The poison rhythm game is commonly done in group settings, but here is an adaptation for a private lesson.
What You Need:
Drums or other percussion instruments (optional)
How to Play:
Write out one measure of rhythm in 4/4 time and place it where both players can see it. This is the poison rhythm.
The teacher plays a measure in 4/4 time (not the poison rhythm). If you’re not using instruments, just clap the rhythm. The student should listen carefully and play or clap it back.
Repeat the call and response rhythms as many times as you like.
At some point, the teacher should play the poison rhythm. The student should NOT play back the poison rhythm. If they stop and do nothing, they have earned a point. If they are not paying attention and do play it back, the teacher earns a point.
Write a new poison rhythm and go again. The game ends whenever you run out of time.
To make it easier, use only basic rhythms, count out loud, and give the student multiple chances to play back each rhythm.
To make it harder, use more complicated rhythms or make each rhythm two measures long.
To make it more creative, switch roles so that the student is generating all the rhythms.
Write out what note values you want to go with each number on the die. For example, 1 = quarter note, 2 = half note, etc. Depending on the ability level of the student, some might be two eighth notes or a dotted quarter note. Reserve 5 for wild and 6 for the Special 6 card.
How to Play:
Student rolls the die. They need to create a measure in 4/4 time that includes at least one of whatever note value they rolled. Write their rhythm in one of the measures on their line (it does not have to be the first measure).
For most students, I had them count and clap the measure first and then write it because I want them to feel the beat more than I want them to be able to add up to four beats. But if they struggle with that, you could do it the other way around.
Most students also wrote their own rhythm down. I only did it for the youngest ones.
If you roll a 5 (wild), there are no restrictions. Any note values are fine.
If you roll a 6 on the first turn, just roll again. If you roll a 6 on subsequent turns, draw a special 6 card, follow the instructions, and roll again.
Teacher takes a turn and creates a measure on her own line.
Once you both have a measure, count and clap your lines as a duet.
If a measure has nothing in it yet, treat it as a whole rest.
For every measure done correctly, award one point. (Don’t count the rest measures.)
Repeat the process, except count and clap the duet and award points after each person has a turn. This ensures the student always has a chance to remain a point ahead. Continue until you fill all the measures or you run out of lesson time.
The teacher draws a rhythm card. She counts a preparatory measure out loud and then claps the rhythm on the card without counting aloud.
The student chooses his favorite color of marker and writes the rhythm up on the board.
Switch jobs and repeat
If you choose to play for points, here’s how I did it.
The students get two points if they correctly write the rhythm within two times of hearing it. If it takes more than two repetitions, they go down to one point. I never let them get to zero because we keep going until they get it right.
The teacher gets one point for getting it right and has to get it on the first attempt. This ensures that the student will always at least tie me. Only one student complained that it wasn’t fair enough to challenge her. I switched to one of the variations below and she stopped complaining.
To make it easier, limit your rhythm cards to very basic things like four quarter notes, two half notes, etc.
To make it harder, include the harder rhythms or make it two measures long.
Chimes, bells, a xylophone, or some other pitched instrument
Preferably, each note should be on a different bell or chime, rather than part of a fixed keyboard.
How to Play:
The student picks a bell. He draws a card and plays that rhythm on the bell counting aloud.
He draws two more cards and counts and lays them with the first to make a rhythm that is three measures long.
When he is confident with the rhythm, the teacher can choose a different bell and play along. (Choose a bell in the same chord.)
The student can then draw three cards for the teacher. Then they play a duet where the two rhythms are different. Many students have trouble holding onto their rhythm, so this is good for independence.
Finally, give the student three bells that form a triad. The student should then play the rhythm again, but move between the three bells in any order they choose. Because all the notes are in a chord, it will make a pretty melody.
If you are using a xylophone that cannot have the bells removed, you can still point out the right notes, but there is a much higher likelihood that the student will miss.
Often when a student is struggling with a phrase or measure, I’ll suggest that we play it slower. My students nod and say okay. Then they play it again at exactly the same speed. They often really don’t seem capable of changing whatever their default speed is. So this week we are working on tempo changes.
Stand up in front of the piano. Have the student pick four of the body percussion cards and lay them out in any order on the music stand. I put a ruler afterwards to represent a repeat sign.
Each card gets one beat, so we now have a measure of quarter notes in 4/4 time with a repeat sign. For example, the layout might be: Clap, Stamp, Stamp, Cluck. Practice the rhythm a few times.
The metronome app on my phone allows me to tap a beat and have it give me the metronome marking, so I tell the kids we are going to find out what their default preferred tempo is. They count, I tap, and the metronome gives us our start speed.
Working together, try to do the body percussion measures at that speed.
Draw a random tempo strip. Try it at that speed. Is it faster or slower than the student’s default speed? (If they get Presto and can’t manage it, that’s okay. It can be a good lesson in how important it is to learn things at a slower tempo before we try to take it fast.)
Continue drawing tempo strips until all are done. Which tempos are easiest? Which are hardest? How does it feel to switch between them?
If there is still time, try different tempos or working your way back up to presto. Many times a student who can’t do presto when they first draw that strip, will be able to do it if you work your way up slowly.
To make it easier, don’t use the rest cards. Also, you can require each card to come in a group of two identical cards, so that you end up with something like: Clap, Clap, Stomp, Stomp. It is easier than having four separate actions in the measure.
To make it harder, create two different measures. Also, gradually increase the speed beyond presto.