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10 Ways to Use Interactive Music Rhythm Flash Cards

Interactive music rhythm flash cards make learning to read rhythm patterns fun for teachers and students in the elementary music classroom.

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Do you struggle to keep rhythm practice fresh, novel, and fun? Interactive rhythm flash cards can be a FUN way to develop rhythm reading skills in the elementary grades.

These 10 different activities will motivate your students and give them repeated practice in a variety of ways. This keeps your lessons fresh and allows students enough practice to become independent rhythm readers.

All of the activities in this post work with paper flash cards as long as the notation is big enough for all students to see at once.

10 Fun Ways to Teach Rhythm Patterns in the Elementary Music Classroom

Student Choice and “Lucky Ducks”

Students always like to have some input and choice during lessons. When you allow students to choose or turn over digital flash cards, you have already increased engagement. When appropriate, find ways to let students choose rhythm patterns.

In my classroom, I have a “lucky duck cup” filled with large size popsicle sticks. Each stick has a number on it that corresponds to each student’s assigned spot. I often use the lucky duck cup to choose students for a variety of tasks.

Once I draw a stick, I leave it out of the cup until the class session is over. This ensures that no one is chosen twice in the same class period.

Read on for 10 FUN ways to practice rhythm patterns in your classroom.

10 Ways to Use Interactive Music Rhythm Flash cards

1. ROD – Rhythm of the Day

Choose one pattern per day to practice as a warm up while students enter the classroom. With the rhythm displayed on the board, call out the rhythm syllables and students echo.

Each time you call out the rhythm,  you should change the inflection of your voice. Get silly with it. Say the pattern on a super high pitch, a very low pitch, slide up, slide, down, add dynamics, staccato, etc. This can be a fun way to practice and focus attention.

2. Call and Response

Divide your class into two groups and choose one pattern for each group to read or play.  Perform four times in call and response form (group 1/group 2/group 1/group 2, etc.). Then choose different patterns and repeat.

This is often hard for students. They want to echo the pattern they have just heard and not perform their own pattern. Remember to switch which group performs the call and which group performs the response.

3. Daisy Chain

Take the rhythm patterns in order. Continue through each step without stopping.

  • Read and perform pattern 1.
  • Repeat and add pattern 2.
  • Repeat and add pattern 3.

Continue to repeat and add one pattern each time until you’ve performed all 8 patterns. Give students a couple of tries to learn this process. This becomes a FUN challenge to get all the way through the set without any major mistakes.

Example: Pattern 1; Patterns 1, 2; Patterns 1, 2, 3; Patterns, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

4. Body Percussion

Challenge the class to create a body percussion pattern to match a rhythm card. Add one card at a time with another movement pattern. This can be fun and tricky. 😊

Add one rhythm flash card with a simple body percussion pattern as an accompaniment to a new song you’re introducing. This multi-tasking activity allows students to practice a rhythm pattern while they listen to a new song.

5. Rap it Out!

Use the seasonal theme of the flash cards or another theme of your choice (character traits, kindness, musical instruments, etc.), and challenge students to create lyrics to match the rhythm. Layer rhythm patterns or connect them to create a speech piece.

6. Say and Play Rhythm Instruments

Turn over one or two rhythm pattern cards. Read the pattern together as a group, repeat while students play the pattern on a rhythm instrument. Repeat the sequence four times (say the pattern 4 times/play the pattern 4 times OR say/play, say/play, etc.).

You may play the patterns on any unpitched rhythm instruments or melodic barred instruments with only pentatonic pitches. Incorporate dynamics to vary the repetition and build musicianship skills.

7. Create an Accompaniment

Choose one or two patterns to create an ostinato accompaniment for an instrumental piece of music. Use only unpitched rhythm instruments. Marches work well for this purpose. You can follow the form of the march and choose different rhythm patterns and/or instrumentation for each section.

Allow students to be creative and choose different patterns/instrumentations. Repeat the activity for several class sessions and create different accompaniments for the same piece of music.

8. Form – Rhythm Rondo

Create a short piece of music with different rhythm patterns and different instrumentation for each section of your original piece. Divide the class into groups and choose one group to perform each section.

You will want to start with ABA, AABB, or ABC form for your early elementary students.

9. Melodic Improvisation

Set up xylophones or other barred instruments in a pentatonic scale (Key of C = C, D, E, G, A). Use the “say and play” technique where students read the rhythm pattern aloud, then play the rhythm while improvising the melody.

Encourage students to end on Do (C) on the final rhythm pattern. When students end on the “home tone” their piece will sound finished. For the final pattern, signal the Do hand sign to prompt students.

10. Centers or Stations

Interactive rhythm pattern flash cards may also be used in a variety of ways as a performance station or for centers. One suggestion is a rhythm challenge where students work with a partner. Student 1 chooses a pattern for student 2 to read. Then student 2 chooses another pattern for student 1 to read.

If both partners are successful, they continue in “daisy-chain” fashion until one partner is stumped or both students read all eight patterns successfully. Then, they “level up” and continue to the next set of flash cards.

Interactive Music Rhythm Flash Cards Build Sequentially

Each collection of our flash cards includes 8 sequential sets and introduces one new element at a time. Use the sequence below or develop a sequence that matches your elementary music curriculum.

Notice that sets 1-A and 1-B begin with iconic reading for your early elementary students who may not be ready to read standard notation yet.

  • Set 1-A: iconic reading (quarter note/rest)
  • Set 1-B: iconic reading (quarter note/rest, eighth note)
  • Set 2: quarter note/rest
  • Set 3: quarter note/rest, eighth notes
  • Set 4: quarter note/rest, eighth notes, half note, whole note
  • Set 5: quarter note/rest, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, half note
  • Set 6: quarter note/rest, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, eighth/sixteenth, sixteenth/eighth, half note
  • Set 7: quarter note/rest, eighth notes, half note, syncopation
  • Set 8: quarter note/rest, eighth notes, half note, dotted quarter/eighth

Sets 2-5 introduce one rhythmic element at a time in standard notation. Sets 6, 7, and 8 will challenge your upper elementary or even middle school students.

No-Prep Digital Rhythm Cards

If you do not have time to create your own rhythm pattern flash cards, take a peek at these seasonal sets – Interactive Rhythm Flash Cards. These sets include one general set for use throughout the school year and seven seasonally-themed rhythm card sets for throughout the school year.

Each set includes 16 interactive rhythm patterns for each level. That’s a total of 128 rhythm patterns in each seasonal set!

Click to preview any set below.

Two Important Notes

  • Each holiday set includes the same rhythm patterns. Only the icons and the themes have been changed.
  • These digital interactive flash cards have been created in PowerPoint. Google Slides has not yet caught up with the interactive features in PowerPoint. In order for these activities to work correctly, you must have access to PowerPoint.
YouTube video

Your Lesson Plans are Fresh, Novel, and Fun!

These differentiated music rhythm flash cards are valuable resources to add to your music toolbox. They can be pulled out when you have a few extra minutes in class or they can be the main focus of the lesson.

With 10 different ways to use them and 8 seasonal sets, your rhythm lesson plans will be fresh, novel, and FUN. Pair different holiday themes with different classroom activities and they become a whole new lesson!


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Meet the Author

Terri Lloyd is a former elementary music teacher with over 25 years of experience. She holds a Bachelor of Music, a Master of Science in Education, and a Technology Certificate in Instructional Design.

She is currently active in music education through blogging, workshops, and curriculum development. She serves on the music staff at her church and volunteers for an after-school children’s program. Terri is an active musician in the community, performing in a local Big Band, pit orchestras, and various events.

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