Rhythm Centers – Freebie!

by | Centers, Elementary Music, Games, Rhythm, Sub Plans

Success! The past two weeks I have implemented music centers successfully for the first time in my career.  Any previous experience doing centers resulted in students simply playing games with no purpose. I was determined to succeed this time!

Rhythm Centers are a GREAT way to offer differentiation in the music classroom AND students have a great time practicing their rhythm skills.

To set up centers in my classroom I did the following:

  • Decide what you want the kids to know.  It might be note names, it might be note counts; whatever it is, have a clear idea of what the purpose of your centers should be.
  • Perform a pre-assessment to determine what your kids already know.  I found that my kids really needed work with the note names and identifying note counts.  Ironically, they could perform the rhythms pretty well and almost 95% of kids could identify rhythm patterns based on teacher performance.  So I set up my centers to work on note names/counts.  I included two centers on rhythm performance to support those students in the 5% that did have trouble with this skill.
  • Make your groups based on your pre-assessment data.  You may want to have a mix of high-level performers and low-level in order for students to support each other.  In my classroom I have found the high-level students simply carry the low-level students so I grouped them by ability (with some modification for student-cooperation levels and gender distribution).  I labeled them with a group number and A, B, C which referred to the results from the pre-assessment.  So group 1A was called Group 1 to the kids and I knew they Aced the pre-test.  I would make sure 1A was rotated through the more challenging centers.
  • You may want to cycle your kids through all centers or hand-pick which centers they will go through.  Either way, keep good records of who has been where.  I use simple post-it notes to keep group data.
  • Before we start rotating, I take about 5 minutes to explain each center.  The first time I just let them read the directions and I had more questions than I could keep up with!  The next time I explained all the centers at once and had very few questions and they were about obscure situations I couldn’t predict.

Centers in My Room

Many of these centers require extra purchases such as traditional board games, PVC pipes, and other materials. In many cases, I have put up the center instructions on TpT (linked on each game where appropriate). My kids loved ALL of these games in our rhythm centers (and were actually learning and practicing skills!).

Centers I used:

1.  Teacher instruction

  • This is my chance to teach complicated concepts such as tied notes, dotted half notes, whole/half rest, etc. in small groups.  I sometimes use my IWB and sometimes simple lap white boards depending on the activity.
  • The concept being taught differs from grade level to grade level based on their curriculum. You will need to decide how (or if) you run a teacher center.
  • For my older groups we used the Magna Slate Writer (no longer available 🙁 ) to learn about dotted notes.  We use the rule of Split, Double, Add to figure them out. (Split the counts in half, double one side, add the counts back together).

2. Ipads – Rhythm Cat

  • Students perform on the app Rhythm Cat. Depending on the number of iPads available, I might have one or two groups doing Rhythm Cat.  Rhythm Cat has a lite version, which offer 15 levels of free patterns.  I have found this to be more than enough for my students for use in one or two music classes.
  • To play, students are shown a rhythm pattern that they must tap out on a green button.  They hold down for longer notes and don’t play for rests.  Background music helps them keep a tempo (I find that headphones help students stay on track).  Note: Students have to firmly tap the green button for it to count their play.

3.  Rhythm Race – Note Counting Version

  • Students have to add up the number of beats/counts on a card in order to move forward that number of spaces.  They move backwards when they get a rest card!  There are fun cards that cause skipping turns that the students particularly enjoy.  There are several levels and can be found as a bundle on my TpT store or individually. (Level 1 is a FREEBIE!)

4. Rhythm Race – Note Naming Version

  • Students have to match the term on the card with a symbol on the board;  they get to move forward to that spot!  There are fun cards that cause skipping turns that the students particularly enjoy.  There are several levels and can be found as a bundle on my TpT store or individually.

5.Rhythm Ladders

  • I used the plans by Amy Abbott to build 3 sets of Rhythm Ladders.  Some minor modifications were made to make the ladders shorter and I slit my pool noodles lengthways so they could be removed without taking the whole thing apart.  I also glued mine together because unglued they were falling apart!
  • In the game I created, one student will be the caller and call out rhythms to the other students.  (I made cards that had the counts on them such as “1, 2&, 3&, 4.”  Students have to race to make their rhythm ladder match what they hear.  Students create rhythms by rotating pool noodles.

6. Don’t Spill the Rhythms! – You can purchase the instructions and game cards here!

  • I bought the game Don’t Spill the Beans and wrote a music note on each bean.  Then I Mod Podged over my writing to make sure it didn’t rub off!
  • Students must distribute the beans evenly to everyone.  Leftover beans go on the pot.  Then they draw cards and put the corresponding bean on the pot. (i.e. note says “Quarter Note” then they have to find a bean with a picture of a quarter note).
  • If they don’t have a bean or mis-identify a bean, they skip their turn.
  • If the pot dumps they have to take the beans.
  • The winner is the person who gets rid of all their beans!

