Help your child develop a Steady Beat
Learning to keep a steady beat is more about ability than age, because you can improve this ability at any age. And it always starts with experiencing it fully FIRST. But during the earliest years, there are developmental milestones that must be met in order to progress to the next level. It is important to understand the basic progression that a child goes through to develop a steady beat during the first 7 years of life
The ability to react to the beat in music is an important learning process. This beat is basically a walking pulse. Many young children are able to steadily tap to an “inner beat”. Yet they may have difficulty changing their “inner beat” to correspond to the pulse of music or a drumbeat. Encourage, but don’t impose an external beat too early, it may result in tension, resistance, or loss of confidence in their abilities. Experience it, and Encourage practicing a beat in a variety of ways (see the linked posts for each specific age group). Realize that children will progress through these developmentally appropriate stages as they grow and develop their abilities:
#1 First a child must experience a steady beat. They can feel the steady beat by having someone tapping on their knees (or a variety of body parts). Sing, play music with a strong beat. “Catch” the beat with their hands on yours while you sing. This is pretty much what is appropriate for a baby before they are comfortable with walking. Even as they begin to gain abilities, it is good to continue to just EXPERIENCE it repetitively. There are plenty of ways to continue experiencing this all the way through their elementary years.
#2 Watch for Repetitive Movements, like hand clapping, tapping a chair like a drum, tapping Dad’s head like a drum. Sing or dance along AS IF they have the best steady beat that makes you move. For babies, the focus is the joy of making the sound, as they are not able to keep a steady beat yet. But they can still experience it through your interactions.
#3 Around 1 ½ to 2 years old, start your own beat and verbally encourage them to imitate different ways to keep a beat. With your hands over theirs, start the beat… but remove hands after a few beats. Encourage them to continue throughout a short song or piece of music with a good steady beat. We are only encouraging continued movement, and looking for signs of the next step.
#4 – Have them walk or march (without recorded music), and watch carefully for their “inner beat”. It usually is more apt to occur first with these large motor movements. Then will progress to using their hands. Imitate their beat with your own hand movements, drum, sticks, or tongue clicks, and keep the same pace while singing a familiar rhyme or song to their own “inner” beat.
Expand on this by practicing with variety of hand movements and body movements. Take enough time to process even just one movement for a whole “short” song. This repetition is necessary for their development.
#5 While singing, practice with percussion instruments – continuing to match their inner beat. AFTER they have mastered a steady “inner” beat with their hands and body, is a great time to start working on steady beat with an instrument. Until then, when they play an instrument, the focus is to explore how to make sounds with that object.
#6 – Once they feel confident with their “inner” beat, encourage them to slow down their beat, or speed up their beat. Then finally, encourage them to Match YOUR steady beat. “Watch my hands and try to tap your knees at the same time as my hands”. Praise any effort on their part to watch your hands, or if they try to adjust what they are doing. They don’t have to be perfect to make progress.
#7 – Eventually, they will be able to keep a beat with recorded music, and practice the beat with movements and non-pitched instruments. Just so you know, that doesn’t usually happen until around 3 – 4 years old. But those children with more guidance and experience in their life are likely to develop it sooner. It is a major focus of our Kindermusik Imagine That program for preschoolers.
#8 And finally, they will be able to keep a steady beat to play simple accompaniments on melodic (pitched) instruments, ie. xylophones. These are skills we work on with the 5 – 7 year olds in the Kindermusik for the Young Child program.
One of the most popular postings on this blog offers some of the best teaching techniques for parents while “Catching A Steady Beat with very Young Children”.
For a wide variety of ideas of steady beat activities for a specific age, see the following posts: Any of the ideas for the younger children can also be used for older children (if it captures and engages them).