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Ahjay Stelino
BY Ahjay Stelino

5 Suggestions for Using Rhythm in Music to Assist Movement

About Rhythm

Ever felt like tapping your leg to the music? Ever felt your body involuntarily want to move when the music starts playing?

The secret ingredient that makes us want to do this is the beat of the music. Reacting to music is a basic human function. Research has shown us that music lights up a lot of areas in the brain. It can also travel up the spinal system and thus lets us feel sensations even if our brain finds it hard to process the information. Therefore, music could motivate movement even if a person has cognitive and physical impairments.

The Current Use of Music

Most non-musicians are aware of the benefit of music for young persons with special needs. Lots of classrooms and houses have music playing during the day and night. And yes, the young people do enjoy it, but it can be used for so much more!

How Rhythm Works

Music is made up of accented sounds (louder sounds) and non-accented sounds (softer sounds). It is usually broken up into groups of three or four sounds. Each sound is called a beat. Therefore, we usually hear music as 1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3. Most commercial music nowadays have patterns of four rather than three beats.

Try an Example

The words in bold below are the accented beats in “Row Your Boat.” Sing and accent the words that are in bold to feel the strong beats. The next step is the important one – Now do the actions with a partner and start each rowing action on the strong beat. Can you feel the extra push the strong beat provides to your rowing? This is the power of synchronising your physical movement to the music!

Row row
Row your boat
Gently down the
Merrily merrily
Merrily merrily
Life is but a

Ensure that “music and movement” activities are done along to the accented beats in music. This extra “push” that the strong beat provides can be useful to motivate movement in young people.

Tempo of the Recordings

Often the tempo of mainstream children’s music recordings can be paced too fast to do actions along with the beat. One option is to move to every second accented beat rather than every beat. Therefore, in the above example the start of the rowing action would be on: Row, Gently, Merrily and Life. Another option, though probably not a favorite one, is to sing it without the music! It doesn’t need to be in tune. You could even take out the tune all together and just say it like poetry and accent the relevant words. It would still work better than trying to move without following the beat of the music.

Further Exploration

Start to listen and you will begin to hear the rhythm in music. Here’s another example to start your journey – listen to “The Elephant Stomp.” You’ll hear the bass drum (the low drum sound) accenting the loud beat, and thus indicating when to stomp your legs.

It’s Your Turn Now

Use the comments section below to share the rhythm accents you find in songs so that we can all build up a good understanding of this vital part of music and movement.

Keep on movin’!

Ahjay Stelino

Written on December 4, 2015 by:

Ahjay Stelino is a Registered Music Therapist. He has a Masters in Music Therapy with First Class Honours from the New Zealand School of Music and a Licentiate Teaching Diploma in Electric Guitar from the London College of Music. He is registered with the New Zealand Music Therapy Registration Board. He has over 10 years of experience working with the use of music in the fields of special needs and mental health. He is a multi-instrumentalist, mixing engineer, producer and owner of Stelino Studios in Auckland, New Zealand.