Silly Putty Rhythms

Silly Putty rhythms are one of the all-time student favorite activties in my studio.  After all, who doesn’t love Silly Putty???  To teach beginning note durations, I have several “Beat Boards” – boards with several hearts painted, each representing one beat (or “musical heartbeat”).   We stick blobs of Silly Putty to the boards to represent notes:

Students learn that one “note” to each heartbeat is a quarter note.  Notes that s-t-r-e-t-c-h out for two are half notes, and so on.  Often, before I even introduce note values, I’ll put on recorded music and have students simply tap across the hearts from left to right to feel a steady beat.  Once they can do that, we diagram a rhythm, then they tap or slide their fingers on top of the silly putty as we count through the pattern.  When they slide their finger down the length of a silly putty half note, they really FEEL how the note has a longer duration. 

I also use the beat boards when I introduce or practice counting by measures. I write the numbers 1-4 (for 4/4 time) on garage sale sticker dots and stick them to each heart:

It’s a great tool to help students understand and visualize the place of each note in a measure, and transition from counting by duration to counting by measures.

Helpful hint:  I do find that some of my students become fascinated with stretchng and stringing out the silly putty and wander a little off-task when we do this activity (it can take FOREVER to diagram a rhythm if the kids haven’t figured out the trick to pulling silly putty apart).  If I plan to use this in a lesson, I’ll often have it pre-prepped, with the silly putty already divided into small balls before the student arrives.   

I used some scrap craft wood and a heart stencil to create the beat boards above, but there’s a paper version available for download on my website:

If you print it on cardstock or heavy-weight paper, then laminate it, the cards will be sturdy enough to withstand the silly putty.   The printed cards can be taped together (on the back side) to create a “board” 12 or 16 heartbeats long.

Beat Board Template
Beat Board Template
Beat Board Template.pdf
32.9 KiB


Silly Putty Rhythms — 7 Comments

  1. I have absolutly loved your website I just can’t get enough!! I do find it hard to do the games in only 5 min. though. I guess I need to work on more of a system. I would really like to know how you teach dotted quarter notes. I am finding it really hard to come up with a creative fun way for my students to remember and how to count dotted quarters and eighths. Any suggestions? I would love to use the beat boards, not quite sure how to apply it.

    • Hi Jessica,

      Glad you’ve found some things you can use! I do use the beatboards when I teach dotted quarter notes (along with some rhythms on a whiteboard). I’ve got a couple of students working on that at the moment. Let me snap some pictures in lessons, and I’ll put up a post about how I use them (I think it might be much easier to just show the setup rather than describe it).


  2. Hi Jen,

    I just wanted to tell you how excellent your whole site is for me! I’m an elementary school music teacher and I’ve been looking at everything you have for a while and picking up some much needed inspiration to help me think more outside the box! Your ideas are wonderful and I can’t wait to try some of them for my students on days when we have centers. I’m trying to think of ways to use some of them with whole classes too.

    Thanks a bunch!!

    • Hi Ann,

      Thanks for dropping me a note! I hope you find some things you can use from the site, or a little inspiration to come up with some ideas of your own. I’m doing a workshop for elementary music teachers this coming spring, so if you find anything that’s really a hit with your students, I’d love to hear about it!


  3. As I was pretending to tap my fingers as if there was silly-putty and heart beats, it really made sense. I have a student that can get quarter & whole notes very well but always seem to forget the two beats for the half note. I feel like actually feeling the silly putty will help her!

  4. I love your site and I use your fun teaching materials often–thank you! I thought you might enjoy using this rhythm activity I made up called Music Mancala. I’ve shared it with a few other piano teachers over the years:

    I don’t advertise my website, so my “piano teachers’ corner” page rarely gets visited unless I send a student/parent to it. If you would like to include my game on your site, you’re welcome to.

    Thanks for inspiring me with ever new ways to make learning to play the piano fun!

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