"Lego of" Traditional Lessons on Rhythmic Notation

By Rachel Klem
Music Teacher
The School at Columbia University

As an extension of a lesson on 8-beat rhythmic patterns, Grade 6 students used Legos to represent specific rhythmic components. Our rhythmic exploration began with a very traditional look at rhythm in 4/4 or common time. To visualize this, we fantasized as a class about dividing a pizza evenly amongst 16 people. Each student then worked to break down a whole note into smaller pieces, as far as 32nd notes and for those with more working knowledge of rhythm, 64th notes. Armed with hand-drawn guides of a whole note and many ways it could be divided, students completed a personal 8-beat rhythm.

The next step in the project was to use Legos to represent a breakdown of a whole note from the whole note itself to a 16th note.

Lego equivalents in 4/4 time:
8x2 brick = whole note
4x2 brick = half note
2x2 brick = quarter note
1x2 brick = eighth note
1x1 brick = sixteenth note

Small groups of students with varying prior experience reading and writing rhythms worked to transcribe 8-beat rhythms previously written on the board into Lego notation. Students had great success with this new visualization of rhythm. Rhythm can often be an abstract concept for students. Using Legos in place of music notes helped them to understand how notes fill beats across a specified number of measures.

The next step was for the groups to create original 8-beat patterns in the same small groups, again using Legos in place of music notation. Students were also asked to write the rhythm in music notation as a cross-check for understanding. Finally, each student created a rhythm on his/her own. More advanced students were able to write music in Lego notation in 3/4 and 6/8 time as well.

In reflecting upon the success of the project, it seems it would be easier for students to work with the bricks if each rhythmic Lego equivalent was a specific color. For example, all 8x2 bricks (whole notes) would be blue. Additionally, specific colors could represent rests, i.e. all 8x2 bricks that are blue are whole notes, but all 8x2 bricks that are black are whole rests. All black bricks of any size (8x2, 4x2, etc.) would be rests, as such.

Follow Rachel @klemify