Tempo, or speed, is one of the building blocks of music. Activities and games can help pre-school and elementary-aged children learn to recognize it.
Young children tend to respond to different types of music in different ways. If you have spent time with babies or toddlers, you have probably seen them relax to the soothing sounds of their mothers' lullabies, or bounce and wave their arms to a song with a fast rock beat. They are innately feeling the tempo of the music. The following cross-curricular games and activities can help children to recapture this feeling, and begin to understand it cognitively.
What is Tempo?
When teaching music to children, it is best to use the proper terminology. Even if they are years away from learning to play an instrument or read music, using the correct terms when they are young will increase their understanding later. Tempo refers to the speed of a song or musical composition. When writing music, composers sometimes use a metronome marking to communicate the tempo of the song. Alternately, they may use Italian words (adagio, allegro, presto), or English words (slowly, fast rock beat). It is fun for children to learn the meaning of these words.
Using a Metronome
A metronome is a machine which measures beats per minute. You may have the old-fashioned type, which has a weighted stick that swings back and forth, or one of the newer electronic ones. Children love to use these, adjusting them to make the ticks go faster and slower. In metronome markings (M.M.), quarter note = 60 means that there are 60 beats in a minute, or one beat each second. M.M. 40 would therefore be slower, and M.M. 100 would be faster. Traditional march beat is M.M. 120, or two beats per second. If you do not have a metronome available, you can use a clock with a second hand, or a timer which ticks seconds.
Moving to music is one of the easiest ways to learn to recognize tempo. The following activities can be done while listening to music or making your own music. As the children gain experience, introduce music that speeds up or slows down during the song.
Clapping hands, stomping feet, or playing rhythm instruments along with a song help children to feel the beat.
Marching and dancing use the whole body to feel the tempo. Make sure to give the children direction, however. If they are dancing freely, they may or may not be paying attention to the tempo of the song. Demonstrate the steps you want them to do, and then dance along with them.
Ask the children to move at different speeds - using descriptive words, or even metronome markings as the basis. Try using the Italian words instead. If you don't know the proper words, some of them are written on metronomes, or you can get an inexpensive music dictionary.
Children's games such as "Ring Around the Rosie" or "Motorboat, Motorboat" help children to move in tempo. "Motorboat" is especially good, as the circle goes faster as the game goes on.
Some language arts activities lend themselves well to learning about tempo.
Poetry reading - from Mother Goose to Shakespeare's Sonnets, poetry has its own sense of rhythm. Reading poetry aloud to children helps them to connect feeling to the words.
Try saying words in ways that describe their meanings (i.e. "quick!-quick!" and "sloooow").
Have the children act out a particularly exciting or sorrowful part of a story, using their movements to help show the mood. Point out the connections to emotions and tempo.
Engaging in artistic pursuits while listening to music can help children focus on different elements of the music.
Have the children draw a picture. This works well with instrumental music. Note if their hands are moving slowly when the music is slow, and quicker when the music speeds up. Ask the children to explain their drawings when they are done.
Instead of drawing, you can have the children mold something out of clay while listening to music.
Children enjoy making their own instruments. Have them decorate an oatmeal box or coffee can for a drum, or make shakers from empty plastic bottles filled with rice or beans. Cut one-inch dowels into ten or twelve inch lengths, and have them paint them. Use the hand-made instruments for some of the previous activities.
Games and cross-curricular activities can enhance your children's understanding of music. They can also help children who are reluctant to learn, by associating music with another activity they enjoy. Refer to the article "Teaching Music to Your Children" for more information about musical elements your children should know.
Copyright Robin Wheatley