How can I get my primary school children to find the beat to the music?

When we speak to primary school teachers around the country, when it comes to how they can teach dance in their primary school without any previous dance experience, many want to know how they can help the children find the beat to the music.

Before you do any dancing or moving with the children, they need to understand the beat and phrase of the music.  This means when they do get up and start moving, they can work in time to the music and they can count it for themselves, which saves you a job.

We’re going to look at 3 things:

Once you understand these key terms, we're going to have a look at some activities for you to do with the children to embed the learning.

So, let Gaye and Imogen take you through what we mean by the beat and phrase of the music, how this relates to dance, and how you can quickly and easily get your class finding the beat to the music.      

Scroll down to find a short video and supporting text to help you understand more dance terminology for your primary school dance lesson.  

Watch the short video to understand what we mean when we talk about the beat and phrase of the music, and how you can quickly and easily get your children working to the beat.  

Scroll down to read the transcript of the video. 

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Transcript from the video...

How to find the beat to the music...

In this blog we’re going to have a look at the concept of beat and phrase, this is how we use the beat of the music to build up our dance.

My name's Gaye from imoves, and we're going to look at the beat and phrase.  Before you do any dancing or moving with the children, they need to understand the beat and phrase of the music.  This means when they do get up and start moving, they can work in time to the music and they can count it for themselves, which saves you a job.

We’re going to look at 3 things:

Beat – the beat of the music

Block – 8 beats make up a block

Phrase – 4 blocks of 8 beats is the phrase (32 beats in total).

To begin with, we're going to have a look at some activities for you to do with the children. We're going to use our samba music, which is a really great track. But don't forget, you will do this with every single piece of music that you use in your dance lessons.

The first thing we're going to do is to get all the children seated in front of you and somewhere that they can hear the music. You're going to pop the music on and then all you do is get them to do a little bop, or a little movement, which could be just the shoulders or it could be or another part of their body.  Whatever they're doing, they're just doing a little movement in time to the beat of the music. Once you've got that going, make sure everybody is moving in time to the music.

Now we start to get everybody in a line to get them into the music.

Music is made up of the beat, and 8 beats together make up a block, with the first beat called the ‘one’.   We’re going to find the one.

We've got one to eight, and that just keeps repeating and repeating. And once we've got that, it makes it so much easier to do that dance.

So here we go. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five. Get the children to join in. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

Once we've got our blocks of eight and we can hear that ‘one’ in the music, we can start to put them together in four blocks of eight, this is called the phrase and consists of 32 beats.

The first count of your phrase of 32 beats, or your 4 blocks of 8 beats becomes your ‘big one’.

The ‘big one’ is the beat we start our routine with, and we sure we make a big show of that big one.  Let's have a look at how we can do this.

We're going to start working in those four blocks and then repeat it back at that big one again. Okay, here we go...

We've got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, back to the beginning, eight and…

Big one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, back to the beginning, eight...

Big one. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, back to the beginning…

Big one, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

You just keep repeating the 32, starting on that big one. 

Most music has been created with these 32 count blocks, so no matter which piece of music you use, the children will find it easy to create their performance in their routine.

Now let's have a look to see how we can do it practically.

So here are Jack and Morgan waiting for the music to start. And then we'll just get them to follow along to the music, so get them clapping along so they’re in time with the music. 

Then let’s bring some movement by getting them walking between 2 points which we show here using 2 spots.  We do this for eight beats, so they move forward on 4 beats and then back on 4 beats. 

Dead easy really easy to manage, really easy to facilitate. Once you've got them going, you can then start to change up the movement, so rather than a clap, maybe get them doing a roll with the hands and arms.

We get that for a couple blocks of eight, counting them through. So, everyone's really, really getting to understand the structure.

This is a great warm up for the children at the start of the lesson and definitely at the start of using a new piece of music.  It’s just about getting those eight counts over and over into their heads so that they really understand those eights, and then to understand the ‘big one’ at the start of the phrase or count of 32, and the small ‘one’ at the start of the block or 8 beats. 

Let’s have a look at how we can structure this activity for younger children. So here are Jack and Morgan waiting for the music to start and then we'll just get them to follow along to the music, clapping along, and then walking in between groups.  We do this for eight beats, and repeat for 3 more leading to the next block.

For older children; let’s have a dance off!  The kids absolutely love this because they can really freestyle it out!  Line them up facing each other about 10 paces apart, don’t give them any choreography just let them do what they want, it's just about sticking to those blocks of eight starting on the big one, working in four blocks of eight and then going back to the beginning and starting again on that big one. 

Here, we've got Jack and Morgan showing you in the two lines marching, ready for the music to start getting ready with the introduction, and then they're going to walk towards each other for eight.  In the second block of eight, freestyle, whatever they want to do.  Then the third block of eight, they move back to their start position; and the fourth block of eight, they give it some attitude with another pose, really simple, and then they go again.

I think the main thing is that it’s a great way of hooking those cats in again is let them have so much fun that they forget that they're actually dancing.

They're giving it so much attitude. Let's face it, they've got plenty of that.  It's just so much fun for them and everyone is in stitches by the end of it.  All of a sudden, you are the coolest teacher in town.

You can do this as a warm up or you could even do it as an entire lesson, using different types and styles of music.  If you are going to do this for an entire lesson, the following exercise is a great way to extend the learning. 

It’s called the ‘funky handshake walk’.   They do exactly the same exercise we’ve just described, but rather than a pose in the middle, they create a pair and do their own funky handshake when they come into the middle.  It can be claps, slaps, or booms, or whatever they want to do.  You can give them free rein but they just need to fit it into a block of eight.   It becomes their first opportunity to start to do something with a little bit of timing.   Sometimes they'll try and fit too much into an eight-count block, they realize that they actually we need to slow down and make it a little bit simpler.

Let's have a look at Jack and Morgan doing that.  It's exactly the same thing, but rather than the freestyle pose, when they come into the middle, they do a funky handshake.  So here we go, marching on the spot walking in, here comes the funky handshake; Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.  Walk back, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and then hold it down at the end.  Then they repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, they get better and better and better at it, before you know it, they've created their own piece of choreography.

So, it's something that they feel really cool doing and they don't feel silly or they don't feel like, “Oh, I can't do that because it's not cool enough for me”, they’re feeling, “yeah, I can, I can do that”!  They may start to get competitive as well with the best handshake, especially with the year five, year six boys.

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