Teaching the abstract concept of tempo to a class of highly energetic and potentially overly excitable kindergarten students requires a solid plan of action to prevent downtime and keep the classroom active. The concept that you can measure the speed of a piece of music often confuses kindergarten children if not taught correctly. At the kindergarten level, children only need to understand the general concept of tempo and gain experience creating music at various speeds.
Once students understand the concept of the beat or pulse in music, it becomes easier to teach tempo concepts. Play a recording with a moderate walking tempo and teach the students to march in time to the recording. When students begin to learn how to identify the beat of a piece, make it more difficult by handing out drums or singing a song while marching around the classroom. Speeding up and slowing down the beat helps to teach the concept of how music can change speed.
Teaching your classroom about tempo doesn't require you to get into an in-depth discussion of the terminology used for different types of tempos. Kindergarten students only need to learn to compare the tempos of two pieces. Play a rhythm for the class at one tempo and then play the same rhythm at a different tempo. Ask the classroom to identify the faster rhythm. Once you've taught rhythm, move on to singing or provide drums to the students to allow them to mimic your rhythms while trying to keep a steady tempo.
Prepare listening examples for when the classroom becomes too excited and begins to lose focus. Play examples of familiar songs and ask the students to show by a raise of hands if the example seemed slower or faster than the previous song. By preparing this activity in advance, you can collect a variety of musical works with similar tempos. If the children can't tell the difference, try using more obvious examples. Some possible songs you might consider using include the "William Tell Overture," "The Star-Spangled Banner," and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and other songs that you can teach the children to sing along with.
Sing or play a familiar song for the students, but play it at an unusual tempo. Many students may identify that the song sounds strange. Help the students figure out the problem by asking if the song felt too fast or too slow. When students begin to get the hang of the activity, rephrase your question and ask if the song's tempo felt right or wrong. When the students answer that the tempo feels wrong, ask whether the tempo of the song should go faster or slower. An advanced form of this activity involves asking a child to tap the appropriate beat to play the song at the right tempo.
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