Here is a fun and interactive activity for teaching rhythm, composition, and collaboration to students that already have the very basics of reading music (time signature, tempo, and the different note lengths).
Ask your students to bring an object to class (preferably not something breakable) that can be used as a percussion instrument. It can be a water bottle, cup, box; anything that can be struck with a mallet to produce a sound. Split up your class into groups of 3 or 4. Give each student a drum stick/mallet/beater and a simple one bar rhythm pattern. Ideally, each student in the group will have a different rhythmic pattern.
Have them practice their pattern for alone for 5 minutes, then (with a metronome preferably) have the groups compose and perform a “song” by playing each of their patterns together. For example, one option could be to play a round – in a four person group, one member begins to play his/her pattern, then after one or two measures the next member joins in with his/her pattern, then the next student, then the next. After a predetermined number of measures the first player will stop, the second player will stop one or two measures after that, then the next member, then the last. This will produce a crescendo effect (gradually louder) in the beginning of the song and a decrescendo effect (gradually softer) at the end. This is just one example – another could be to have one member play his part a few times then stop and pass it to the next member without a pause between – let your students have fun with it and get creative.
This activity will teach your students to follow a set tempo, look for, give, and respond to visual cues from their band mates, distinguish between different rhythmic patterns, give them practice with composing and being creative, and will give them experience collaborating with others to achieve a common musical goal.
Showing your class STOMP performances is a great compliment to this activity. It shows them that the potential for creating music is everywhere - you can turn almost anything into a musical tool!