Using Rhythm to Clean up Performance Material

Published by Darlene on


Welcome!  It is my turn to blog for the Music Education Blogs 31 Days of Rhythm!  I am part of a group of fantastic music teachers and we have partnered together, in honor of MIOSM (Music In Our Schools Month), to share 31 days worth of rhythmic goodies.  Here we are on Day 15.  I can’t believe we are already half way through the 31 days.

Let’s take a moment to look at why we use rhythm syllables to begin with.  I really appreciate the way David Row explains it on Make Moments Matter.

Rhythm syllables were developed so that students could have a musical way to read rhythm. The ideas is that this system could get away from mathematical counting (which feels unmusical) while still showing durations and relationships between notes.  A rhythm syllable system gives the student a set of nonsense syllables or sounds to associate with written notation and beat formations.  Just as solfege syllables (Do, Re, Mi) give the student a tangible thing to say or think when representing an interval or set of pitches, a rhythm syllable system gives the student an easy way to understand note value.  Being able to “think/audiate” in rhythm syllables also helps students to decode rhythms that they hear, making dictation/memorization/performance much easier. 

However, it is fun to swap out rhythm syllables for words centered around a theme, food, a season, etc. I have some apple rhythm words and some pizza rhythm words that are undated and can be used anytime of year that I use in my class. For this post we are going to refer to those as fun rhythm words. Words like…..

  • “pep-per-ro-ni” or “moz-za-rel-la” for four sixteenth notes,
  • “pi-zza” or “ba-con” for two eighth notes,
  • “pan”, “pie”, or “crust” for a quarter note,
  • “me-di-um” for triplets,
  • “meat-lov-ers” or “pine-ap-ple” for eighth / two sixteenth note pattern,
  • “mmmm” for a half note,
  • “dominos” for two sixteenth/ one eighth note pattern.

Be creative!

One of the ways using fun rhythm words is most effective is when I need them to clean up a performance piece we are learning. Currently we are working on a piece that has a rhythmic speaking part. It mixes 8th note triplets and 8th notes and sixteenth notes. The kids were getting it for the most part but it was muddy. I used the “fun rhythm words” to duplicate the rhythm in the song. I placed the appropriate fun words under each beat that would help us clean up the rhythm.  We marched in place while saying the rhythm, had a small group keep a steady beat on drums or rhythm sticks, and made the rhythm notation with our bodies.

The next time we were working on the performance piece, we made the connection of the muddy rhythm in our song to the rhythm, with the “fun rhythm words”, that we had fun with in our previous class. We replaced the “fun rhythm words” with the original words from the performance piece and it was so much cleaner.

One of my favorite sayings is:

You can give a man a fish,

he can eat for a day. 

You can teach a man to fish,

he can eat for a lifetime. 


This is more than just a fun activity, it is a teaching technique that you can use with any performance piece you are teaching. Even if the section needing work is sung and not spoken as in the example. If you have other rhythm words that you like to play with, then use those.  The point is you are now armed with yet another technique that you can use, no matter what performance piece your kids are learning. The next time you are teaching a piece and a problem arises, you now have a method with which you can confidently fix the problem.

Thanks for sharing in the 31 Days of Rhythm and continue to check the Music Ed Blogs for more rhythm ideas for the rest of this month.







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