Preparing 16th Notes in Elementary Music

The first time I watched an Orff and Kodaly-inspired classroom, I was shocked to see students working with 16th notes at what I considered to be a young age (around 2nd or 3rd grades). I was used to a band approach where students learn longer note values like dotted half notes and whole notes before subdividing to 16th notes.

What I have observed since then is that rhythms with extended sounds are much more successful if students know how to subdivide to smaller increments beforehand. Their listening skills improve, and they have enough experience with 16th notes to help them stay more in time through longer note values.

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite ways to prepare 16th notes with 2nd and 3rd graders!

Preparation Activities for 16th Notes Elementary Music

Before we begin.png

Before we jump into the preparation activities, here are a few things to note:

Early Preparation: Child’s Play

If we have their best interests at heart, we’ll let them learn while they play; they’ll discover that what they have mastered is child’s play.
— Carl Orff

Child’s play is the first step in any preparation sequence.

At this point, students are not asked to do anything with this musical knowledge. They are simply interacting with it through play-based activities.

This part of the process really feels like “fun and games” because that’s exactly what it is!

However, even though it truly is just “game time”, be sure not to rush this step. Through this process students are developing critical musical vocabulary and understanding that they will need to draw upon later.

Preparation Activities for Takadimi:

Here are some ideas that you use to help students think about the musical content of the song. They also add some variety as you play the games or do the songs’ activities.

Use these ideas with any of your 16th note repertoire, but they work especially well with the songs from this post, including Chattanooga Choo Choo, Dinah, Paw Paw Patch, Tideo, and the refrain to Built My Lady a Fine Brick House.

(You can find this sheet music in the Folk Song Index, and more 2nd grade concepts and songs in the Planning Binder)

Play the game or do the activity while:

  • Clapping the words to the song while a few students play the beat on tubanos or another classroom instrument.

  • Inner hearing while stepping to the steady beat (stop moving when the song is over!)

  • Singing on a neutral syllable, such as loo or la”.

  • Clapping only one word or one group of words. This works best if the special word has some connection to 16th notes. For example, only clap the word “Chattanooga” in Chattanooga Choo Choo.

  • Play the game or do the activity while counting how many times you sing, “Chattanooga”, “no one’s in the”, “pretty little”, “jingle at the”, or “swing a lady” (the 16th notes in the song).

  • Play the game while a few students play the rhythm of the words on instruments

You can find the whole list of preparation activities in the takadimi concept plan in The Planning Binder.

Mid Preparation: Notice 4 Sounds on a Beat

After experiencing 16th notes through play, students are ready to notice four sounds on one beat. But that doesn’t mean the fun stops!

For this example, we’ll use the song, Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Chattanooga Choo Choo.jpg

If you have the means, consider splitting the class into instruments to play the steady beat and instruments to play the rhythm of the words. (If you don’t have the instrumentation to do this, just do it on body percussion!)

As students play, they should inner hear the song, or, “let the instruments sing the song”.

Through some carefully worded questions, students discover 4 sounds on a beat.

After students play instruments or body percussion, have them keep a steady beat while they sing the first eight beats of the B section.

From there, students help the teacher figure out all the rhythms they know in those 4 beats. Starting at the last beat, ask students how many sounds they heard (2). Review that right now two sounds on a beat are eighth notes, and when we see them we say “ta-di”. How many sounds did they hear on the first beat? (1) Review that right now one sound on a beat is a ta, and the real name of ta is a quarter note. How many sounds did they hear on beat three? (4) Students notice that we don’t have a name for four sounds on one beat yet.

With a small group of friends, ask students to be musical detectives and find how many times this song uses four sounds on one beat. (The correct answer is 14.)

Late Prep: Write it Down

Ask students to help you write down what they hear in a variety of known songs. Start by writing down rhythms you know, then when you get to the 16th notes students may vote on how they should be written.

Some examples might include dots, smiley faces, or stars.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Rhythm

Musical Decisions

The last preparation idea comes from the Planning Binder.

With song fragments, ask students to recreate the rhythm of Chattanooga Choo Choo. This can be done individually, but I recommend doing it in small groups of two or three students.

After checking that their notation is correct, students may create a new card order for the song.

Instead of performing their arrangements in small groups (which students might not be ready to do yet), the teacher will clap a single group’s pattern. Every group of students listens to see if theirs is the pattern being performed.

Through these activities students will have experienced takadimi through singing, playing, composing, inner hearing, partwork, reading, and writing. The beauty is that the whole time, the process felt like fun and games.

The next post will cover how to know if students are ready to learn the real name of four sounds on a beat, and give a presentation plan to follow.

Songs to Teach 16th Notes

In a typical Kodaly or Orff sequence, students learn 16th notes around 2nd or 3rd grade. This timeline is completely based on the musical background of your students, how often you have class, and how long your class is.

So while I’ve chosen the songs in this collection for a 2nd or 3rd grade developmental level, they can easily be adapted for younger or older grades.

