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What Are the Different Types of Percussion Games?

Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory

Just as all kids seem to love rhythm, they all love rhythm games. There is a wealth of percussion games for teachers working with students from the very youngest to the most mature. Clapping games, rhythm imitation, and rhythm challenges are but a few of the ways to teach the beat and have fun doing it.

Around the world and since time immemorial, children have delighted in playing patty-cake. Finger snapping, palm slapping and grabbing each other’s wrists for shakedowns are all parts of the rhythmic to-do. Some hand-clapping games have been around unchanged for generations, but each new group of youngsters seems to come up with some of their own, often involving singsongs, silly insults, and other wordplay that works its way into the handmade percussive games.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Even adults like to get in on the action. A folk tradition that is currently called hambone, which derived from Haitian Djouba, takes body percussion games to the max by incorporating beats, pats, and strokes to puffed-out cheeks, bellies, and arms. Foot stomping and toe tapping add to the rhythm. When performed, hambone players might establish a shared refrain in which all the body percussionists follow the same rhythm then give each player the chance to step out and solo in an attempt to one-up the others.

A number of percussion games help the littlest ones learn to count and to follow a beat simply through call and response. Using hand clapping, finger snapping, or toe tapping, the leader establishes a simple, rhythmic pattern. Each player in turn has to repeat the pattern exactly. The leader can repeat the rhythm for each player to follow, or it can be handed from player to player, with the leader playing the rhythm after it has traveled the room to see how accurately the percussionists were able to follow it.

This game doesn’t have to be done with body percussion. Hand drums, bells, wood blocks, or other percussive music makers can be used instead or in addition to body beats. A variation on percussion games is the rhythm challenge.

The challenge is a game for more sophisticated drummers or other percussionists. It begins with the challenger offering a relatively simple rhythm; the challenger repeats the rhythm four times. The respondent repeats the challenge four times, then either adds another beat or two, alters the interior rhythm subtly, or both, and plays that new construction four times. The challenger now becomes the respondent and must play the original pattern, the new pattern, and on top of that, yet another version that either adds to the new version, or alters it, or both. The back-and-forth of the challenge continues until one percussionist loses the beat.

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