Practice Ideas for 16th Notes

The practice section is my favorite of the three musical learning phases. I love watching students consciously apply and connect their musical knowledge in this part of the process.

In this post we’ll look at practice extensions for three songs: Chattanooga Choo Choo, Built My Lady a Fine Brick House, and Tideo. These ideas are based off the ones in the takadimi concept plan from the planning binder.

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Before we begin the practice phase, it’s important that students have a clear grasp of how four sounds on one beat feel, what they sound like, and what they look like.

We want students to be able to aurally identify takadimi in a new song, describe its characteristics, and create iconic representation of it based on their understanding of sounds on a beat.

If you haven’t read about songs to teach 16th notes, 16th note preparation activities, or this presentation plan for takadimi, be sure to check those out first!

Practice Activities for 16th Notes

Now let’s jump in.

Chattanooga Choo Choo:

For this activity, I wanted to combine movement, singing, instruments, and composition. The central task invites students to create rhythm patterns for a performance assessment.


The class is divided into four rhythm stations, one movement group, and one percussion group. The number in each group will depend upon the grade you’re working with and your specific class size, but I’ll give some suggestions below.



Group 1 - The train:

The train group chooses a pathway for how they will travel to the four corners of the room, as well as their quality of movement - consider weight, size, and levels. Students may choose to create one long single file line of trains. They may choose to create “walls” of the train and have other “passengers” inside. The choice is theirs, as long as they are safe and kind in the process!

This requires imagination, problem-solving, and communication skills, so depending upon how much experience your students have working together in this way, you can consider dividing into two trains. Each train will still follow the same pathway at the same time, but the collaborative element will be simpler with a smaller group as they consider the specific qualities of their movement.

A smaller group - between three and five students - is appropriate for this activity.

Group 2 - Rhythm composition:

In each corner of the room, place percussion instruments such as tubanos, congas, or a set of bongos. (It is best to choose an instrument that can be played with two hands so students can effectively play a beat divided by four sounds.) On a music stand, students arrange cards to create a 4 beat composition. When the train gets to their corner, students play their composition 4 times in a row.

This requires musical independence and understanding of form. The first time you play this game, I recommend two or three students at each rhythm station.

Group 3 - The beat and the rhythm:

Students can play a steady beat bordun on the tonic and dominant while other students play the rhythm of the words on woodblocks, with rhythm sticks on the floor or table, or with body percussion. It is important that all students in this group sing while they play their parts!

The purpose of this third group is for every child to have a “job” to do during the song. This group can be larger since students don’t necessarily need to collaborate in the activity.

With a larger class, or if you have limited instrumentation, you could further divide this group by creating a “choir” whose only job it is to sing.


Putting it All Together

All students sing the song as the train moves around the room and the third group plays the rhythm and the beat to accompany the train movement. This is the A section. At the end of the song, the train pulls into one of the rhythm composition stations.

During the B section, the students at the chosen composition station play their rhythm composition four times in a row. The song begins again and the train continues moving to all four groups.

Switch jobs and play again!

This activity should be scaffolded across several classes so students are prepared for all the different jobs everyone in the room has. It could also make for a great sharing activity at a program or informance!

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The Process Without the Instruments:

If you don’t have enough instruments to facilitate the next two groups, consider adapting in two specific ways.

  • Use body percussion instead! Students will assign a level (stamp, pat, clap, or snap) instead of a percussion instrument.

  • Use found objects such as books, pencils, binders, whatever you have around the room. Whatever you choose, be sure you’re comfortable with students using the object to hit, shake, or scrape in the same way they would use a traditional percussion instrument. In other words, these objects will need to be able to withstand some abuse! I also recommend that you provide a collection of objects from which students can choose, as opposed to having students choose their own items from around your room.

Built My Lady a Fine Brick House:

My students love this game!


The Game:

If you haven’t yet read this post, here’s how to play:

Pairs of students hold hands, with one student standing in the middle. 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.

I’ve seen this game played with a calm group of Kindergarten students who slowly raise their arms to let the person out, who in turn calmly walks to a nearby empty house. My room is not like that! Students get competitive because we are often short one house relative to the number of people looking for a house. It becomes like high stakes musical chairs. It’s a blast!


Musical Choice and Improvisation

After playing the game a few times, we add an improvisation element to the game by asking students to make a musical choice.

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Ask students to choose a house to play on body percussion. To scaffold, I like to have everyone play houses 1 - 3 in unison, then let students choose their own.

If we’re ready for the next step, I add a fourth empty house. Students may make up their own pattern instead of reading one on the board.

Whichever house they choose to play, we all play our pattern four times in a row as a B section after each round of the game.

  • House #1 comes straight from the refrain they just sang. If students struggle with rhythm, beat, or timing in general, this is the pattern they will have the most success with.

  • In houses 2 and 3 I looked for the rhythmically empty spaces from house 1 and tried to make our pattern more interesting by creating more intentional spaces in the rhythms. This helps the patterns fit together like a puzzle when we play them all together.

  • House #4 is empty!! Students improvise their own rhythm.

As students get more comfortable with this variation on the game, I ask them to add more levels of body percussion to their rhythm choices. I can also choose a few students to rotate through percussion instruments each round of the game.


If Tideo is not my favorite folk song of all time, it’s definitely in my top 5!


Read about the dance for Tideo here.



After experimenting with the house options from Built My Lady a Fine Brick House listed above, ask the class to vote on their favorite house rhythm. That house rhythm becomes a part of the Tideo activity.

After one round of the song, the outside circle asks the question and the inside circle claps an answer.

This can be extended by having other students move to barred instruments and playing their question and answer on any pentatonic notes.



The rhythms in this song are all known, which makes it perfect for rhythm dictation. This can be done a few ways, depending on the readiness level of your group.

Here are three options to consider.

  • “Help the Teacher”: In this approach, the teacher writes the rhythms on the board, but the class helps by holding up fingers for how many sounds go on each beat. This method can be done quite quickly and doesn’t require any prep before the lesson.

  • Song Fragments: Perhaps the easiest way to dictate independently or in small groups is through song fragments. This is because the answers are already right in front of the students, they just need to put them in the correct order.

  • Individual Dictation: Using manipulatives or paper and pencil, students write down standard notation from scratch, without a partner. This will give you valuable insight into how your students think about and interpret musical sounds to notation.

Through these activities, students explore 16th notes through:

  • Writing

  • Improvising

  • Arranging

  • Partwork

  • Singing

  • Instruments

  • Body percussion

  • Reading

This “child’s play” approach is an incredible way to explore musical ideas and gauge student progress!