Of all age groups, young children are probably our most enthusiastic music-makers. I remember my four-year-old son coming home from the beach one day where he’d collected a variety of shells and small pieces of driftwood. He began to click the shells together like castanets and tap the driftwood pieces. He smiled at me and said, “I’m a drummer!”
Kids are fascinated by all kinds of sounds, either making them or hearing them. Their impromptu music-making is often rhythmic and they can frequently go into action by simply clapping hands, snapping fingers, or jumping to the beat.
In his book “The Joy of Drumming,” Tom Klower writes, “The enormous wealth of sounds from percussion instruments astonishes and fascinates nearly everyone. The timbre or ‘color’ of the sound strikes the imagination. This is percussion’s great charm: its timbre carries messages from the soul.”
Percussion instruments are untuned, which means they just make noise. They make a sound when one hits, scrapes, or shakes them. As a result, they provide an easy and fun way to introduce pre-schoolers to rhythms and music play. Small hand drums, rhythm sticks, wood blocks, or shakers are perfect instruments for tiny musicians since they can experiment with rhythm and improve fine-motor skills at the same time.
In his book, “The Parents’ Book of Facts: Child Development from Birth to Age Five,” Tom Biracree writes, “Fine motor skills and activities are extremely important in preparation for school. Developing small-muscle strength and coordination are necessary for writing, drawing, and other creative activities.”
To start children off with rhythms, it’s best to find instruments that are easy for them to play. Look for small drums such as the hand drum, bongo drum, frame drum, or tambourine, all which can be played with the hands. As well, try experimenting with lummi sticks, which are great starter instruments for young children. Named after the Lummi Native American peoples, they are hardwood sticks, about seven inches long. They’re easy to hold and to tap out simple rhythm patterns for young children.
There are a number of rhythm games you can play using percussion instruments that will promote interaction between you and your child as well as developing listening skills. Here are some simple rhythm games:
Mother Goose rhythms
Children love to drum or tap while accompanying their favorite songs. Begin with nursery rhymes as they are a rich source of ideas for drumming. Tap the beat on the drum while chanting rhymes such as “Hickory Dickory Dock” or “Hot Cross Buns.”
How many beats or what time is it?
This is a counting game. The leader plays a number of steady beats on the drum and asks the child, “How many did I tap?” or “What time is the clock striking?” Keep it simple. Once your child is confident, he can take a turn being the leader.
The leader taps out a simple rhythm on the drum. Next, the child taps back the rhythm on her drum. Keep the phrases short and simple. It may take a little time for your child to succeed with this activity. Always give encouragement, even if the echo is not exact.
Lots of fun variations can be added to this game. Add dynamics and ask, “Can you play this pattern loud? How about soft?” Or change the tempo to fast and then slow. Ask her, “Can you march and play the drum?” Have fun with your little drummer!
Sounds of rhythm are everywhere, and you can help your child tune into them. Try these prompts:
- Can you make your sticks sound like the clip-clop of a horse?
- Can you make your sticks sound like the tick-tock of a clock?
- Let’s see if we can sound like the pitter-patter of raindrops.
- How about a woodpecker tapping on a tree?
Encourage your child to choose sounds that he wants to make. How about popcorn popping? The ideas are endless!
Drumming with your child will build a strong foundation for further music studies in the future. It may lead to drumming in a band or a playing percussion in an orchestra or an interest in other musical instruments such as the piano.