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How to Make Rhythm Blocks – Elementary Music Manipulatives

Using manipulatives helps elementary students develop a “concrete concept” of music reading and demystifies learning to read music. Rhythm blocks are one of our favorite manipulatives.

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Using manipulatives is one of my favorite ways to help elementary students develop a “concrete concept” of music reading. And, rhythm blocks are one of my favorite manipulatives. Used correctly, rhythm blocks teach note values and meter in a fun and almost effortless manner.

Making rhythm blocks is easier than it may seem. Recruit a couple of helpers at home or school and you’ll have a complete set in no time.

Take a peek below for several simple tips and tricks to avoid mistakes and setbacks.

Duplo-style blocks with music notes written on them

Materials Needed

You can use any brand of blocks as long as you are consistent with the sizing and the “humps”. My favorites are the large Duplo-style blocks.

  • Building blocks of various lengths
  • Blank address label stickers
  • Black marker
  • Wide, clear packing tape
  • Optional: Large zippered plastic bags
Duplo-style blocks, clear packing tape, address labels cut in half, black Sharpie marker

Hit the garage sales and put out requests for donations of blocks. Be specific about the kind of blocks you need and how you will use them. Put your request on social media. You may be surprised how many you get.

Trade With Friends

My sets came with MANY special pieces – people, trees, car bases, etc. So, I got together with our PE Coach and we swapped blocks. His kids got a lot of special pieces and I got more plain blocks that I needed to make enough music manipulatives for use in my elementary music classroom.

Step 1: Sort Blocks by the Number of “Humps”

Create separate piles of 1-hump, 2-hump, 3-hump, and 4-hump blocks.

  • 1-Hump Blocks = quarter notes, quarter rests, and eighth notes.
  • 2-Hump Blocks = half notes
  • 3-Humb Blocks = dotted half notes
  • 4-Hump Blocks = whole notes

You can also make a few half rests and whole rest blocks. I chose only to make quarter rest blocks.

Elementary Music Rhythm Blocks - quarter note, eighth notes, quarter rest, half note, dotted half note, and whole note

Step 2: Modify Odd-Size Blocks

If you have any odd “half-size” blocks, tightly connect them and tape them together. Tape all around the block with clear packing tape.

If you have an abundance of 1-beat blocks, tape them together tightly for 2-beat and/or 3-beat blocks.

Duplo-style blocks that have been taped together to create music manipulatives for elementary music

Step 3: Label Music Notes and Rests

Use a black permanent Sharpie-type marker to draw music symbols on the address labels big enough to be seen from a distance. This will allow you to visually check students as you use your blocks for different activities.

  • Cut the labels to fit each block.
  • Write the music notes and rests on the address label.

Step 4: Place Music Symbol Labels on Rhythm Blocks

Place the music note or rest sticker in the middle of each block. Press firmly. Trim the label or wrap it around the edges if it is too big.

Step 5: Cover with Clear Packing Tape

Cover the music symbol sticker with clear packing tape to make them long-lasting. Wrap the edges of the tape around the side of the block and press firmly to keep the tape from peeling.

Note: My blocks are over 10 years old and have stood up to MANY elementary music students.

Advanced Rhythm Blocks

You can even create the advanced rhythm blocks below to challenge upper-level students.

  • Sixteenth Notes
  • Eighth/two sixteenth note pattern
  • Two Sixteenth/eighth note pattern
  • Syncopation
  • Dotted Rhythms
  • Triplets

If you don’t have enough blocks, take a peek at our Printable Color, Cut, Compose Rhythm Blocks. The printable set even includes blocks and templates in 6/8 meter.

Music Rhythm Blocks with sixteenth notes, eighth/sixteenth note patterns, syncopation, and dotted rhythms.

Ways to Use Rhythm Block Music Manipulatives

The number of blocks you have will determine how you can use your rhythm blocks in your elementary music classes. I never had enough blocks for whole-class activities but our rhythm blocks were always a favorite station on center days.

Coming Soon – Keep an eye out for our next blog post – Ways to Use Rhythm Block Manipulatives.

Create an Unlimited Supply of Music Manipulatives

You can create an unlimited number of rhythm blocks with these Printable Color, Cut, Compose Rhythm Blocks. This versatile set includes 10 levels of composition blocks that provide simple activities for your early elementary grades while challenging upper elementary and middle school students.

Templates ensure student success while teaching note values and meter.

Music Manipulatives Storage

How you plan to use your rhythm block manipulatives will determine how you store them.

Store blocks as. . .

  • Individual student sets in zippered plastic bags, OR
  • Sort like blocks in small shoe boxes or plastic tubs (all quarter notes together, etc.), OR
  • Store all rhythm blocks loose in one large box or tub

Music Manipulatives are Memorable Lessons for Students and Teachers

When you use different styles of elementary music manipulatives, these activities become memorable favorite lessons for both students and teachers. Hands-on learning helps to demystify the symbolic nature of music symbols and provide “concrete” long-lasting learning activities for your students.