Music can have a very powerful effect on our bodies. We tap our feet, nod our heads, drum our fingers, sway, leap, twirl, stomp, flex, and wave our hands in time to its pulse. Even in the rarefied atmosphere of a concert hall, where the audience is expected to remain respectfully still and silent, our breathing and heartbeat synchronize with the music. Sound and movement are so closely intertwined, some languages have just one word meaning both music and dance. In I Got Rhythm, I introduced four note-lengths based on familiar bodily movements. I then called them Breathe, Jump, Walk, and Run, but have since reassessed and now prefer Stomp, Jump, Step and Run. ‘Step’ sounds better than ‘Walk’ when said aloud repeatedly and, while breathing is a good timekeeper, stomping is a gross-motor skill and thus consistent with the others. Also, stomping is much, much more fun!
So, here is how I like to introduce the four note lengths to young children…
The Heartbeat tracks below are just a simple metronome; a pulse to mark time and help guide us. Try the slower and and faster heartbeats after the regular on. It may seem counter-intuitive, but playing something slower can be more difficult; there is more time in which to make a mistake.
With the heartbeats setting the pace, it’s now time to get acquainted with the movements, starting with the Stomp.
With your child, listen and stomp your foot on every fourth heartbeat. Stomp firmly with either foot and aim to make your footstep and the beat coincide, as though they create one sound. repeatedly say “Stomp…and…wait…and…” or “One…two…three…four…” to help you and your child feel the gap between stomps. Eventually, you should be able to Stomp without counting.
Next is the Jump. Crouch a little, feet together and leap in the air like a frog. Try to land with both feet on the beat . Say “Jump…and…jump…and…jump…” and so on.
To Step, casually stroll or purposefully march on each and every beat. Stay in place or move around the room. Use your whole body, not just your legs and exaggerate the movements. Occasionally say “Step…step…step…step…” aloud until both you and your child are in the groove, walking effortlessly at the same pace as the heartbeat.
Jog on the spot at twice the rate of the heartbeat. If you have space, run around, although to avoid going too fast, you may need to take small strides on tip-toes. Your child’s shorter stride will make this easier. Have your dominant leg align with each heartbeat while the other lands in the space between. Try “Runandrunandrunandrun…” with each ‘run’ falling on the beat and each ‘and’ inbetween (what musicians call the off-beat). Alternatively, ”LeftRightLeftRightLeftRight…” can guide children who know left from right.
When you and your child have mastered these four movements, string them together in an imaginary journey. For example, you might start out walking through the woods (STEP). Soon you come to a river and jump across on rocks, (JUMP), but at the other side a bear is waiting (RUN!). Once you have outrun the bear, you notice a forest fire and you try to put it out (STOMP), and so on.
Maybe you’re a superhero, minding your own business (WALK) when you hear a cry for help. You put on your rocket-powered boots (STOMP) and sprint off to the rescue (RUN), leaping over tall buildings (JUMP).
Narrate the stories as you go (many children will enjoy making up their own), and join in with the movements. Use people, places and situations familiar to your child for maximum impact. There is no scripted story here for that reason. As always, the crazier the better! It doesn’t matter if you’re stomping on fallen leaves or evil aliens, so long as each stomp takes four beats.
Once these four movements are internalized, they can be used later to create more sophisticated rhythms. They are, after all, just another name for whole-note, half-note, quarter-note and eighth-note.