How to Teach Beat vs. Rhythm (Part 1)

By Kindergarten and 1st grade children have generally mastered keeping a steady beat. They can chant or sing in time, or keep a pulse on percussion instruments like rhythm sticks or tambourine. 

What often gets confused at this age is the difference between the beat and the rhythm of the music. 

WAMM How to Teach Rhythm vs Beat.jpg


The Difference Between Rhythm and Beat: 

Simply put, the beat is the steady pulse underlying the music the whole way through. 

The rhythm is the way the words go. Rhythm can be fast or slow or somewhere in between. The pulse never changes. 

Today we'll use two common rhymes for teaching this concept: Baa Baa Blacksheep and Hickory Dickory Dock. 

How to Teach Rhythm vs Beat

Step 1: Introduce the Rhyme

Speak the rhyme for your child in a slightly more expressive, sing-song voice than you would normally use to speak. As you speak, keep the beat with your students by patting on your lap.

Step 2: Speak Together and Keep the Beat

Once the rhyme has been chanted several times, your students can join in with you. It's important that they are very very comfortable with the chant. It's okay to take some extra time making sure they are comfortable speaking it by themselves. 

Step 3: Speak Together and Catch the Words

Invite your students to put their hands right next to their mouths and "catch the words" as they come out. As the two of you clap to catch every single syllable in the rhyme, you will be clapping out the rhythm to the song. 

Step 4: Practice with a Worksheet

These printables give you the option of practicing only one element at a time, or practicing beat and rhythm together. 

Pick which song you want to use. Then let your students choose if they are going to point to the steady beat, or "how the words go" (the rhythm) as you speak this chant. 

These worksheets are free in the Folk Songs page. Just scroll down to “Activity Sheets”.


This is such a fun way to explore beat vs rhythm with your class!

- Victoria