My 1 year old daughter loves all kinds of music and rhythm. She dances and "plays" enthusiastically on both guitars, the piano and her toy glockenspiel. This has, since she was just four month, always been about me showing her that you can make noises on various instruments, and she then happily making as much noise as she can.

I think she's gotten the idea that different keys makes different notes, at least she like to play on all of them, and on the piano she also plays both hard and soft, but she still hasn't gotten the idea of rhythm. Her playing is always just about making notes as fast as possible, so I'm thinking that the next step is introduction to rhythms. She sometimes seems to try to clap her hands slower when I do it, but I'm not sure.

Any ideas or resources on how to introduce her to this would be appreciated.

  • Our two-year-old loves music as well, but we're still working on the rhythm thing. I'd be interested to hear how to teach rhythm at such an early age. Apr 2, 2011 at 14:15

7 Answers 7


You might consider starting with clapping games, like pat-a-cake. These games are effective because you know when you are out of synch because of your partner. Success is being able to play the game smoothly. The speed can be increased to make it more challenging.

I started teaching my kids by having them press the back of my hands as I was clapping. To them, it felt like they were making my hands clap while I was controlling the rhythm.

Lots of singing and clapping, banging, and dancing to music will naturally support their rhythm development.

EDIT: Ever been to a powwow? There are lots of drums and people are encouraged to clap and stop their feet. Children usually play a role in the festivities.

  • 3
    Ah! Clapping games! nGinious, indeed! Obvious once you thought of it. :) Apr 4, 2011 at 6:21
  • Also try stopping feet to music. Marching is a very physical way to experience rhythm. "When you're happy and you know it" is a great starter song for this.
    – nGinius
    Apr 19, 2011 at 17:15
  • We don't have Powwow's here, but we dance around the maypole and xmastree. :-) Jun 29, 2011 at 19:40

Your child may have good rhythm but lack the motor skills to express it by clapping or bouncing in exact time to the beat. I'd suggest not only the suggestions above, which focus on musical development, but also activities that encourage motor development in general. This page talks about motor development and gives some suggestions on activities.

Beyond that, I think you're doing the right thing by encouraging her to learn about all sorts of sounds. I think it's important to do that and to encourage as much listening to different kinds of music as possible. It doesn't have to be all Mozart. Music in foreign languages can get her used to hearing many kinds of sounds and speech rhythms as well, even if you or she can't understand the words themselves. Language itself can be beautiful music.

The one consideration for either listening to music or making noise is for your daughter's ears; I have a relative with hearing loss from a young age and so am very sensitive to the need to protect the ears of young children from excessively loud noise. This page has some great info about preventing hearing loss in children.

  • 1
    Definitely not all Mozart. Pop music with a strong beat is the best for toddler-bopping dance. As the parent of a kid with very strong sense of rhythm, my observation is that having clear beats to follow has been a very important part of his practice.
    – Septagon
    Jun 28, 2012 at 17:46

Rhythm is the outcome of synchronized movements. Therefore, rhythm emerges as the body's movements become more refined. Any opportunity for a child to integrate timing of motor movement with balance and motor responses support the development of rhythm.

Bouncing on a ball, swinging in a parents arms, clapping hands, swinging arms, stomping feet, beating objects, and sliding movements all incorporate movement of muscles in a pattern and are great practice for developing rhythm.

As a child's whole body experiences movement such as bouncing on a ball or parent's knee, jumping in place, or swinging in a parent's arms a sense of timing develops. Other activities such as swinging arms or scarves, clapping hands, bobbing head or stomping feet target specific muscle groups. The highest demand of motor movement would include manipulating an object and refined movement of the fingers and hands.

Slow deliberate movements provide the greatest sensory stimulation. Short bursts of movement repeated in a simple 1-2-3 pattern increase the awareness of pauses which is such an important part of rhythm. Having a child to imitate a simple pattern as modeled is a good place to begin.

