Music in First Grade: How to Practice Quarter Rest

Finally, after choosing songs and preparing our mystery rhythm, we know the real name to a beat without a sound.

>> Songs to Teach Quarter Rest

>> How to Prepare Quarter Rest

>> How to Present Quarter Rest

Teaching students how to truly hear a rest is teaching students how to be thoughtful, aware musicians. To not play something, but to silently hear it, takes a lot of musical maturity, and it’s one reason I love teaching quarter rest.

Here are some of my favorite ways to practice ta rest. They involve student compositions, instrument choice, performance, and a reflection time.

Let’s jump in!

How to Practice Quarter Rest

Compose with quarter rest

Student-created rhythms are wonderful for practicing elements - what better material to use than material students have created themselves?

This rhythm pattern could serve as an ostinato for the whole piece, or it could serve as an interlude, intro, or outro.

For the song, Bluebird, Bluebird, my students were given these rhythm building blocks:

(Click here to download!)

In small groups, students create a four bar pattern using their rhythm building blocks. Since the purpose of this activity is a quarter rest, students include a silent sign for rest.

When the rhythm cards are in their final order and students can clap and speak their rhythm several times in a row as a group, students put their composition on body percussion.

**Teaching tip: Especially in younger grades, it’s a good idea to model how to have a creative discussion when several students are contributing ideas. Explain that your idea may not be chosen every time, and it’s important to work together as a group to come up with a musical idea that represents everyone.

Add Instruments and Perform

Once students have their compositions ready, it’s time to put them on instruments.

Step 1: Choose instruments in each group:

The teacher may demonstrate several options for instruments: Triangle, rain stick, hand drum, cabasa. . . .

Ask students to discuss in their small groups which instruments would be best, and which would be worst for playing their compositions. Students will discover that not all instruments are appropriate for their compositions - some instruments have a reverberation that lasts far beyond its strike - no good for playing a rest.

Since the purpose of this activity is the quarter rest, students should opt for guiros, hand drums, tambourines, cabasas, maracas, and other instruments that allow the quarter rest space to be clear.

Step 2: Practice their composition on instruments

When students move to instruments, I ask if they can recreate their body percussion on their new percussion instruments. Students can think through all the different sounds their instrument can make (high / low, loud / quiet, etc.), and make connections to levels, volume, and pitch of their body percussion.

Step 3: Give a performance!

With a composition, body percussion and instrumentation complete, students are ready for a “final” performance of their ostinati.

This performance could be in front of peers, in front of you, in front of the classroom teacher, or a larger parent or school audience.

Talk it through

Did we stay together as a group the whole time? Was the space for the quarter rest totally empty?

Our students need time to think through and evaluate their musical performance. They need time to hear feedback from their peers. Create space in your lesson for students to reflect on their performance, and make revisions if they feel it’s necessary.

When we teach quarter rest, we’re practicing inner hearing - inner pulse. We’re teaching how to listen.

I like this activity for practicing quarter rest because it draws upon so much previous musical knowledge. It also puts students in the driver’s seat of their own learning: creating music, exploring new ways to play it, and thoughtfully reflecting and revising their work. It’s a beautiful process to watch!

You can find more songs for teaching quarter rest in my Folk Song Index.

Happy teaching!

Songs to Teach Quarter Rest

Many music curriculums teach quarter rests in first grade. However, if you are relatively new to a school (as I am), your older students may be learning quarter rest along with your younger students. Today I’ve gathered some of my favorite songs for teaching quarter rest, and I’ve brought some that work for kindergarten through third grade.

These songs:

  • Are satisfying to sing
  • Have great accompanying dances or games
  • Can be used as a creative springboard to inspire student-created ostinati
  • Work for a variety of grades
  • Can be used later in your curriculum to highlight other rhythmic and melodic concepts

Let’s jump in!


Bow Wow Wow

Bow Wow Wow is an American folk song with an accompanying partner dance.

You'll probably love it as much as your students do!

How to Play the Game:

Create a single circle, with partners facing each other.
Measure 1 - Stamp three times (right, left, right)
Measure 2 - Shake finger at partner in steady beat
Measure 3 - Partners clasp hands and quickly trade places
Measure 4 - Stamp three times turning away from partner and facing neighbor (new partner)

I love watching students’ faces light up when they turn to see a new partner!

Other reasons to love this song:

  • Mi Re Do
  • La
  • Sol-Mi-Do
  • Ta, Ta-di



This is an African American folk song with a great game to go with it!

My students love playing this game, and I’ve used it successfully with first, second, and third grades.


How to play the game:

Formation: Children stand in a circle with hands joined and raised to form "windows."
Measures 1 - 4: One child “flaps wings” and weaves in and out the "windows"
Measure 5: The bird taps one child on the shoulder in a steady beat.
Measure 6: The bird taps a second child on the shoulder in a steady beat
Measure 7: The bird taps a third bird on the shoulder in a steady beat

All three chosen students get in line behind the head bluebird and the game begins again. Continue singing until all students are in the bluebird line.

Other reasons to love this song:

  • Ta, ta-di
  • AB form
  • La
  • Half note
  • High do

Bell Horses

I’ve written about Bell Horses here, and how I use it to teach sol and mi. It’s also great for teaching quarter rest, and since my students are already familiar with it, all the better!


How I use this song:

I combine this song with the rhyme, My Little Pony. As we sing the song, Bell Horses, some students prance in open space around the room. To accompany us, a small group of students is chosen to play jingle bells in one corner. Another small group uses rhythm sticks to play the “nails” when we speak My Little Pony.

Other reasons to love this song:

  • Partwork: some students move, some students play, some students speak the rhyme
  • Ta ta-di
  • Sol mi
  • La


Tinker Tailor

This is an elimination game from England, and one of my favorites for teaching quarter rest. I like it because the students are naturally listening for the "beat without a sound" as we play the game.


How to play the game:

Students pass a ball in a steady beat and sing the song. On the quarter rest, the student with the ball is out. In my class the out students go to the “orchestra” to play a steady beat while we play the game again.

Other reasons to love this song: 

  • Ta , ta-di
  • Sol, mi

....if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child’s play.
— Carl Orff

I love each of these songs for teaching quarter rest, not just because of the songs themselves, but because they remind me that the magic of teaching is in making our teaching concepts child’s play

Happy teaching!