Monday, June 22, 2015

Rhythm Band: Recycle Bin Edition

    Confession:  the first time I tried this activity with my Senior Primary kids, it totally flopped.  I realized--after the fact--that I hadn't given them enough experience with a single rhythm instrument to be able to follow the more complicated instructions given with a band.  So I rolled it back, giving them symbols on the board to correspond to actions and rhythms with a single instrument.  (See examples of this in my posts on egg cartons and sand blocks.)  Once your children know how to follow this style of notation, they'll be ready and eager to try it in a band setting!

The Instruments

The makings of a rhythm band
You could use any rhythm instruments you like, really, as long as you have enough for every child.  I normally choose 4 of my recycle bin favorites:

Ice cream buckets (to use like a drum)

Egg cartons (with a rhythm stick for tapping)

Pairs of paper plates (to use like cymbals)

Paper cups (for tapping and clapping)

Sheets of paper (for both patting on your lap and shaking quickly)

I tend to shy away from my nicer instruments for this activity, since those are more interesting in their own right. Also, this is the only way paper can be interesting.  Also, buckets are only tolerable when there are less than 20 of them going at once.  (*cringe* Yes, I learned this one the hard way!) 

The Patterns

Now that you've chosen your instruments, you need to choose a short pattern for each one.  Using simple symbols, write each pattern on the board on separate lines.  The following picture shows how I write the patterns on the board, so that the symbols vertically line up for the same moment in time.  Here, each instrument's pattern takes four beats to complete.  I've added vertical lines for you (which I won't use for the children) to show where the four beats are.  

Rhythm band patterns

Here is the interpretation of my symbols.  Please note that you don't have to use mine! Use whatever symbols and rhythms make sense to you.  This is just one idea.

Paper plates:  The long arc represents a cymbal crash where they make a large circle with their arms extending up, then out.  The two diagonal slashes represent one paper plate crossing to tap the opposite shoulder.

Buckets:  The first two beats represent syncopation with flat palms hitting the drum:  eighth, quarter (hold your palms there!), eighth.  The tiny zigzags represent light finger tapping, using two alternating fingers on both hands. I have them tap sixteenth notes for the first of those beats and eighth notes for the second beat.

Paper:  The two flat lines are eighth-note taps on their laps, then they rest for one beat.  The wavy line represents holding the piece of paper in both hands, letting it hang down and shaking it very quickly.

Egg cartons:  The pointy swoops represent scraping the carton back and forth with a rhythm stick.  They then tap with the stick, two eighth notes and one quarter note.

Presenting the Activity

Demonstration:  To teach the children how to do this activity, I start with all the instruments up front.  I demonstrate each one individually, singing as I do so, and I invite them to follow my hand movements, even though they don't have instruments yet.  I let them know that we'll be trading around instruments periodically, so they should learn each part.  

Rules:  Right before I ask children to help me pass out the instruments, I remind them that in a band, all the musicians have to follow the conductor.  I try to make it a game, where they have to sit up straighter when I dramatically raise my hands, and they have to instantly freeze when I cut them off. We practice that a couple times, and then it's finally time to begin.

Distribution:  I ask children to pass out the instruments so that each item is scattered around the room.  While they're doing that, I start singing and pantomiming the actions for one instrument.  I don't hold an instrument, so that I can switch quickly between the four.  I'll point to a line of symbols then do those actions for a line or two before switching to the next. 

Breaking it down:  If I see the children are having trouble, I'll use the earlier practiced motion of cutting off the music.  Then I'll break it down, one instrument at a time, to go over the pattern. I sing as I'm demonstrating, so that even as it seems the activity is going slowly, the music learning never stops. 

Shaking things up:  Once they have it, I call out, "Switch instruments!"  Then I hold up ten fingers and begin to count down, to let them know they have a deadline for trading with their neighbor.  As soon as I reach zero, I begin the song again, and we repeat. 

This is one of my favorite Primary music activities.  The kids can tell when you're having fun, and your smile will be contagious. :)

Happy singing!

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