Rhythm Stick Uses

Rhythm sticks are used in many elementary and middle school music programs to help children develop coordination and a basic understanding of musical rhythm and notation and to improve their rhythmic memory and their ability to detect a pulse in music. Music exercises help to develop spatial reasoning skills and enable the students to learn about the basic elements of music. Physical coordination also improves from the use of rhythm sticks, since both hands interact in precise and controlled movements.


Rhythm sticks provide a great alternative to clapping. Young children, and even some adults tire quickly and may develop sore hands from clapping during extended rhythm training sessions. Having students clack two rhythm sticks together enables the teacher to monitor the classroom performance visually and aurally. A good activity for promoting the ability to identify a rhythmic pulse, also known as a beat, is to play or sing a song and guide the class in identifying the pulse by visually showing them the beat. The teacher can stand in front of the classroom and beat the pulse of the music with rhythm sticks, helping the students learn to identify the beat both visually and aurally.


In a classroom setting, rhythm sticks help students learn notation basics. When students see a quarter note, they should clack their rhythm sticks together a single time. A quarter note looks like a dark, filled-in circle with a stem coming off the side. The teacher must explain that half notes look like quarter notes that are empty inside the note head, and whole notes look like half notes without a stem. Half notes hold for two beats while whole notes hold for four. Demonstrate how to play these note values with rhythm sticks by playing each note value for the class. To indicate a half note, clack the rhythm sticks and hold them together, waiting until after the last beat of the half note to separate them. Students must mimic the teacher's actions after learning the note types.


Call-and-response games help to improve memory. The teacher articulates a simple pattern with rhythm sticks and asks the classroom to repeat the pattern, such as two-quarter notes and a half note. The teacher can then add additional rhythms to the initial pattern until the students no longer have the ability to recall the whole rhythm.


Students that have mastered other rhythm stick activities may begin to develop improvisation skills. This use for rhythm sticks helps to develop fluid intelligence and increases the students' ability to respond to new and changing environments. The students can sit in a circle; one student begins by playing a four-beat rhythm with rhythm sticks. Then the next student continues the rhythm in a logical manner, and the activity proceeds around the circle, with each student playing a rhythm that lasts for four beats. With practice, students will learn to respond quickly and create intelligible patterns that flow logically and organically.


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