien on February 3, 2019 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you, Cyndee for sharing your creative ingenuity.

  4. Jason Ferguson on August 24, 2019 at 12:55 am

    What a wonderful ideas! Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Jerry Nelson on February 10, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    I’m getting ready to teach a fun poem I wrote called, “Candy, Candy” just in time for Valentines Day. Cindy’s simple, elemental, teaching sequence will be a great way for groups of students to create and compose sections of a rondo using the names of their favorite candies (as building blocks for their compositions). I’ve never had students try combining 2 building blocks to create an A section and 2 different building blocks to create a B section and then in turn using those A & B sections to create their own compositions. Simple and smart! I can’t wait to try it. I think this may be my missing instructional step. Thanks, Cindy!

  6. Heather Tait on April 8, 2021 at 9:13 am

    Thank you so much! I love the progression of difficulty.

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