A huge thank you is due to whomever originally invented the rhythm chairs game. This game is ideal for students with kinesthetic and/or visual learning preferences. And it perfectly demonstrates how beat and rhythm are different, but work together.

The premise is quite simple:

  • Four chairs are set out in front (or however many you need for the meter you’re working on).
  • Each chair represents one beat (including silent beats).
  • The number of students in each chair represent the rhythm (or the sounds on each beat).
  • Students are given a rhythm pattern and asked to sit in the chairs to show that pattern.
As all music teachers know, there’s a lot more that goes into a classroom game than just the basic rules. So today I’ll be sharing some game types, procedures to follow, and helpful resources for playing this game in your own elementary or middle school music classroom.

COLLABORATIVE VERSUS TEAM GAMES

In the past, I’ve played this as a collaborative game (the entire class as one team) and as a team game (the class is separated into two or more teams). Both ways can be successful, so it’s really up to you to decide what will motivate your students most. Much to every teacher’s chagrin, classes can respond differently to the same material. Do what works best for your class.
Even in my personal life, I prefer collaborative games over games in which individuals are pitted against each other. I also think collaborative games better represent what typically happens in music performing groups. Students are working as a whole to create their best work, rather than competing against each other to create a winner and a “loser”. Sure, kids need to learn good sportsmanship, but they also need to learn how to work together for the common good. In a collaborative game, students are working to earn the most points possible by doing their very best.
Students can earn two points for each rhythm pattern 
  • They earn one point for placing the correct number of students in each chair.
  • They earn a second point if the rest of the students can speak/clap the rhythm pattern correctly.
To keep more students actively engaged in creating the rhythm patterns, you can divide into two groups. You can continue the collaborative game style by telling students that you’ll add the points from both groups together, giving them more points overall.
For team games, you play just as you would a collaborative game, except the two groups compete to see who can earn the most points.

 

PROCEDURES TO FOLLOW

As with any game, it’s important that students understand the procedures upfront in order to prevent misunderstandings later. Here are the procedures I explained and demonstrated before each game.
  • Students need to stay in line until it’s their turn to sit in a chair. This way, everyone can easily see whose turn is next, and nobody is getting “extra turns” sitting in the chairs. Once a student has sat for a rhythm, they go back to the end of the line.
  • Students should stay seated until it’s their turn to be a rhythm. This ensures that students at the back of the line can still see what’s going on. My students created several horizontal lines facing the group of chairs.
  • Explain that the “majority of students” have to speak the rhythm correctly to earn the point. That way, nobody is tempted to yell at the poor unfortunate soul who speaks a rhythm wrong.
  • For barred sixteenth notes, two students should sit on a seat, while two sit on the floor directly in front of them.
  • Check Elizabeth’s idea in the comments section for another fantastic tip!

Often times, if a spoken rhythm was too close to call, I would ask the group to say it again. This helped to refocus the group and gave them a little wiggle room to earn another point.

 

VARIATIONS & CHALLENGES

  • For an extra point, ask students to play the pattern on a rhythm instrument. The instruments can also serve as placeholders for students in line. They simply play their pattern, then move down the line to the next instrument as the game continues.
  • Ask students to speak the rhythm forward and backward for an extra point.
  • Add more chairs to the set.
  • Ask students to pat, clap, or snap each rhythm.
  • Ask students to try a different meter, such as 6/8
I absolutely loved playing this game with my classes, and I’m sure you will too! I used to write each rhythm on the board, but quickly decided that it took up too much precious time. So I created a presentation to make the whole process easier. I also created different levels of the game so that I could keep track of the rhythms that each class had worked on. 

If you’d like to try the presentation with your own classes, you can view it in my store by clicking on the image below. The full bundle includes games that will help your students with barred sixteenth notes, half notes, quarter rests, 6/8, changing meters, and more!
Click to see more
If you decide to play the game with your classes, or if you played it in the past, I’d love to hear about it! Please share your experience in the comments section below. What tips did you find useful? What kind of pitfalls could be avoided? And how did your students react to the game?