Songs to teach 16th notes elementary music

Before we begin, it’s important to establish a few criteria about choosing classroom repertoire. Every song in this post meets these points to be included in my classroom or on a favorites list:

  • High quality

  • Personal preference

  • Curriculum goals

  • Creative potential

You can read more about how I select material for my classroom here.

Let’s jump in!

Songs to Teach Sixteenth Notes


Chattanooga Choo Choo

I heard this song in an Orff video from AOSA’s website. If you’re not a member, you should consider it! They have a video page where you can watch past presentations from national conferences. The video page alone is worth the yearly membership price!

Movement Pathways

When I introduce this song, I ask students to make a train in small groups. They choose their train’s pathway and move around the room.

This song is amazing for 16th notes, since (if you’re following a “traditional” Kodaly sequence), the 16th notes will be the only unknown rhythmic element in the whole song.



Of course this song is great for 16th notes, but you can also bring it out to work on several other concepts:

  • Do in do mi sol

  • High do

  • Re in mi re do

Built My Lady a Fine Brick House



Pairs of students hold hands and one student stands in the middle of them. On "fare thee well, my darling" the middle student must leave from under the pair's arms and find another pair. The student may not repeat pairs. This gets especially fun if you are short one house relative to the number of people looking for a house. It becomes like high stakes musical chairs. It’s a blast!

Other Uses:

  • Ta-dimi

  • Do in sol mi do

  • Fermata

Find other mentions of this song in:




One student stands in the middle of the circle with his or her eyes closed, and the teacher silently picks a secret singer. The other students sing the song, with the exception of the word, “Dinah”. The word “Dinah” is sung by the secret singer. When the song is over, students silently switch places in the circle. Then the person in the middle guesses whose voice he or she heard.

Other Uses:

  • Sol mi (especially for older beginners)

  • Do in do mi sol

  • Re in mi re do

  • Solo singing

Find other mentions of this song in:

Happy is the Miller

There are roughly a million different versions of this song out there, and they’re all wonderful. I searched for a while to find the version I use in my classroom. This game can get competitive, so it’s good to make sure students have enough space to move before you start!



Students stand in a double circle with a partner. One student stands in the middle of the circle. As students sing the song they walk around the circle until the word, “grab”. At that point, the outside circle stops moving and each person on the inside of the circle takes one step forward to “grab” a new partner. The person standing in the middle of the circle may also run forward and “grab” a new partner, leaving someone else to go in the middle.


Tideo is quite possibly my favorite folk song of all time. I have a lot of favorites. But this might be my favoritest favorite.



The formation is an inner circle and outer circle. Every “skip one window”, the outer circle moves clockwise one person. Every “Tideo”, pat legs, clap hands, then hit partner’s hands. Every “jingle at the window”, switch places with partner. This makes the outside circle on the inside and the inside circle on the outside.

There is also a simplified version of the game in the “Folk Songs” page. You can find it here.

Paw Paw Patch

The original directions to this game specify a boys line and girls line. In my classroom I don’t separate students that way, but you might consider doing so when first teaching the game since visually separating the two lines could be helpful.



  • Formation: Double line formation facing forward.

  • 1st verse - The first partner on the right steps out and walks clockwise around both lines and returns to his or her place.

  • 2nd verse - Same player repeats his or her steps, but this time the whole line of students on the left line following her.

  • 3rd verse - Following the head of their line, the left students peel off and march sharply to the left, doubling back upon themselves, while the students on the right side do the same walking sharply to the right. When the first couple meets, they form an arch under which the two lines pass. There is now a new first couple and the game continues.


Songs are great, but our students also love literary tie ins! Here are some of my favorite books to use for 16th notes. What I love is that all of these books have other rhythmic patterns that could be brought back to teach other concepts.

  • Tikki Tikki Timbo

    • Consider rhythmic building blocks such as “splasssssssshhh” “don’t fall in!” “Oh no! Tikki Tikki Tembo!”

  • Alligator Pie

    • Your students will love this Canadian children’s book! Explore other types of pies using any rhythms. Then can you find a different type of pie that has four sounds on one beat?

  • Hand, Drum, Fingers, Thumb

    • Use this book to explore hand drums with your young students, then bring it back in 3rd grade for 16th notes and 16th note combinations later.

When You Have Your Songs….

What songs do your students love for 16th notes? When you have a few in mind, catalog them in a song index.

Song List Template for Elementary Music

It’s so helpful to create a running list of songs that you enjoy using with a specific age group. It will save you tons of time in your lesson planning, and make sure that each song you choose is purposeful in your overall sequence.

You can read more about song lists here, and click here to purchase this song list template.

There you have it. Songs to teach 16th notes that are high quality, engaging, and purposeful. I’d love to hear some of your favorites as well. You can drop a comment below - I look forward to reading it!

You can grab the sheet music included in this lesson in the Folk Song page. Click here to download for free!