Fun With Rhythm Dots

Okay, okay, I know that for some folks, tik-tok is just a dirty word! I understand. But, I have to share with you this great idea for a student rhythm activity that I gleaned from tik-tok.

Tik-Tok user Austin Gannon (@babyaustin95) is a percussionist and posts himself using “rhythm dots” to play two-handed rhythms.

@babyaustin95 Reply to @chiarichick GET THE WHOLE FAMILY TO DO IT #mom #familyfun #familychallenge #rhythmdots #mommy #80s ♬ original sound – Austin Gannon

If you explore his account, you’ll see him playing rhythm dots with some pretty complex polyrhythms as well as more simple sequences. I’m always on the lookout for off-the-bench activities that I can use with my non-elementary students. There are SO many games and activities for students who are still learning the notes on the staff, but it’s harder to find things that are fun-with-a-purpose for the more advanced ones. This is an activity I can use for first year students as well as my most advanced. You don’t even have to be a piano student to have fun with this! Homeschoolers and parents looking for a rainy day activity, this is for you, too!

I used index cards and dot stickers. The “cups” I’m using are actually small plastic storage containers from my kitchen. He seems to be using little fast food condiment cups, but I find that something more sturdy works best with children. The cards with single dots represent quarters, and the 2 dots represent eighths, but I didn’t tell the students that. I let them tell me. (heh, heh, heh)

In the following video, you can see that I decided, on a cold day in January, to bring the beach into the studio! Well, it was actually my dining room because that’s where I had a table big enough. I spread out a beach towel, and put on some Beach Boys, and we tapped along. (Scroll down to see a list of Beach Boys songs with very approximate metronome speeds if you’d like to do the same!) One of my parents loved this and said she might make up some cards to use at home. We even brainstormed about the possibility of this being a good activity for seniors and dementia patients.

I do this with students who have not encountered eighth notes yet without saying anything about them being eighth notes. So, they are internalizing those rhythms with large muscles before I ask them to do it with the small muscles of their hands. They now have a physical reference for it ahead of time. Any time you can do that, it’s very helpful! (See my video about setting up success ahead of time for legato pedaling.)

Some students caught on quickly and others needed me to turn the music off, set a slow speed on the metronome, and let them just play quarters with one hand only, layering in the eighth notes after that was secure, and gradually work up to playing with one hand along with a slow tempo song. To make this more difficult, you can make cards to represent triplets or 16th notes. You can set up 2 against 3 rhythms or 3 against 4. You could incorporate rests by using a different color dot to represent the rest. To make it easier, do just a single line for one hand.

Hope you enjoy this activity as much as we did! Here’s that list of Beach Boys songs:

Kokomo, approx 57 bpm

Deuce Coup, approx 68

Good Vibrations, approx 74 bpm

California Girls, approx 112 bpm

Sloop John B, approx 122 bpm

I Get Around, approx 138 bpm or half-time at 69

Fun, Fun, Fun, – Surfin’ USA – Surfin’ Safari,  approx 157 bm, or half-time at 78

Explore More:

I have a streaming course available for students who are interested in learning the basics of chords to play pop music or their own improvisations and compositions! It’s called I Want To Play Chords! I start right at the very beginning and give you the tools to learn to find and play basic chords and to use websites like Ultimate Guitar to play the pop songs you love. Check it out here!

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