3 Fun Kodaly Body Percussion Lessons

kodaly body percussion

Are you looking for some activities to use with the Kodaly method and rhythm?

Do you want to implement some body percussion?

When I was first getting into elementary music (too long ago!), I mistakenly believed body percussion and Kodaly didn’t get along. 

Now, after teaching for over 10 years and finishing my Kodaly certification, I know the Kodaly method doesn’t exclude any teaching techniques and is quite flexible. 

I loved doing body percussion in my Orff classes, so I adapted some to fit with the Hungarian composer’s strategy. 

Check out these 3 fun Kodaly body percussion lessons. 

What Is Body Percussion?

Body percussion is a technique popular with the Orff process. 

In this technique, patting and playing on the body is used to create different timbres and emulate the sound of various percussion instruments. 

Essentially, you’re replacing the normal percussion instruments with playing on your body. 

The most common moves include the following. 

This table also shows the nearest approximate classroom percussion instrument the body percussion emulates. 

Body Percussion MoveStandard Percussion Classroom Instrument
StompTubano or bass drum
Pat lap (Patchen)Hand drum or conga
Clap handsRhythm sticks
SnapTriangle
Rub hands togetherMaracas or egg shakers
Tap hands on the headWoodblock
Pat chestBongos

Why Use Body Percussion?

Body percussion is something almost every elementary music teacher uses at some point. 

But you may wonder why it’s so popular. 

After asking around and reflecting on my own experience, here are some of the most common reasons: 

  • Doesn’t require any actual instruments.
  • Saves money on instruments.
  • Doesn’t require touching or sharing, therefore, it’s more sanitary.
  • Body percussion is more physical and engages students’ whole bodies.
  • Allows for practice without the distraction of loud instruments.
  • Saves time and requires no handing out or turning in of instruments.
  • Another way to practice the same ideas as percussion instruments.
  • Teaches students they always have an instrument with them.

Tips For Teaching Body Percussion

Before we dig into the lesson examples, let’s talk about teaching the body percussion. 

It’s not always helpful to just jump into it. 

You need to plan it out and be aware of strategies to make the experience a success. 

With this in mind, here are some of my favorite tips for teaching Kodaly body percussion. 

Attach the moves with words. 

Any time you use words to help you with the moves (as the examples show), students pick it up more quickly. 

In a stereotypical Kodaly way, you’d use rhythm syllables only. 

However, Kodaly himself was a fan of Orff’s work and appreciated the process. 

It makes sense to use language to help you here. 

Practice one layer at a time. 

Start with the most simple layer. 

Have the students say and play on their bodies. 

While they do it, you perform the song or chant. Let them focus on the rhythms. 

Then, move them all to practice the next layer. 

Repeat the practice. 

Once everyone is familiar with each layer, now it’s time to add them together at the same time. 

Add in one at a time, or the students may get overwhelmed. 

Start slow and gradually speed up. 

Of course, this one may seem obvious to you, but I’ve seen many new and experienced teachers jump right into tricky patterns at full speed. 

What would you do if you were practicing a difficult pattern on your instrument or voice in college? 

The first thing you’d do is slow it down. 

The same idea applies here. 

When you first teach a layer, consider starting it under tempo and gradually bringing it up. 

Then, go faster than the tempo you want it to be at. 

This way, when you slow down, it feels easy. 

Slowing down is a MUST for difficult patterns. 

Don’t ask students to sing and perform for a while. 

Even as a music teacher, I feel my brain working in overdrive when I have to sing and do body percussion. 

Students will hopefully be able to do this eventually, but don’t expect them to get it any time soon. 

Have different groups take different jobs. Some may sing while others do the percussion. 

Only when students can do the percussion and the song without thinking will they be ready to combine the two. 

They may not get there within a few weeks (and we all know some probably won’t get there at all!), and that’s OK. 

3 Fun Kodaly Body Percussion Lessons

In this section, I’ll show you 3 of my favorite lessons using body percussion. 

With every song, the melody is listed first, and then the body percussion is below. 

There are different methods of notating body percussion. 

For me, I use the letters below to show the move you should do with the following chart: 

Body Percussion MoveShortcut
StompS
Pat lap (Patchen)P
Clap handsC
SnapX
Rub hands togetherH

Button You Must Wander

I typically save this game for my older students, but there’s no reason you can’t do it with younger students.

Closet Key

Closet Key is a fun guessing game and simple song I use with my lower and middle elementary kids. 

Rocky Mountain

If you’ve ever seen me present, you know I adore this song. 

The movement is fun too, but the song is so catchy. 

I typically use this with middle elementary. 

Other Resources

If you want to explore more body percussion, I encourage you to check out these. 

These books are some of my favorites to use as a resource. 

Disclosure: Links may be affiliate in nature, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I personally have used and believe in all these resources, which is why I chose them. 

Final Thoughts

I hope you find these Kodaly body percussion lessons helpful. 

Follow the tips, and your students will have a great time and develop better rhythm, beat, and harmonic skills. 

Body percussion isn’t something Kodaly teachers hate. In fact, they love it, just like most music teachers. 

Hopefully, these lessons will work in your rooms right away. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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