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Prepare Your Students for Music Centers

I had done a few different centers in the past, mostly with my upper grades, and not very well thought out. This year though, one of my personal goals was to incorporate centers in a way that was well-planned, gave students lots of ways to practice a concept, and gave me more than one way to assess students.

I'll have another blog post coming soon about the centers I did, or you can see a video of them on my Facebook page.

Today though I want to talk about how to prepare your students for centers in the music room. Before really diving in to centers this year, I talked to some classroom teachers to learn more about how centers worked in their rooms. Each person I talked to said, take the time to go over each center with the whole group before ever dividing the class for centers. Since I don't have as much time as a classroom teacher (my classes are 30 minutes and are back to back), I decided that instead of trying to cram it into the beginning of a class period and then starting centers that day, I would take a class period to discuss all my centers. 

So I'm going to share with you how that day went.

Since this was my first time doing centers at my new school with these students, I had no idea how long it would take to explain all of the centers and how everything would work. I figured if I have lots of extra time, we will play some singing games that I pulled patterns from for these centers, but this actually took about 25 minutes with both of my classes.

I brought my classes in and had them go to their assigned seats in front of the board. I said that we would be doing something kind of new in music the next few times we have class so I wanted to share with them about it today so that we could spend all of our time in centers the next two times. 

Instead of having all of the centers spread out around the perimeter of the room, which is where I put them when we were actually doing centers, I lined up all my centers at the front of the room under the board. 

On my computer, I had the zip file that contained all of the PDFs for each file pulled up so that as I was going through them with the whole group, if I wanted them to be able to see something better, I could show them the PDF version instead of the  tiny cards I was holding for some of the centers.

We walked through all of the centers in order. I read through the directions and we "played" each center one or two turns. For some centers I would have a small group of students come up and be the demonstration group as the class watched. I asked if there were any questions about each center before moving on to the next one. My students knew that they needed to ask any questions they had on this day so that they wouldn't come up asking me questions on the actual center days. The students were really interested and engaged the whole time. I think there was a little bit of mystery to it, like "OOO, I wonder what is going to be at the next center" or "I wonder what those manipulatives are going to be for" and that kept them really focused on what we were doing.

Students asked good clarifying questions about the individual centers. They also asked about their groups. I have about 28 kids in each class and set up 8 centers. Most of my groups had 4 students in a group, some had 3. I assigned all groups by typing up a list. I emailed the list to their teacher and asked their teacher to line them up in that order (so the four students in group 1 are first, followed by group 2 and so on....) the next time they came to music. I also had her double check my groups to see if there would be any issues that I maybe hadn't foreseen. This was a really good idea because the next time they came to music, I met them in the hallway and they were all in the right order. I had the centers so that center 1 was closest to the door and then they went in a circle around the perimeter of the music room, so as the students followed me in, I basically dropped off four at a time in the order they were in at each center as we went around the room and I was with the last 3 or 4 students at the "teacher center", center 8. I didn't have to waist any time putting kids in order or reviewing directions for any of the centers. I had directions for each center posted at each center in case they forgot or were absent when we went over the centers, but there seemed to be no issues with students knowing what to do at each center. I only had one student come up to me the entire two days of doing centers and it was because of an issue with a group member, so I think that is pretty darn good for our first time!

I hope this gives you maybe a new idea about how to prepare your students for centers so that they feel set up to succeed at each one without needing to ask questions during centers. I feel like taking that day to go over them at a relaxed pace, sending the centers groups to the teacher, and having students come to music on centers day already in order really helped everything to go smoothly.

Do you have other ideas that I haven't thought of? Share below!

Wanting to take the guesswork out of creating centers? Here are centers sets I've created and used with my classes:

10 Games for Rhythm Flashcards

My Kodaly Level 3 teacher, Susan Tevis, would say "no drill and kill", meaning music should always be a joyful experience, never drilling for reading.

So today, I wanted to take a look at rhythm flashcards and share 10 games that will provide students with great opportunities to practice rhythm reading skills without killing the joy.

