Last week I spoke about teaching the kids how to learn new rhythms through the steady beat ~ click HERE to read. This week I want to talk a little about beats and length. We don’t really teach this. On a whole, we don’t single out notes and have kids explore counting the beat to them. It is considered too cerebral and not musical enough….and believe me, I have certainly run into this! Today, in fact, being the case in point, but that is for another day!

So I took out a half note and asked the kids how many quarters would fit into it? (I did this with second graders on up.) Two, they answered. “OK, so if I am saying a red steady beat… red, red, red red, red, red, etc…, how many reds would I count while I hold the blue?” “Two”, they answered once again. “Right!”, I said! So we did it; I counted the reds on my fingers while they said the blue. We practiced this for awhile. I then did this with the yellows and the terra cottas. (I then went on to have them figure out counting the grey.)As expected, the kids needed some help in counting while holding a note, but I treated it like a game. I even challenged them to see who could count in their heads and sing the note by themselves. Some kids could and some had a hard time, but we ended up having a big laugh over it. I tell them when I am pushing them. I will say that “This may be a bit too hard, but I always like to see what you can do”. I also am clear that if they can’t do it, nobody cares. It’s for fun! This works well, as it gives them an opportunity to see what they are capable of without any pressure to get it perfect.

Having kids start to count various notes in their head while they sing a length of sound is an important exercise. It emphasizes the relationship between each of the notes and solidifies the concept of the steady beat versus the rhythm.

If you have read my blogs long enough, it is easy to tell that I seldom believe what the standard says kids should learn at what time. Yes, sometimes, the general thinking is correct, but often times we underestimate our students. We are so set in what “the research” says (..and that can be disagreed upon!) that we forget to check in with our kids and see what they can do. More often than not, they will blow us away!!

So I check in. I push them and see what happens. Sometimes they exceed my expectations and do beautifully ….and sometimes I blow it and they look at me like I am nuts, but in the end, they know that I think they are smart and capable students! This, above all else, is the message I want them to remember as they go through school!!