How to Teach Elementary Music Rules | Rhythm Activities

Back to school time means teaching rules and procedures. As teachers, we know this is vital to establishing a positive classroom climate and setting the stage for a productive school year. But, it is often BORING for both teachers and students. What better way to teach rules in the elementary music classroom than by using Music Rhythm Rules Activities! You will also be laying a musical foundation and teaching music skills on day 1. Click to download FREE Music Rules Posters for your classroom.

I like to use a drumbeat app to help students keep a steady beat and generate more student interest. There are lots of drum apps but the one I use is called Drum Beats+.

Note: If you find yourself teaching online for the first day of school, these activities could be modified for distance learning. There are rules for online learning too. Parents may appreciate you setting up some ground rules.

How to Teach Elementary Music Classroom Rules with Orff Rhythm Patterns

Keep it Simple | Limit Rules

Limit the number of rules for your classroom. Don’t over complicate things. After all, you are teaching young children. Design rules for your classroom that are broad and worded simply and directly. I have successfully used the following four rules for many years.

  1. Follow directions the first time.
  2. Kahfooty (Keep all hands feet and other objects to yourself.)
  3. Be nice. Respect others.
  4. Do your best.

These four rules are simple and direct. They cover almost anything that may happen. These music rules are easy to remember especially when set to rhythm patterns. Teaching your classroom rule rhythms in a variety of ways will help students internalize the rules.

Day 1 | Body Percussion

On the first day of school (or the first day you have each class), I like to teach rule rhythm patterns using body percussion. This is especially important for young students or if you have a lot of transfer students from year to year.

Throughout the year, students will inevitably need rule reminders. Instead of repeating the rules over and over, simply perform the body percussion patterns without words. When students realize what you are doing, they will join in and they will probably supply the words themselves. If they don’t, prompt them – What rule goes with this rhythm pattern?”

Teachers do not enjoy repeating the same rules over and over. And students do not like being nagged. Students will tune you out if they are not actively engaged. Draw them back in and give gentle reminders in a fun way using body percussion.

Day 2 | Rhythm Instruments

On the second day of music class, begin by reviewing the rhythm rules with body percussion. Then add unpitched percussion instruments. For kindergarten and first grades, I like to use the same instrument for every child. I have enough rhythm sticks and egg shakers for everyone. Even if you do not have the same instrument for all children, have ALL students play ALL rule patterns no matter what instrument they are playing. Waiting to take turns to play is hard for young children, especially at the beginning of the school year.

For older students, divide your class into 4 groups and assign each group one rhythm rule to play on one specific instrument. If the class is ready, layer the rhythm rule patterns in 2 or 4 parts.

Day 3 | Boomwhackers

This is my favorite rule rhythm day! I love using Boomwhackers. For the little ones, I give them each two Boomwhackers of the same pitch and we all play in “unison.” At this point, I am only concerned with matching the rhythm. We do not worry about pitches.

For older students, they play the notated patterns for each pitch. When I create melodies for music rhythm rules, I only use two different pitches for each pattern. This is important. Using only two pitches per rule makes it possible for one student to play an entire rule pattern. I purchased 6 sets of Boomwhackers for my school and 3 sets of octavator caps. That was enough for every student to participate using 2 Boomwhackers.

Day 4 | Rotation Stations

Now that your students know how to perform rhythm rules on body percussion, rhythm instruments, and Boomwhackers, you can set up rotation stations with grades 1-5. Kindergarten students are not ready to rotate activities on the fly this early in the year.

I have found this activity to be most successful when students continue to play the same rule as they rotate to the different performance stations. I also use a rotation chant to guide students through the rotation process and keep the activity going.


Are you strapped for time? Do you need some ready-made resources to teach and implement these ideas? Check out Music Rule Rhythms | Back to School Music Activities.

This lesson includes projectable PowerPoint slides for class and printable music rules to display in your classroom. Also, included are editable templates. If these four rules don’t quite meet the needs of your classroom you may customize them to fit your needs.

Videos | Boomwhacker Rules

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. I have included three videos of various grade levels of students playing our rule rhythms on Boomwhackers. Keep in mind that these recordings were made VERY early in the school year. These are not polished performances. This is real, elementary school life. I am proud of my students. Not only did we learn our classroom rules, we had fun doing it too.

Are Music Rules Rhythm Activities for you and your classroom? Check out the videos below. Enjoy!


Learning to follow rules is a journey and it can be a fun one. Make learning the music rules for your elementary classroom an enjoyable, memorable activity.

Are you looking for more ideas to integrate music skills into every lesson (even the first day of school)? Check out these posts and the FREE resource guide.

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