1) Heads Up, Rhythm Up

Think back to those days of bad weather and indoor recess when your class played "heads up seven up". Here's a musical spin on that fun game.

Directions: Choose 7 students to come up front. Tell all other students "heads down all around." (You could turn the lights off if desired). Each of the seven grab a rhythm card and place it at a student hiding their eyes. Give students 10 seconds to place cards and return up front, then say "heads up all around." Go to each student with a card. After the student performs the card, they guess who gave it to them. If they are correct they replace the person. If not, they stay where they are. At the end they each tell who they gave cards to And then it starts over with the next round.

Used with permission from Karla Cherwinski

2) Rhythm Tic Tac Toe

Directions: Set the rhythm flashcards out in the shape of a tic tac toe board upside down. Students are in teams (x and o). 

Easier way (reading card): A representative of each team chooses a card and has 4 seconds to look at the card. The card remains face up and they have one chance to read and clap the card correctly. If they do they put their x or o in place of the card. The first team to three in a row wins. If someone is incorrect, the card stays on the board.

More challenging (memory): A representative of each team chooses a card and has 10 seconds to study and memorize the card. After that they flip the card over and have one chance to speak and clap the card correctly. If they do they put their x or o in place of the card. The first team to three in a row wins. If someone is incorrect, the card stays on the board.

Grab some FREE X and O cards that will be the same size as my rhythm flashcards here.

Used with permission from Katie Reinke

3) Sparkle

Directions: Students stand in a U shape. Teacher shows a rhythm card. Say the first rhythm card is ta ta ti-ti ta. Student 1 says and claps ta, student 2 says and claps ta, student 3 says and claps ti-ti, student 4 says and claps ta, student 5 says sparkle, student 6 sits down. Then you keep going till everyone is out. 

You can start easy by pointing to where you are on the card, but as you go you can make it harder by not showing them what is next (this forces them to pay attention), or by saying if they forget to clap they are out. 

It helps to do the first round as practice with no sparkle sit downs so everyone for sure gets at least one turn. 

Used with permission from Jenn Roden 

4) King of the Mountain

This is a really fun practice game for upper elementary and middle school! I also love this game for older beginners because it is an easy way to take those easy ta and titi rhythms and really make a more challenging game.

Directions: Each student has a 4-beat rhythm card, each card is different, no repeats. Students form a standing circle. They put their cards on the floor at their feet, after they've learned their rhythm. (Or you could do a seated circle with the cards in front of you). The "king (or queen)" starts. The person on their left is at the "bottom of the mountain". The king starts every round by clapping and saying their rhythm, then someone else's rhythm. The student whose pattern was said second must recognize it's their card. Then, (hopefully) while keeping the beat steady, they clap and say their card, then choose someone else's card. If anyone makes a mistake or takes too long, they go to the bottom of the "mountain" (to the left of the king). Then, that hole is filled by the rest of the class, filling up that space by moving up. If the king gets out, the person to his/her right is the new king and the old king is now at the bottom of the mountain. The goal is to get to be the king of the mountain. When I play with my students I usually start out being the king the first several times because it goes back to the king so frequently. Once students are more comfortable with the king, choose one of them to be the king to start with.

You can use regular rhythm flashcards for this game, or you might find it helpful to print specific cards that can be folded in half and set up in front of students like a tent so they can read their own rhythm as well as everyone else's and no one is having to look upside down a the rhythms. 
Amy Abbot has some in her store here.

5) Composing 

In small groups of about 4 students, have students select four rhythm flashcards and choose what order they will go in. They can then practice their composition by clapping and reading the cards.m
They can hold up their composition for the class to play, or leave them on the floor and rotate through each group's compositions like centers and read/clap/play every group's composition. Another idea for this is to leave a different set of classroom percussion instruments at each group so they play a different instrument at each one. It's a great way to get out and use some of those instruments that get used less frequently. You could also take that a step further and have them notate their compositions.

6) Use flashcards as a rhythmic transition between two songs

This is SUPER simple, but it does take a little pre-planning to make sure you grab to right flashcards. 
You could have students clap the rhythm of the last phrase of a song, or even put each phrase in, then a few random cards that are not in the song that you are leaving or the song that you are moving to, and then your last flashcard should be the same rhythm pattern that starts the new song and off you go!

