G6 U2 – Understanding Rhythm

ArtsEdge – “First Rhythmic Composition” – Lesson

LINK to U2 Lesson 1-4 – Meaning of Rhythm for clapping exercises

LINK Lesson to Group Clapping Piece

LINK Lesson to Drum Beginner Booklet


This lesson introduces students to rhythm concepts, including the names and symbols associated with music notation. Students will fill in a chart that outlines names and meanings of rhythmic musical symbols. Then, using these symbols, they will clap rhythm sequences and compose their first compositions. They will also compare these rhythmic sequences to math concepts.

Learning Objectives


1. What do you already know about rhythm. Brainstorm  words associated with rhythm and write these on the board. Talk about the fact that rhythm is important in music because it provides structure and interest to the melody or background accompaniment





1. Using fractions in math, discuss the math concepts in notation. Distribute fraction manipulatives and explain the relationship between notes/rests and fractions. For example, 1 whole fraction circle is equal to 2 half circles, just as 1 whole note is equal to 2 half notes. Show and have students explore the following relationships:

  • 1 whole note = 2 half notes = 4 quarter notes
  • 1 half note = 2 quarter notes = 4 eighth notes
  • 1 quarter note = 2 eighth notes = 4 sixteenth notes
  • 1 whole rest = 2 half rests = 4 quarter rests

2. Have students practice mathematical equations using music notes. Write the following equations on the board and have students work in pairs with their manipulatives to solve the equations. (Students can answer in notes or numbers.)


half note + quarter note + quarter note = _____ (whole note)

½ + ¼ + ¼ = _____ (1)


whole note – half note = _____ (half note)

1 – ½ = _____ ( ½ )


3. Have students create an equation for peers to solve. Working independently or in pairs, students should create an equation using notes. Students should double check their equations, then switch with another student and try to solve each other’s equations.


1. Explain the 4/4 time signature. Explain that a time signature is a sign that shows how many beats should be in each measure. For a 4/4 time signature, each measure has 4 beats, and each beat is a quarter note. Thus, each measure should have the equivalent of 4 quarter notes. Ask students what else they could use to create a complete measure in 4/4 time (1 whole note, 2 half notes, 1 half note and 2 quarter notes, etc.).

2. Have students compose an eight-measure rhythmic composition using the assignment Checklist handout located within the Resource Carousel. Have the students draw two parallel lines across a plain piece of paper in a landscape position. Show them how to divide these two lines into four measures each. (Note: Since this exercise deals only with rhythmic elements, it is not necessary for students to draw the full, five-lined musical staff.)


1. Have students check each other’s work. Have students pair up or get into small groups. Ask them to clap out other students’ compositions to make sure each measure has four beats.

2. Have the students copy their compositions onto an overhead projector sheet. The class should clap out each student’s composition.

3. Finish the lesson with a discussion of what students have learned. Remind them that rhythm is the foundation of all music, from Mozart to modern-day rappers. Ask them questions such as:

  • What is 4/4 time?
  • Explain what a whole note, whole rest, half note, half rest, quarter note and quarter rest mean/do.
  • Why is rhythm important?

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