Kindergarten Percussion Activities

by Laurel Cleary

Percussion education is easy to introduce in kindergarten because children naturally love music and rhythm. Percussion activities benefit children in many ways: They increase their body and spatial awareness; they enhance aptitude in math, science and the arts; they improve large and small motor development; they teach the satisfaction of goal achievement; they encourage group participation; they help with concentration and listening skills; and they augment self-image and self-assurance. Percussion instruments are readily available to purchase or can be made from easily obtainable materials.

Simple Activities for Rhythm and Keeping Time

Rhythm imitations are good for a five-minute class warm-up before other musical instruction. Clap or play on a rhythm instrument a short rhythm and have the students clap or play it back to you. Variation: Use a combination of claps, stomps and other sounds. Make it into a game. Each student takes a turn and must sit down if he doesn’t tap out the correct rhythm. The last child left standing wins. Karaoke Percussion: Select music to which the students will add percussion (choose familiar tunes with a cheerful, fast tempo). Decide on the rhythm ahead of time--on the beat, off the beat (harder), only on alternate beats or only on the first and last beats of a measure. Let the children listen to the song first and clap along so they get a sense of the beat.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Children sit in a circle, each with two rhythm sticks. They sing the song "Baa Baa Black Sheep" to a rhythm of three quarter note taps with the sticks, then a quarter rest. The teacher walks around the inside of the circle and, when the song lyrics reach “master,” “dame” and “little boy,” she points at a student, who then rises and enters the center of the circle to exchange his rhythm sticks for one of an assortment of other rhythm instruments displayed there. He keeps the beat on his new instrument while the game continues.

Talking Drum Game

The talking drum game is great for teaching rhythm and listening. The teacher uses a drum to create a rhythm and asks children to make their feet do what the drum does. If the drum beats a skipping pattern, the children skip. If it beats a loud pattern, they stomp. If it beats a soft pattern, they tiptoe. No running or bumping is allowed or they are called out. When the drum stops they must freeze. If they move, they are called out. The pattern can change from slow to fast, loud to soft. This helps kids experience rhythm by making their feet follow a pattern.

The Rhythm Jam

A rhythm jam is a chance for kindergarten children to express themselves and build community. Gather everyone in a circle, choose instruments and then begin. Let everyone slap, pat, clap, tap, shake and sing at will. This will demonstrate what chaos sounds like. Then start a rumble, where everyone plays steadily and fast. While the children are rumbling, raise your hands and arms and say, “Play louder!” Then lower your hands and arms and say, "Play softer.” Once the children get that idea, divide the circle in half. Give one half circle the "Play Louder" signal and the other half circle the "Play Softer" signal. Then play a simple rhythm and have the children echo it. Say a short phrase and tap out its rhythm: “I--like--ap-ple-sauce” (1--2--3-4-5). Finish by having everyone play a simple steady four-count rhythm very softly and then add voices, repeating lyrics everyone knows, such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

A Rhythm Story

Give each kindergarten child a set of rhythm sticks. Tell the children a story that involves different rhythms. Perhaps it has a character who walks along: tap-tap-tap. Then she hears someone running: fast tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Then something goes CRASH: loud TAP! Then she gets scared and begins to run: fast tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Then it begins to rain: fast random tapping. And so on. Be creative. This percussion activity makes children think about rhythm in terms of its emotional impact.

The Orff-Schulwerk Music Education System

The Orff-Schulwerk system, developed by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman, is a system of music education that incorporates percussion activities. It is based on things kindergarten children naturally like to do: sing, chant rhymes, clap, dance and keep a beat. It uses poems, rhymes, games, songs and dances accompanied by clapping and stamping or by drums, sticks and bells, wooden xylophones and metal glockenspiels. Based on traditional music and folklore, the Orff-Schulwerk system believes that movement and music should promote activity and joy. It uses percussion activity as an important part of its approach to teaching music.

About the Author

Laurel Cleary is based in Northern California. She has written for publication since 1992 on a variety of topics including parenting, science, faith and music. Her stories have appeared in “Welcome Home,” “Overtones," in church publications and online. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in geography from the University of California, Davis.

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