This December, warm up your students with this seasonal lesson opener!
Rhythm is the basis for all music. Students from beginners to advanced must constantly be working to develop their ability to understand and read rhythms. So, how can we devise a rhythm activity that will engage our students?
This ‘Secret Carol Sight Clapping Warm-up’ can be done in the first five minutes (or less!) of every lesson you teach. It’s easy to prep — just start with this blog post and you’ll be all set.
- It’s easy to organize. Just print my free printable rhythm sheets!
- It’s easy to remember to do because the activity is studio-wide.
- It’s a fun, instant way to start the music-making in your lessons.
- Every student participates at their own level!
- It’s an easy way for you to assess what each student understands about music notation and how well their sight comprehension is developing.
- This activity has a bonus feature involving audiation, which will be explained more below.
Step 1. Print and prepare the sight-clapping rhythms
On colourful paper, print my FREE printable ‘Christmas Carol Sight-Clapping’ sheets. Each sheet is a different level, so print each page on paper of a different colour. This will help you tell apart the levels of the rhythms in your lessons with students.
Cut the rhythms into strips, keeping the numbers.
Keep the tops and bottoms of the pages for your own reference. Students won’t use these.
Step 2. Print and prepare separate assessment pages
Tally how many students you have at each level, and print a separate rhythm page for each student according to their level. For example, if you have eight students at the beginner level who will be sight-clapping rhythms from the first page, print eight (8) additional pages of page 1 on plain white paper. Do the same for all three levels and all of your students. Keep these pages uncut and put each student’s name at the top.
It is advisable to organize them somehow: alphabetically by student name, by student level, or by the timing of your students’ lessons.
You will keep track of your assessments on these extra pages.
Step 3. Prepare rhythms for your lessons
This activity can be spread over several weeks. Each week choose two numbers/rhythms from each level, keeping the rest for subsequent weeks. Set out this week’s rhythms, two for each level.
Step 4. (Optional) Little festive touches
If you have a studio Christmas tree, you can use the rhythm strips as musical decorations. For a festival look, curl the strips of paper. To do this, pull the paper between your thumb and a pencil, over the front of the paper on one end and over the back on the other, to give a slight S-curve to the paper.
If you choose to use the rhythm strips as tree decorations, you can do the sight-clapping right at the tree. When your students arrive at their lessons, first direct them to your tree, and ask them to sight-clap the rhythms. You’ll know which ones are at their level by the colour of the paper.
Another festive touch is for the student to hold jingle bells in their hands as they clap.
Step 4. It’s time to clap
Ask your student to clap the rhythm. Here are some keys for success:
- I clap along with my students, but softer.
- I stand a little behind them, so I am out of their field of vision, to ensure that they are actually sight-clapping and not copying me.
- My students say something out loud as they clap: we use rhythmic words, or ta and ti-ti, or counting the beats (1 2 3 4, or 1-and 2-and 3-and 4-and, or 1-e-and-a 2-e-and-a), according to the student’s level and preference.
- If they need a second chance, no problem.
Step 5. Inconspicuous assessment
As your student is clapping, keep your attention on how well they do. Without mentioning it, quickly record your assessment on their sheet. This is as simple as having two coloured pencils. If they struggle with a spot, circle that place in the rhythm on their sheet with one colour (red). If they excel at a tricky spot, circle it with another colour (green). Notice the Christmas-y colours of red and green.
Over the weeks you will accumulate your assessments on many rhythms and will have an overall picture of each student’s comprehension and progress with rhythm, counting, metre, and sight-clapping (being able to physically clap the rhythm they read).
Because piano lessons are individual and can be custom-designed, this quick assessment will help you know how to further develop your program for each student.
Step 6. Bonus: ‘Secret Carol’ Audiation
Audiation is the ability to read music and imagine what it sounds like without playing it on an instrument. The reason this is a good time to introduce audiation is because Christmas carols are so familiar to most people.
After each student claps their first rhythm, mention, “This is the rhythm of a Christmas carol. Can you guess which one?”
Some students might continue to look at the rhythm only, clapping it again. Some might guess the tune from the rhythm only, others might not.
Some students may notice for the first time that the music is printed on the staff with a tune. They may go over it again, noticing the rhythm in conjunction with the shape of the tune. Some might guess, others may not.
As audiation is only a bonus challenge, there is no pressure whatsoever for your students to guess correctly, but it is very interesting to find out which ones have this ability. Make note of this on their assessment sheets as well.
Always fun with a purpose
The best thing about being a piano teacher is that we know how good music is for children, and it is wonderful that we are purveyors of such joy and skill. We get to have fun with our students, but we know fun isn’t a waste of time! Like this little lesson opener, when we have fun, we know it has a purpose! Observe your student clapping these rhythms, secretly see if they are able to audiate, and fold this knowledge into your future lesson plans for January and beyond. Hit the ground running in the New Year!
Get Your Free Printable!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year of blogging and would like to offer you — FREE — another one of the teaching resources I’ve developed for piano students. Here’s the Secret Carol Sight Clapping printable!
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Video of the week
White Frost on My Window from The Color Collection Junior, 10 expressive piano pieces to color your days, Elementary to Late Elementary piano solos. From gorgeous character pieces to the blues, from black-key pentatonic to disco, this collection has it all! White Frost on My Window is a delicate, expressive piece composed over an ostinato LH.