Saturday, March 12, 2016

Birthday Cake Rhythms

Everyone loves birthday cake - especially 1st graders! A few years ago, I was using a visual included in our textbooks to introduce quarter and eighth notes. It included pictures of 1 or 2 pies per beat to demonstrate a rhythm. We began to come up with types of pie or cake to represent the two-sound beats, i.e. "ap-ple" or "lem-on." The most popular choice for the two-sound beats was "birth-day," because it paired perfectly with "cake" on the 1-sound beat. 

This year, I decided to kick it up a notch and create a set of bright, engaging, PowerPoint slides for the intro to quarter and eighth notes. The slides introduce students to the concept of 1 or 2 sounds per beat and also lead them into reading and playing rhythms with quarter and eighth notes. The slides logically progress in the following sequential manner:

Step 1:

The introductory slides include pictures of cakes with text below to lead students to read the rhythms using "cake" and "birthday."At this point, I used students to physically display these rhythms by having 1 or 2 students stand in an area designated for each of the 4 beats. My tile floor has a checkerboard pattern with 3 foot squares of white and tan, so we use each 3 foot box to represent a beat. I've also seen this done by having students share a chair or a polyspot on the floor (each person puts a foot on it when sharing). The bottom line is that you either have one student or two on each beat, and then the class reads the rhythm using whatever words or syllables you prefer. We begin by saying "cake" and "birthday." Students absolutely LOVE being part of a rhythm!

Step 2:

After we physically demonstrate and read the introductory slides, we move to the next ones that do not include text. As I work my way around the circle, I point to the beat the student is about to represent and ask, "Do you need a partner for your beat, or should you be alone?" The child figures it out and either comes alone, or brings the next person in the circle. After the rhythm is complete, we all read and pat it.

Step 3:

Once the students have all had a turn to be a part of a rhythm, and they also demonstrate the ability to read and pat the rhythms, we move to instruments to read and play them. You can use whatever you want. Pitched percussion can be set up in a pentaton to allow them to explore the bars and play whatever pitches they choose. We like to rotate after each turn.
For each turn, we follow this procedure:
1. Say It: Just say it, do not play it.
2. Say & Play It (twice): Say it while you play it. Students often forget to speak the rhythm while they are playing, and they do not play accurately. I tell them that their mouths "boss" their hands, which helps them play accurately. I also demonstrate what happens when they don't speak, and I start out playing correctly and then fall into playing a random pattern. We play it twice to give them extra practice, the opportunity to correct themselves, and a little more time with each instrument before they rotate to the next one.

Step 4:

The slides begin to include notes below the cakes. First, they are introduced with the text included, but that quickly disappears. I simply tell the students to start paying attention to the notes, because the cakes will be going away soon.

Step 5:

Finally, the cakes disappear, and students are reading actual notation. It happened so gradually that they didn't even realize how much they were learning while they were so busy playing instruments and having fun!
At this point, students are still saying "cake" and "birthday" for the quarter and eighth notes, but we will switch over to ta and ti-ti shortly.

If you are interested, my "Birthday Cake Rhythms" file is available at my TpT store. It includes a digital file with both PowerPoint and PDF versions.

Happy Birthday to All!


  1. This is a really great activity you could do with your kids or as a teacher with your students. This is indeed a very creative idea. Love it!

  2. Thank you. I will be passing this along, I am very happy to get this post and comment here.

  3. extraordinary creativity skill, kids rejoice when the looking like that creativity and they easily remember everything.

  4. The serving of carrot cake may be either plain, with glazed or topped with white icing. It can also be served topped with cream cheese icing and chopped walnuts.
    frosting tips

  5. There are numerous sorts of musical instruments.Stringed instruments create a sound when a string is culled or strummed. best music apps reviews

  6. What an interesting idea. I'll try that for my son's b'day.Best sewing machine for Beginners 2018

  7. That gives off an impression of being fabulous anyway i am still not very beyond any doubt that I like it. At any rate will look much more into it and choose by and by!  amor

  8. i am glad to see this.

  9. Loved taking a look at these Birthday Cake Rhythm and all of the details. I also have been working on the birthday bash of my son’s birthday. I'm all for small parties but this one would be a big one as a lot of his friends and our relatives would be attending this shower. At the local event space Atlanta I am going to host this bash on next weekend.

  10. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work... Latest naija songs