Part two of a four-part series

It’s time to have fun with rhythm!

Explore possibilities of rhythm and form in Cyndee Giebler’s second installment on Elemental Composition! Using just quarter notes, two eighth notes, and quarter rests, discover Cyndee’s ideas for using a simple 8-measure composition as inspiration for providing a ready-made musical context for just about anything you and your students are passionate about.  Simply stated, you can start having fun in a “snap!”

Let’s begin with three basic components: quarter note, two eighth notes, and quarter rest. These three items can be combined into two beat “blocks” in a variety of ways:

In the above examples, numbers 6 to 9 are a bit trickier than 1 to 5, especially for students still developing literacy skills. This is, of course, highly dependent upon the experience and skill level of your students, but for now, we will use only the first five blocks, like so:

Here comes the fun part: you can combine these blocks any way you wish to make an interesting rhythmic piece! This can be accomplished through the miracle of:


Think about simple forms for a moment. What are the possibilities? Here are a few:









That is a long list of possibilities created with only 3 components! Let’s make some music out of all of this.

  • Choosing two blocks, let’s make an A phrase using numbers 5 and 1;
  • Now, a B phrase with 4 and 3;
  • Finally, we will select a form from our list of possibilities: ABAB;

Our resulting piece would look like this:

As my students would say, “Mrs. Giebler, this sounds REAL!”  It sounds real because:

a) it IS real


b) it has form

Try it with your students if you haven’t done something similar already. They will feel very successful!

Here’s another example. A= 2+3 and B= 5+5.

The form is AABA. (Yes, it’s really AA’BA, but A’ is just a rhythmic variant of A). I added words for fun:

A musically satisfying piece in only 8 bars! Wait a minute, does it say manipulate the rhythm? The A section rhythm has already been manipulated somewhat, but the whole piece can be transformed through the magic of:




Diminution means assigning the given note values ones of shorter duration. The overall effect is one of an increase in tempo. Here is the original piece in diminution, again with words:

Augmentation is changing the original note values to ones of longer duration. While the tempo really has not changed, it will seem slower. Here is our example in augmentation:

We can combine all of these examples into an even bigger piece with three independent lines. Use the augmentation example as the foundation. Layer the original rhythmic example on top. Note that you will have to repeat the original example in order to accommodate the length of the augmented example. The example in diminution will need to be repeated four times:

Consider having students perform their compositions using body percussion, speech, small percussion, pentatonic melody, and movement – the possibilities are plentiful to have fun with rhythm!


Cyndee Giebler lives and teaches in northeast Wisconsin. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and completed her master’s degree at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. She has presented workshops for American Orff-Schulwerk Association chapters around the country as well as state, regional, and national conventions. In her spare time, Cyndee enjoys composing and arranging music for classroom use, children’s chorus, and elementary strings.

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