For example, sit on the floor on your knees with an exercise ball placed between you and your standing toddler. Pound the ball with both arms in a steady 1-2-3 pattern and then assist your child in imitating the behavior. After the child can independently imitate your pattern, change the rhythm to one long beat and 2 shorter ones or some other combination. Continue the process until your child can match your patterns consistently.

Beginning with both arms is important because bilateral movement precedes unilateral movement developmentally. Continue these fun practices with various objects progressing bilateral to unilateral movements then on to alternating right and left sides of body. Use of objects or musical instruments can be introduced in the same sequence from bilateral movements to unilateral then more refined asymmetrical movements.

Having fun in developmentally appropriate rhythmical play will equip your child to maximize their musical skills.


Teaching rhythm with a complicated instrument like a piano might be difficult. Get a cheap set of play drums of different sizes that can be played with either a stick or with your hands. These are fun for children just to make noise and play, but you can also sit and play games. Any game you play with drums involves rhythm at some level, and you can increase the game sophistication as she starts to learn. These drum sets are also great for groups of children.

If you don't want drums, there are many percussion play instruments like blocks, shakers, and castanets. However, from what I've seen, children gravitate toward the drums if given a choice.


An iPad + Garageband could be a superb way to start learning music and rythm in a playful manner. I might say this because I so immensely love this app myself but, hey, it's good if a parent can have fun too right? :-)

  • 2
    It's cheaper to break "real" instruments. ;-) Apr 4, 2011 at 18:25
  • We did this with my son, except we bought Beatles Rock Band. He was hitting the drums rhythmically and singing along at the age of 2. @LennartRegebro-- how do you figure? Real instruments (violins, etc) are pretty damn expensive. Recorders are cheap, but man, they can cause some serious damage when used as a club.
    – mmr
    Jun 27, 2012 at 21:32

Clapping Games are a great way to start, simply clap a rhythm and see if she can repeat it. However, she is only one. You might simply try playing games with her dancing to the music to just get a sense of fast and slow. Can she identify these terms? Then also identifying soft and loud and finally, high and low sounds. As she grows older, rhythm will come. Especially if you are working on it now. Generally introducing her to the terminology of music, a wide variety of music and beginning to foster an appreciation of many genres of music at this age will help to get her going in developing her passion. I've written quite a few articles that list games you can play, books to use, resources etc. for babies, toddlers etc. in terms of music appreciation and understanding. Check out my website, pinchxeverthing.blogspot.com. In particular, you might be interested in http://pinchxeverything.blogspot.com/2012/06/music-skills-for-toddlers-introducing.html and http://pinchxeverything.blogspot.com/2012/06/musical-skills-for-toddlers-loud-and.html.


One of the best ways to teach rhythm is to lead by example. From my experience attending music classes for very young children with my toddler and then young child, there are a few very effective full-body ways to teach beat and rhythm. While music plays, clap to the rhythm, or to the beat. Starting with beat is apparently easier for them to grasp since it focuses on even measures, and gives them a foundation on which the variations of rhythm can be placed.

For my child, tapping gently on his body somewhere was a very effective way to communicate beat and rhythm information, and left his hands free to follow along when he could/wanted to. (It's hard to tell the difference between ability and desire at this point!) While music plays or while you sing, pat their knees or sides. This calls out and emphasises the beat they can hear in the music.

Also very effective was dancing with them (you have to dance with them to give them an example!) to the beat. Just stomping around in a circle works really well as a beginning, and calling out the beats or basic rhythm as a guide to movement ("taa, taa, tee-tee, taaa!" or somesuch) helps them hear the beat in the music and make the connection between music and movement.

As for the keyboard-pounding… My own child is four now, and has always demonstrated a strong sense of rhythm—he was bopping his head to the beat (as much as he could, given developing motor skills) before he could walk, and he's now getting fairly impressive with the drum controller in Rock Band, and improvises his own songs with obvious and playful rhythms. Even so, he still loves to arhythmically pound the keyboard just for, as far as I can tell, the sheer joy and exuberance of the noise. It doesn't seem like the key-pounding sessions interfere with learning rhythm, so try not to discourage it!

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