7.  Don’t Break the Notes! – You can purchase the instructions and game cards here!

  • I bought the game Don’t Break the Ice! and wrote musical notes on each piece.  Then I Mod Podged over my writing to make sure it didn’t rub off!
  • Students draw cards and tap out the corresponding note on the board (i.e. note says “Quarter Note” then they have to tap out the ice with a quarter note on it).
  • When they break the ice and the bear falls, the game is over.
  • This is a game of elimination – like a tournament.  When you lose, you are out the next round.
  • The winner is the person who never causes the bear to fall.

What kind of centers do YOU do? I would love to hear about it!

Wrapping Things Up

My final advice? When in doubt, bake cookies! (Pillsbury makes an excellent pull apart cookie dough, I must say). A dozen cookies on someone’s desk can make them feel warm and gooey inside (pun intended). This strategy has been around since the beginning of time and is a tried and true method.

If you are new at school and looking for lessons for the first day, you might also enjoy this post on first day lesson plans! 

Who did I miss? Any other key people in school we should add?



picture of Shelley Tomich

I'm busy mom of three and music educator in Atlanta, GA. My passion is helping busy music teachers deliver time saving, engaging lessons so you have more time to enjoy your life! Click my photo to learn more! Teach music. Love life.

Find it Fast

colorful dot border

Let’s Connect

colorful dot border

Visit My Store

colorful dot border

picture of TpT logo

Popular Resources

colorful dot border

The cover includes a cartoon drawing of three students creating a maypole. The text on the cover says "Marvelous Maypole: Historical Facts, how to make a DIY maypole, dance instructions, lesson plans, and more!


colorful dot border



colorful dot border



  1. Terri

    I love your Don’t Break the Ice Idea. I use Twister with grades 1-3 and they LOVE it. I wrote notes and symbols on the board and on the spinner and they have to call out the name of the notes. I just found Candy Land at a yard sale and plan to incorporate that too. I just haven’t come up with the details yet.

    • Shelley with Pitch Publications

      I LOVE Candy Land type games (I ended up making my own game board games called Rhythm Race and Pitch Parkway). They worked great!

  2. Stacie Bates

    Is that a storage closet I see? I’ve wanted to create the pool noodle rhythm ladder, but I just don’t have space to put it. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to it…looks like fun! #fermatafridays

    • Shelley with Pitch Publications

      It is a storage closet (albeit a disaster!).

  3. Elizabeth Caldwell

    Love your ideas for using board games to reinforce music concepts in centers. I used some card game activities, and iPad apps, last year in my centers, but it would be fun to include some of the board games next year as well! My problem is that I have always rotated all of the students through all of the stations when I do centers, so maybe I need to try your suggestion of hand-selecting which station they go to…. hmm, lots to think about 🙂 #fermatafridays

    • Shelley with Pitch Publications

      Thank you, Elizabeth! 🙂 The one time I tried rotating through all the stations it took WAY too long. So I just tell them up front we just don’t have time to get to every station. That’s life 🙂

  4. Mrs. Dennis

    My students love centers! I’m on the lookout for Don’t Break The Ice and some pool noodles!

    • Shelley with Pitch Publications

      Yay! 🙂

  5. Michelle

    Love the Don’t Spill the Notes idea! I have used Rhythm Cat as well in centers. The kids love that game.

    • Shelley with Pitch Publications

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Sally

    I have been slowly working my way towards using centers again. I quit after a bad experience a few years ago. You have some great suggestions on setting them up and managing the class. I love your game suggestions and also the rhythm ladders. Thanks for a great post!

    • Shelley with Pitch Publications

      You are so welcome! I just finished up doing these again this year and the kids wanted more! I told them just wait till we hit the melody unit! 🙂

  7. Christi

    I also use the “Don’t Break the Ice Game”, but with laminated squares that have the skill I am teaching. (rhythms, note names, instruments). Velcro dots allow me to easily modify the game without purchasing more games.

    • Shelley with Pitch Publications

      That is awesome! What a great idea! Do the velcro dots cause problems in tapping out the ice? The game itself is cool and was a big hit. I did wish I had bought one more because the kids really wanted to rotate through this center!

      • Christi

        The new dots are super thin and sticky. No problem with them at all. I have picked up several of the games at Goodwill.

        • Melanie

          That’s a great idea. I bought the game and then for each additional concept I just made bingo chips with the content and it still flipped the pot, just took a little while longer!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Free stuff!

Want free resources? Enter your information to join my email list and get exclusive access to my freebie library!

You will also receive regular emails with tips, resources, freebies, and updates on paid products.

You did it! Check your email for more information!