Example 1 (Going from Starlight Star Bright to Lucy Locket)
ta ta ta ta (Starlight phrase 1)
ta titi titi ta (Starlight phrase 2)
titi ta titi ta (Starlight phrase 3)
titi titi titi ta (Starlight phrase 4)
ta ta ta titi (random)
titi ta ta ta (random)
titi titi titi titi (first phrase of Lucy Locket)

This is also a great way to keep students engaged as you move from one song to another.

7) Rhythm Whispers

In groups of 3 students sit in a line. The front person has a white board and is the "writer." The "middle man" will whisper the rhythm to the writer. The person in back is the "reader" who goes up to read a rhythm flash card. They have 10 seconds to read and memorize it and then go back to their lines to whisper it to the "middle" man. The middle man then whispers it to the "writer" and he/she writes it down and must come up to ring the bell at the front of the room.

Another way to do this would be to only tap the rhythm pattern on the shoulders of the person in front of them and the first person in the line writes it. 

You could make it so that each line has different rhythm flashcards, the same ones but in a different order, or the same ones in the same order. Whatever fits your needs best.

Used with permission from Gail Anderson

8) Play with recordings

Students play rhythms from flashcards on rhythm sticks or another non-pitched percussion instrument with recordings. This could be done as an ostinato pattern that is repeated, or you could rotate through a set of cards for the students to play.

9) Name that Tune

Use rhythm flashcards to create a song that the students know well. Have the students clap and read the rhythms and see if they can figure out the mystery song.

10) Put the Song in Order

Lay rhythm flashcards on the floor or in small groups and write a song title on the board. Sing the song, then have students clap the rhythm of the song while they sing again. Then students work to find the flashcards they need to match the rhythms of that song. If you do this in centers you could have a different song for them to create at different centers.

What are some of your favorite ways to use rhythm flashcards? Feel free to leave a comment below!

Are you ready to try some of these great rhythm flashcard games in your music classes? 
Grab my bundle of rhythm flashcards here.

Rhythm Flashcard Mega Set

Make It / Take It for Music Teachers

Last Winter I organized a Make It / Take It for the Kodaly Music Educators of Kansas.

I thought I would share with you what we did at this make it/ take it in case other districts, chapters, or groups of music teacher friends are interested in putting together their own "Make It / Take It".

We decided that we would make the following manipulatives/games at our workshop:

1) Solfege texting sticks
For this manipulative, each teacher got a set of Popsicle sticks and a pentatonic page of the texting tone ladders to cut out. We stuck them to the Popsicle sticks with rubber cement. It was a little sticky. Hot glue might work better, but glue along the top edges of the paper will help keep students from picking the paper off the sticks. Download a FREE template here.

(Photo credit: Jennifer Patterson)

A few ideas for using them:
-        Sing a known song on solfege and have students use finger to “text” the solfege as they sing
-        Sing a known song on words and have the students “text” the solfege
-        Sing do pentatonic melodic patterns and have students echo as they “text” the pattern
-        Sing melodic patterns on neutral syllable and have students respond with the solfege as they text. 

2) Foam rhythm cubes

Teachers got a set of 16 cubes. You can order them in bulk here. They could chose what rhythms to put on the sides. I really wanted a set for just ta, titi, ta rest, and takadimi (tika-tika, etc.), so I left two sides blank. Leaving those sides blank opens up the opportunity for student composing or improv if they can fill in their own rhythm on those empty beats. 

Ideas for use:
-        Students use the cubes in centers or small groups to find the rhythms of known songs (8 or 16 beats)
-        Compose new rhythm
-        Dictate 4 beat rhythm patterns
-     Compose or improvise new patterns on the blank cubes.

