Musical Body Percussion

Musical Body Percussion

Kids love body percussion. It's been a natural for them for years, from Patty-Cake to Double Double This That. Alone or with a partner, body percussion is great for rhythmic skills, coordination, and listening skills. Body percussion is also a natural segue to instrumental technique, like practicing bordun patterns on the knees.  And if you don't have instruments, you can still utilize the Orff philosophy. BUT....what if your students don't use body percussion musically?

Ugh. If nothing else, your students will transfer that playing attitude from the body to the instruments, and that's not good. So, what is musical body percussion?
  • GENTLE. If a student ends up with red marks on their legs or hands, they're not being gentle.
  • NOT SO HIGH OR FAR APART. A student should not lift their foot more than an inch for stamping. The hands can be maybe a couple of inches away from the thigh for patsching. The best clapping is done with one hand still or almost still, and the other hand maybe six inches away, patting on the palm of the steady hand. Snapping can be done with a little flourish, but no arm waving.
  • USE DYNAMICS. Using dynamics in conjunction with the levels of the body on which the student performs can be show-enhancing. A patsch pattern makes a great place for crescendo because it's easy to control. For diminuendo, just pat closer to the thighs. For crescendo, you can keep the two inch level and use a little more force with the fingers, not necessarily the whole hand.
  • RHYTHMIC. Your students must know that body percussion needs beat and correct rhythm just like instrument playing does. 
  • TECHNIQUE. The correct technique changes the timbre of the performance and makes it easier to control rhythmic patterns.
  • USE SPEECH. Using speech incorporated with the body percussion helps with rhythmic consistency.
Honestly, I wouldn't put students on drums or barred instruments until they could demonstrate the technique with body percussion. It is amazing how much quicker students learn instrumental parts when they have first practiced on their knees. For example:
Chord bordun-pat hands on partner legs simultaneously. 
Broken bordun-pat hands on legs back and forth
Cross over bordun-first hand pats, second hand pats while first hand goes OVER second hand, first hand pats imaginary third leg.
Levels bordun-pat simultaneously, move hands to the right and pat on pretend legs simultaneously.
Tall world drums: bass (or low in World Music Drumming)-bounce hand off of thigh. Tone (or high in WMD)-pat knee.


Like I mentioned earlier, adding some speech that fits the rhythm of the body percussion is ideal. Make sure, however, to use prosody, or the correct pattern and accents of the word. Otherwise, it won't make sense.
  1. Begin with the stamp pattern ONLY. Treat this like a one word ostinato if possible.
  2. Add the next easiest rhythm.
  3. If it works, combine the patstch and clap rhythms.
  4. Add stamp in.
  5. Add snap last.
    (This is not set in stone. If you need to change this order based on the music and what your kids can handle, that's fine. But the stamp is the low part beat part and should be introduced first.
Adding Audiation

I know you all know B-I-N-G-O, the song about the dog that progressively removes each letter from the word until the letters aren't sung. Do that with your body percussion. Gradually drop the stamp word, etc., until the students are doing the body percussion with no words. BUT, identify the term "audiation" or "inner hearing" to them. They must think the words, or their rhythm won't be correct.

Body Percussion Sources

Here are some great resources for body percussion:
The Body Rondo Book by Jim Solomon
Rhythmisch Ubung by Gunild Keetman (the Holy Grail of Orff body percussion)
And shameless self promotion:

I would LOVE to see your students in action! Please feel free to send me videos of your students performing body percussion or a link. I will not share them without your permission.

It's coming down to the wire.....have a great last term!


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