First Rhythmic Composition

Learning about the terms and symbols associated with music notation


Key Staff

Primary instructor with opportunity to collaborate with the music teacher

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Making Art: Composing and Planning


This lesson introduces students to rhythm concepts, including the names and symbols associated with music notation. Students will fill in a chart that outlines names and meanings of rhythmic musical symbols. Then, using these symbols, they will clap rhythm sequences and compose their first compositions. They will also compare these rhythmic sequences to math concepts.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Apply math concepts in fractions to musical notation recognition and rhythm execution
  • Clap rhythm patterns using the above concepts
  • Compose an eight-measure rhythmic composition that requires them to use all of the above concepts
  • Recognize and identify the following musical symbols and concepts: Quarter rest, Quarter note, Half note, Half rest, Pair of eighth notes, Measures, Bar lines, Double bar lines, 4/4 time signature

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Projector
  • Speakers
Technology Notes

You will need to know how to disconnect the right speaker during the lesson. If you are not sure how to do this, please consult your school’s media specialist.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should be familiar with musical notation and the relationship between notes/rests and fractions. Teachers should familiarize themselves with teaching rhythm and notation using the following sources:


  • Lavender, Cheryl. Rockin’ Rhythm Raps: A Sequential Approach to Rhythm Reading (book and CD package). Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Publications.


Prior Student Knowledge

Students should have basic familiarity of the concepts of:

  • Rhythm
  • Notes
  • Time signature

They should also have a solid understanding of fractions.

Physical Space



Make an overhead transparency of Rockin' Rhythm Raps, pages 23-24.

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Ask students what they already know about rhythm. Have them brainstorm words associated with rhythm and write these on the board. Talk about the fact that rhythm is important in music because it provides structure to the melody or background accompaniment

2. Pass out the Notation worksheet located within the Resource Carousel and ask students to fill in any information they already know. The column on the left should contain a drawing of the symbol. The column on the right should signify the duration of the note or notes in a whole number or a fraction. (This chart should be kept in the students’ notes, and students should add to it as new rhythm concepts are introduced.)

3. Complete the chart and review it as a class. The teacher should demonstrate how to represent the length of each rhythmic element visually in a clapping sequence, such as in the following examples:

  • Quarter note: clap
  • Quarter rest: hands out
  • Half note: clap and hold with forward movement to represent the second beat

4. Have students read and clap out rhythm patterns from Rockin' Rhythm Raps. Display the overhead produced from Rockin' Rhythm Raps, pages 23-24. The first time, the teacher should clap the rhythms with the students. The students then clap out the rhythms again with the aid of the solo and rap accompaniment from the CD.

Finally, turn off the right-hand speakers so that the class claps alone with the accompaniment. Repeat this exercise as needed until the class can clap the exercise with the accompaniment without the solo or the teacher.

Build Knowledge

1. Using fractions in math, discuss the math concepts in notation. Distribute fraction manipulatives and explain the relationship between notes/rests and fractions. For example, 1 whole fraction circle is equal to 2 half circles, just as 1 whole note is equal to 2 half notes. Show and have students explore the following relationships:

  • 1 whole note = 2 half notes = 4 quarter notes
  • 1 half note = 2 quarter notes = 4 eighth notes
  • 1 quarter note = 2 eighth notes = 4 sixteenth notes
  • 1 whole rest = 2 half rests = 4 quarter rests

2. Have students practice mathematical equations using music notes. Write the following equations on the board and have students work in pairs with their manipulatives to solve the equations. (Students can answer in notes or numbers.)


half note + quarter note + quarter note = _____ (whole note)

½ + ¼ + ¼ = _____ (1)


whole note – half note = _____ (half note)

1 - ½ = _____ ( ½ )


3. Have students create an equation for peers to solve. Working independently or in pairs, students should create an equation using notes. Students should double check their equations, then switch with another student and try to solve each other’s equations.


1. Explain the 4/4 time signature. Explain that a time signature is a sign that shows how many beats should be in each measure. For a 4/4 time signature, each measure has 4 beats, and each beat is a quarter note. Thus, each measure should have the equivalent of 4 quarter notes. Ask students what else they could use to create a complete measure in 4/4 time (1 whole note, 2 half notes, 1 half note and 2 quarter notes, etc.).

2. Have students compose an eight-measure rhythmic composition using the assignment Checklist handout located within the Resource Carousel. Have the students draw two parallel lines across a plain piece of paper in a landscape position. Show them how to divide these two lines into four measures each. (Note: Since this exercise deals only with rhythmic elements, it is not necessary for students to draw the full, five-lined musical staff.)


1. Have students check each other’s work. Have students pair up or get into small groups. Ask them to clap out other students’ compositions to make sure each measure has four beats.

2. Have the students copy their compositions onto an overhead projector sheet. The class should clap out each student's composition.

3. Finish the lesson with a discussion of what students have learned. Remind them that rhythm is the foundation of all music, from Mozart to modern-day rappers. Ask them questions such as:

  • What is 4/4 time?
  • Explain what a whole note, whole rest, half note, half rest, quarter note and quarter rest mean/do.
  • Why is rhythm important?


Assess your student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 5-8 Music Standard 3: Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments

Grade 5-8 Music Standard 4: Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines

Grade 5-8 Music Standard 5: Reading and notating music

National Standards in Other Subjects

Math Standard 2: Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of numbers

Math Standard 9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics



Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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