Manipulatives in Music

June Blog: Manipulatives in Music

How often do you use manipulatives in your Music lesson to scaffold your children’s learning? This might be counters, string, plastic cups, scarves, ribbons or lollypop sticks.

Read on to find out how you could incorporate manipulatives into your Music lesson to engage students further and consolidate understanding.

Using counters to notate pitch and/or rhythm:

Counters are a really easy way to engage children in notation, removing the barriers of writing full stave notation. 

When using for pitch, such as in Picture 1, children can easily place these on a two, three or five-line stave – moving them around easily to adapt their melody and correct mistakes. It also removes the added challenge of including the note stems (which can often be placed on the wrong side of the note head or pointing in the wrong direction), focussing learning on pitch and position. 

As you can see from Picture 2 and 3, counters can also be used to initially create rhythms which can later be translated into stick or rhythm notation. 

Using string, ribbon or pipe cleaners to practise vocal play/pitch paths

String is a great way to encourage younger students in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) to enjoy vocal play. Children can follow the pitch path of the string with their voice (to an ‘oo’ or ‘ee’ sound) moving higher in pitch and lower in pitch as they follow the strings contour. It is easy to link this with the theme of their learning – for example, these pitch paths became wiggly worms in our ‘In the Garden’ topic. 

As children develop their understanding of pitch, they can then be challenged to interpret these pitch paths, translating them onto pitched instruments such as swanny whistles, chime bars or even free music technology software such as Chrome Music Lab.

Using lollipop sticks for stick notation

Lollipop sticks are a great, easy way for children to access stick notation (standard musical notation without the noteheads). This is perfect for focussing on rhythm. Using manipulatives such as lollipop sticks can often make dictation tasks far more engaging to the students and easy for them to correct mistakes. 

Teaching musical form

Teaching binary, ternary or rondo form can be made so much more exciting when using manipulatives! Check out these ways children have been able to analyse musical form using anything biscuits to beads!


Preparing rhythm with younger children

A lot of musical work can be done with rhythm before formally introducing it to the children. In my classroom, we do lots of work tapping rhythms and patterns on our partners shoulders and putting the ‘pattern of the words’ on different parts of our body before presenting the crotchet and quavers (or ta and titi). 

Using manipulatives such as the ones above can be a fun way for children to compose rhythms and patterns both before and after formally introducing the concept. Each child can create one little monster, and then enjoy combining their monster with other children’s monsters to create longer sequences.

These are just a few very simple ways that you could introduce manipulatives in your music classroom. There are plenty more ideas being used and shared by music specialists all over the world, often shared on social media channels such as Instagram and Twitter. Do check them out, as they are often really engaging and can really engage students. Do remember that manipulatives don’t have to be expensive or take you a long time to prepare – children get the same enjoyment and musical learning experiences from the most simple of items!