3) Sorted bags of colored transparent bingo chips to use on student high low charts or staves

There wasn't anything to make at this station, but a lot of teachers wanted these bingo chips to use on their high/low charts and staves. I have a high low chart, a staff without the clef, and a staff with the clef that is laminated for each student in my class. These chips are cool because although they are colored, they are transparent, so students can see the line going through the middle of them if it is supposed to be on a line and they fit between the lines perfectly for space notes. Each teacher got 250 chips and they could put however many they wanted in bags depending on their class sizes. You can order these chips in bulk here.

Ideas for use:
-        Use the chips to notate, dictate, or compose melodic patterns on student staff paper

4) Four Beat Heartbeat Charts

Teachers got 120 heart die cuts and 30 strips of paper that were cut/punched out ahead of time. They glued down the hearts four to a strip to create 4 beat heartbeat charts. 

Ideas for use:
-        Students may tap the beat to known folk songs or recorded music
-        Students use Popsicle sticks to dictate patterns on top of the heartbeats
-        Students use erasers, beads, etc. to show how many sounds they hear on each beat

5) I Have, Who Has game cards

I had a class set of "I Have, Who Has - Tika-tika" cards printed for KMEK members. If you want a ready to print set of cards, you can find them in my TpT store here (lots of different concepts are available), or you could create a rhythm list and create your own cards by handwriting them. If using my set with a big group of teachers, email me at for special pricing on additional licenses. The teachers who attended the workshop just had to cut them out and laminate them! 

Prep Work Before the Workshop

To prep for the make it / take it workshop, I spent a lot of time looking for ideas on Pinterest. I put together a Pinterest board with some ideas and let KMEK members comment in our Facebook group to say which manipulatives they would like for us to make. You can see the idea board here.
Once we decided what we were going to make, I ordered all of the materials. Some KMEK members helped in advance cutting out all of the heart die cuts cutting strips for the heart beat charts. Once we had enough materials for all of the participants, we sorted everything into bags for each teacher and I printed up a contents sheet with instructions and ideas for use for everything in the bag. Download the instructions page we used here and feel free to edit it for your own personal use!

Participants had to pre-register for the workshop so that we could anticipate how many sets of materials we would need to order. There was a lot of prep work that went into this workshop to make it a success, but it was a lot of fun, and our students got to have lots of new hands on manipulatives and games to use in music class as a result! It is always so much more fun to make these things with a group of friends than on your own, and you can benefit from buying in bulk if you are splitting the costs between several teachers.

Here are a few more photos of our make it / take it workshop:

If you have any questions about our make it/take it workshop or organizing your own, please do not hesitate to email me at

Halloween Music Manipulatives

This week for Monday Music Manipulatives I am sharing some Halloween themed manipulatives for the music room.

Halloween Music Manipulatives - These manipulatives are perfect for elementary music class around Halloween! Practice steady beat, rhythm, and solfege reading and writing. - Kodaly Inspired Classroom

1) Halloween Themed Erasers

You can use these Halloween themed erasers to show how many sounds on a beat by placing them on beat charts, or for melodic writing and dictating on individual staff pages. I have a class set of staff pages like these below that are laminated and having different erasers keeps it fresh and fun for the kiddos. 

I picked up some of these erasers over the years, usually from the Target dollar section.

These kitty cat heads are perfect for Naughty Kitty Cat:

Naughty Kitty Cat Melodic Writing - Halloween Music Manipulatives - These manipulatives are perfect for elementary music class around Halloween! Practice steady beat, rhythm, and solfege reading and writing. - Kodaly Inspired Classroom

The ghost ones are fun for Skin and Bones, Ghost of Tom, or using to show the rhythms of Miss White.

2) Halloween themed table scatter

I found this pumpkin table scatter one year at Target and it is great for melodic dictation and writing (like with the erasers above), or to show the rhythms on top of beat charts.

3) Foam Halloween Shapes

You can write rhythms, rhythm patterns, solfege, etc. on these! Scatter them around and have students see if they can figure out the song. 

You can also have them compose their own pumpkin patterns using these. You could easily pair it with these Pumpkin Composition Pages.

4) Rhythm Blocks

Use these rhythm blocks to show the patterns from Halloween songs. You can find these pre-made rhythm blocks in lots of colors here. Read more about them in this blog post.