Eighth notes are worth half as many beats as quarter notes in 4/4 time… therefore they are played twice as fast as quarter notes. We count 1+2+3+4+… blah, blah, blah.
That was how I used to introduce eighth notes to my piano students. It was what the method book told me to do… and it was how I had learned about eighth notes as a child.
It was also how I would lose my students’ attention faster than you could play… an eighth note. For my young piano students, the concept of fractions was not something they had encountered in school… and they weren’t too thrilled to bump into it in piano lessons.
As I gained more experience in teaching, and as I began to see just how much rhythm should be a full-body learning experience, I quickly changed my approach. And so these days when I introduce eighth notes to my piano students… I break out the rhythm instruments!
If you too are interested in switching up your eighth note introduction, keep reading as we explore rhythm instruments as a teaching tool.
Why Use Rhythm Instruments To Teach Eighth Notes?
My “feel it first” approach to teaching eighth notes does not mean we ignore the underlying theoretical concepts. It simply means that before we dig down into the nitty-gritty, we learn by doing. Why?
- Using hands-on materials that are fun and interactive provides a lasting memory. Students catch on to the concept fast… committing it to their long-term memory.
- “Full-body learning” is a powerful tool that works especially well for young children. Studies are showing that children learn best when they are active and moving..
- Rhythm instruments allow you to focus solely on rhythm without worrying about pitch. Taking note-reading out of the equation allows your students to focus on eighth notes in isolation, allowing for a smooth transition back to the keys.
- Using rhythm instruments is the perfect way to include off-the-bench activities that are still coordinated with your lesson’s overall learning goal.
- Using rhythm instruments turns an “on-the-page concept” into an “off-the-page dance”. Feeling rhythm improves fluency when your students return to the piano.
5 Ways To Use Rhythm Instruments To Teach Eighth Notes
You can use rhythm instruments to teach any rhythmic concept, but I never, ever forget to bring them out when eighth notes are first being introduced (because hey… it’s a lot more fun than banging, shaking and tapping whole notes). 😉
Here are the 5 ways I use rhythm instruments when teaching eighth notes. All you need are some basic rhythm instruments (think simple drums, maracas, castanets etc.) and some eighth note vs. quarter note rhythmic patterns. After demonstrating how quarter notes and eighth notes differ, try the following:
1. Choose two rhythm instruments that have contrasting sounds
Designate one instrument to be the “quarter note instrument” and one instrument to be the “eighth note instrument”. Play through a rhythmic pattern using the appropriate instrument. For example, if your student has a drum and a maraca, she would bang the drum for each quarter note and shake the maraca for each eighth note.
2. Give your student a rhythm instrument and keep one for yourself
Designate one person to be the “quarter note person” and one person to be the “eighth note person”. Turn your rhythmic pattern into a duet, with each person tapping or shaking their chosen note value. Switch instruments and try again!
3. Give your student a shaker instrument
Brainstorm fun ways that your student can play the shaker instrument (above her head, behind her back, side-to-side, low to the ground). Next, choose just two of the brainstormed methods (one for quarter notes and one for eighth notes) and then have your student move accordingly while shaking the rhythm.
4. Give your student drum sticks and an instrument she can tap
Designate quarter notes to one hand and eighth notes to the other. Have your student tap out the rhythm, switching hands as the note values change. Then, switch up the designated hands and try it again!
5. Give your student two instruments and divide your rhythm into measures
Have your student practice tapping or shaking the rhythm while switching instruments with each bar line. For example, measure one would be tapped on a drum, measure two shaken on maracas, measure three tapped on a drum, measure four shaken on maracas etc.
Do You Use Rhythm Instruments?
I’m always so thrilled at the results when my students return to the piano. With the rhythmic concept of eighth notes completely internalized all that’s left is to match it to pitch! What used to be difficult quickly becomes second nature. And now we want to know…
Do you use rhythm instruments in your teaching? We’d love to hear from you! Share your rhythm instrument ideas in the comments below.