Teaching Students to Feel the Beat with Rhythm Dots

Teaching Students to Feel the Beat with Rhythm Dots

Do you struggle with teaching students to feel the beat?

They can’t keep a steady beat, they get confused when you introduce new rhythms, and they claim they hate counting?

As these students advance, it is inevitable that their struggle with rhythm will continue as they confuse eighth notes and sixteenth notes.

But piano students don’t have to hate rhythm.

In fact, as teachers, we can make rhythm fun for students!

And a lot of it lies in teaching students to feel the beat.

In this blog post, I will cover practical and fun rhythm exercises you can use to teach children rhythm as well as tactile products that will help your students master rhythm better.

There are two important, codependent aspects to consider when you teach children rhythm: how to feel rhythm and how to understand rhythm.

Rhythm is a full-body experience. If your student understands that a “whole note gets four beats” that is only half of the battle. They must feel when they are short-changing those four beats or when they’re adding an extra half beat to a quarter note.

Keeping those two aspects in mind (feeling & understanding) can guide you as you seek the best ways in teaching students to feel the beat.

If you tend to teach rhythm on-bench applied to music scores and instruments, consider seeking out off-bench rhythm games.

In contrast, if you do a lot of off-bench activities, consider focusing more on feeling rhythm in application on the instrument.

Not every teaching strategy works best to teach children rhythm. So it’s a good idea to have multiple ideas in your arsenal to whip out for your students.

10 Tips for Teaching Students to FEEL rhythm with Rhythm Dots

Sometimes you need to take the student away from whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes and instead focus on longer and shorter rhythmic patterns.

Rhythm Dots makes it easy to help students feel the different note values rather than mathematically analyzing them.

You can fully customize the rhythm activities you do with Rhythm Dots and start with one against one then two against one and so on.

I like to use single dot tiles for the very first activity. Lay single dot tiles on the left side and have the student tap along with a metronome beat. Set the metronome at different tempos for this. The kids find it so amusing when they have to wait on the beats at a super slow tempo.


Rhythm Dots also helps with coordination between differing rhythms. I like to introduce polyrhythms in a fun way! Rhythm Dots makes it easy to do 2 against 3 and 3 against 4. This is a challenge that even the youngest students will have fun with!


You can use Rhythm Dots as a stand-alone activity to teach children rhythm, or you can use it as the foundation of more fun activities. 

Here are 10 more ideas for Rhythm Dots 

1) Play Rhythm Dots with your student.

You as the teacher can clap or tap one side of Rhythm Dots while the student claps or taps the other side. This is a great activity if you’re introducing Rhythm Dots for the first time and your student doesn’t have the coordination to do both sides by themselves.

2) Pair Rhythm Dots with a popular soundtrack.

Have students tap a “percussion part” while the soundtrack is playing. You can start with simple one and two rhythm tiles for the student to tap along with. This will help them feel the beat of the music and yet teach them to be independent by sticking to their own rhythm regardless of what the soundtrack plays.

3) Use words for Rhythm Dots.

You can take any common word and apply them to Rhythm Dots. “Name” the different tiles so when the student sees it, they call out its name (e.g. one = chips, two = choc’late, three = raspberry, four = cream filled do-nut). The options are endless–especially because you can have students pick words that relate to any theme (food, animals, colors, Christmas, Halloween, etc.).

4) Have students rearrange tiles in any order.

Once they have the tiles arranged, turn on the metronome and have them tap their pattern. Then, rearrange the tiles and see if they can immediately change what they’re tapping! When the rhythm tiles are on the board, they're easy to rearrange by sliding up/down and right/left.


5) Have fun with the metronome & Rhythm Dots

Once a student has mastered tapping out a sequence of dot patterns, challenge them by speeding up the metronome. I usually get lots of laughs with this one as students enjoy the speed challenge.


6) Select Rhythm Dots at random.

Turn the tiles upside down and have students pick up tiles to arrange on the board so that they get a random pattern for tapping. This is a great way to mix up the Rhythm Dots review and introduce your students to new pattern combinations.

7) Use tiles without the board.

Don’t want to limit Rhythm Dots to only 14 rhythms? The tiles are thick enough to easily use on their own without the board. This works especially well in a group setting where the teacher can clap a pattern and students must find the correct dot tiles and lay them out in order.


8) Build a long rhythm train.

During group music class, divide dot tiles between all students and have them work together to build a long rhythm train across the room! Then, they have to go through and see how far they can get clapping & counting accurately.

9) Build a rhythm pattern.

Similar to idea #8, you can have students sit in a circle. Each student gets to choose a tile to contribute to the pattern. Once everyone has added a tile, have each student take turns clapping their tile one after another, then everyone clap the entire pattern together.

10) Sing with Rhythm Dots

If a student has mastered all of those rhythm activity ideas, try singing with the Rhythm Dots. They can tap one side and sing the other. Can they keep a steady beat while they sing a different rhythm?

Bonus: Use with Tile Holder

Students can arrange a sequence of dot patterns in their tile holders before putting them on the board. 

The Tile Holder also opens up more gameplay opportunities, as the students can play a “go fish” style of game.


What ideas do you have for teaching students to feel the beat?

There are so many other ideas you can use to teach students rhythm with Rhythm Dots and other tools. How do you help your students feel the beat?

Rhythm Dots Version 2 features:

  • Thicker tiles
  • Sturdy board
  • Drawstring canvas storage bag

Get Rhythm Dots here.

Download a free printable Rhythms Dots worksheet here.

Here are two ideas to get you started with using this free printable in your studio.
  • Teacher claps a 4 bar rhythm pattern (1-4 dots for each rhythm/line) and students can colour in the dots.
  • Assign students to create their own rhythm patterns for clapping.

Download your free printable Rhythms Dots worksheet here.

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