Steady beat used to be a concept that I used to assume all students just kind of knew. I didn’t understand the deep necessity for students experiencing it, and how a strong sense of the steady beat would improve other areas of a student’s performance in piano.
I talked more about this in the importance of establishing a steady beat with piano students in the first post of this series. You can read it here: Steady Beat Part 1: The Importance of Establishing Steady Beat in Piano Students.
Today’s post will detail the different steady beat activities that I use frequently in my studio. I am a firm believer that when teaching music to young children, we must first allow them to experience a new concept before asking them to intellectualize it (Choksy, The Kodaly Method I: Comprehensive Music Education. 3rd Edition. p10). Because of this there is always a couple steady beat activities in every lesson for the first few years they take lessons.
When creating a movement sequence, it is important to remember to use large body movements first without moving the feet (non-locomotor). Stepping to the beat takes a lot of preparation and many other activities should be used before expecting children to step to the beat.
Moving to the student’s steady beat
Each student has their own internal steady beat. You will find that if you try and have the student move to the steady beat you set, it will be much harder than if you allow them to move to their own steady beat. Once we have learned a song to sing and play, the student sings it at their own tempo while patting the steady beat on their lap. More often than not, the student’s steady beat will be much quicker than what I set, but they are able to pat the steady beat consistently.
Non-locomotor whole-body movement with steady beat with known songs while singing or listening
The best activities for whole body movement are swaying back and forth on the macrobeat, or patting the beat on the legs with large arm movements while singing the song or chanting the rhythm of the song the student is working on. Students first need to pat the steady beat with both hands on their lap. The next step is to have them pat the steady beat with alternating hands.
With beginning students, they first pat a steady beat while I chant the rhythm. Then, we switch. Student chants rhythm and I pat the steady beat. When that becomes easier, I have them combine the patting of the steady beat and the chanting of the rhythm. Please note that it is important to pat the beat on the thighs and clap/tap the rhythm. Keeping the steady beat and rhythm in separate locations helps create a separation in the student’s minds that rhythm and steady beat are different.
Additional Non-locomotor with the steady beat
Over the past ten years I have compiled a list of steady beat motions that can be used that I have seen at music workshops, Kodaly training classes, and music education books. Please see a list at the bottom for all my resources. Having a list allows me to keep the movements fresh and helps me avoid the pitfall I have of only having the students pat the beat on their legs.
- Arms swinging like running
- Flip hands palm up/palm down
- Sway arms above head or below waist
- Tap one hand on the top of the other hand
- Bend joints
- Karate chop
- Tap toes together while sitting on floor
- Tap body parts
- Alternate tapping two body parts
- shoulder / above head
- shoulder / waist
- Alternate tapping two body parts
- BODY PARTS
Folk Songs with Passing Stone/Ball games
Folk songs with passing games on the steady beat are a great option. Some great ones are “Obwisana” and “Long Road of Iron,” and Al Citron. Beth’s Note and Mrs. Miracle’s Classroom both have lists of folk songs that have ball/rock passing games. I use either bean bags or my beat ball.
When we sing songs the students are learning, or chanting rhythms, I oftentimes let the students decide which prop to use. I have scarves that they wave to the steady beat, or hold between both hands and sway it back and forth over the head. This large movement is better for beginning students as it takes longer and is easier for them to stay with the steady beat. Bean bags are used to pass back and forth with me, or they toss it in the air. I also have a yard ball that is great because it is very easy to grab onto. They like to toss it straight up in the air, or back and forth between their hands.
Locomotor Moving to the steady beat
Students should have many opportunities to move around the room to the steady beat, even if they are not able to keep the beat with their feet yet. They will get it eventually! Just know that it will take a long time.
Folk dancing is such a fun and exciting way of moving to the steady beat that helps break up the ordinary activities. Sometimes it is possible to do folk dancing activities with partner lessons, and other times you can do these at studio classes. Ideally you would have about 6 students, depending on the size of your studio. I recently did a presentation at our local KMTA about how to use folk dancing in the studio, and also how to effectively teach the students the dance steps. If you get a chance to see a teacher do a workshop where they teach you a folk dance, it is the best way of learning how to teach them.
Who doesn’t have fond memories of using a parachute in their elementary PE classes? It was one of my favorites! So when I found out I could purchase one on Amazon for under $20, I totally splurged and got one to use in my piano studio.
Musical parachute activities almost always have a portion that deals with steady beat. I recently found a fun, short, activity to “Trepak” from the Nutcracker. There are sections in there where we bounce the parachute on the steady beat. I got the idea from Amy over at Music a la Abbott, so I have linked you to her instructions here.
To make this work in my piano studio so I had enough people to help hold the parachute, I asked one student to stay late 5 minutes, and another to show up 5 minutes. Then i used the last 5 minutes of one student’s lesson and the first 5 minutes of another student’s lesson and taught the actions, then we were able to do the activity twice!
There are many ways to help a student experience steady beat, and it is amazing how it transfers to better rhythm, and in turn more musical playing. The next part of this series will focus on non-movement activities that we use in the studio to work on steady beat.
Jo Kirk (Kodaly Level I Training, Wichita State University)
Lisa Simmelink (Kodaly Level II Training, Wichita State University)
Choksy, Lois. The Kodaly Method I: Comprehensive Music Education, 3rd Edition. 1999
Houlahan & Tacka. Kodaly Today, 2nd Edition.