After years of trial and error, I have decided that the best way to explain eighth notes to 4th graders is to say, “Eighth notes are faster.”
Try it. Works like a charm.
My previous technique involved reserving about 23 minutes of class time, rolling up my sleeves, drawing elaborate diagrams of various note values and their proportion to eighth notes, getting students to tap their feet in quarter notes, explaining downbeats and upbeats… You get the idea.
This new technique employs the concept of “play it now, understand it later” and “eschew obfuscation.”
Now before any of you left-brained thinkers like me get all worked up, please understand that we always circle back to those diagrams in the method books that explain eighth notes in detail. I lead my ensembles in rhythm studies on a weekly basis.
But when giving the initial explanation for new concepts like this, I’m becoming more and more convinced that students benefit the most from hearing a demonstration, playing the music, then understanding the theoretical concepts afterward.