Using Paddle Pop Sticks in the Music Classroom


Welcome to this quickie episode of the Crescendo Music Education podcast, I am partly inspired by my chat with Deb Brydon. There’s a part one and part two episodes, they are so worth listening to, where Deb said one of her nuggets of fabulous was the suggestion to use paddle pop sticks in your music classroom.

I use them all the time, they are fabulous, they’re a very quick way to basically make rhythmic patterns. So you’ve got your stems and your beams, but you can also put three paddle pop sticks together like a Z and you’ve got a rest. They are very quick and easy to use.

I thought I’ll just do a quick episode, giving you a few ideas of different ways that I use them in my classroom.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually instead of listening to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 024 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.

Episode 25 “Read the Episode” Transcript

Using Paddle Pop Sticks with Individuals and Groups

I use paddle pop sticks with individuals, and also with small groups. But if you’re doing groups, I think it’s important that you try to have all of the children basically at the bottom of the rhythm or maybe slightly at the side, but not at the top.

Because I don’t want the children, especially since we’re talking often about younger children, reading right to left, you want to reinforce that left-to-right progression. So you want the children at the bottom of the rhythm. And I find a small group often is better if you’re doing something larger.

So if you’re deriving the rhythm of a known song that might have four lines of four beats, you know, four phrases, four beats in each, then they can work as a team to work out what that rhythm is and to put them into lines as a group. So it’s fun if you’ve not tried it as a group activity, it’s great.

Also wonderful for individuals. So how do I use them?

Paddle Pop Sticks

Using Paddle Pop Sticks for Dictation

I love doing dictations. So you perform the rhythm, whether you clap, whether you play, whether you sing, no matter how you give that rhythm, the students then make that rhythm with their paddle pop sticks, you can turn it into a little competition, when they finish they put their hands on their head, first one with their hands on their head with the correct rhythm wins.

I often don’t even give prizes, I just say, “Oh, you were the fastest this time. But it’s got to be correct.” You can do varying lengths, and don’t get stuck in just four beats, which I tend to sometimes get in a little four-beat rut. So sometimes do three beats, groups of threes, or twos or six or challenge, eight. So you can vary your length for your dictations.

Rhythmic Patterns

I also use paddle pop sticks to create rhythmic patterns of known songs, or the first four beats of a known song, or even a song that you sing to them that they’ve not known before and they have to work it out. So writing the rhythms of known songs is another really fun use. It’s sort of better than pencil and paper. At least it seems better for the kids.

Mind you, I’m not saying don’t use pencil and paper, I think it’s important that we write. But using manipulatives instead of pencil and paper sometimes, it’s important for children with different learning styles. And it can reinforce concepts in different ways.

Something else that I do for younger children especially, for me it’s about year one, so that’s when I’m teaching ta and titi, one on two sounds on the beat. Even if you don’t use those rhythm names, I find paper plates are pretty wonderful. So the kids can have paper plates, and each plate represents a beat. And you can give them four paper plates each, and you can perform a rhythm. And then they write the rhythm in paddle pop sticks on the plate. And so it reinforces that concept that one sound on a beat. And two sounds on a beat take up the same amount of space in time. Does that make sense? Do you know what I’m trying to say? So that you have a titi on one plate and a ta on another plate. So it shows that representation of beat and sounds on a beat.

Other Fun Items to Use

I have a small container where I’ve cut some paddle pop sticks in half. I don’t have them with the rest I just bring them out separately and that’s for older kids if I’m using them for Ti Tika and Tika Ti where I need a half-length beam whereas full paddle pop sticks are fine for Ti Tis and Tika Tickas, quavers, and semiquavers. But those half-sticks I need for Ti Tika and Tika Ti, just to make it a bit closer to the actual notation.

Paddle Pop Stick Rhythms with Half Sticks
Paddle Pop Stick Rhythms with Half Sticks

I have dots, small dots for compound meter, I basically use the hole punch on some thin plastic, so they’re in a little container, you might have a better idea than me for making the dots for compound meters for dotted crotchets. And then you can use them for those slightly older kids when you’ve done compound meter. And they’ve got to know to put a little dot after the crotchet. So that it’s a dotted crotchet for one sound on the beat.

I have, but I tend to not use, but I have used in the past for minims, you can save milk bottle lids, and you can have them as the note head, but you have it upside down. How can I say this, open side up, so that it represents that hollow note head. So you can use something like a lid to be a note head if you want to do minims. I tend to just avoid minims when I’m using paddle pop sticks. But it’s an idea for you if you want to go with a lid openside up, to give you that impression of a hollow note head.

Another thing that I have done, which I really like using, is I’ve printed time signatures. So I do a whole sheet of them and then I cut them up. So I hand them out quickly and they have a time signature. And then they can make bar lines by putting, I get them to just put one paddle pop stick on top of the other along the ground, not vertically. Yeah, so so that the bar line can be bigger than the rhythms. So we put in bar lines and time signatures, and then it just makes it that little bit more complex for those slightly older children I have playing paddle pop sticks.

But some people, including Deb Brydon who mentioned them, love the coloured ones, I just found that the little kids got too obsessed with trying to make patterns with the colours and I just didn’t have time for that, so I just went for plain. Having said that. I do have coloured match sticks and I use match sticks with older students who have greater fine motor skills you might say.

And some of them get a bit obsessed with the colours and the patterns, but I figure they’re quicker at doing it. So I do have the coloured match sticks, but I use plain paddle pop sticks. I really do think that’s up to you. You go coloured, you go plain, you do you okay.

How to Store Paddle Pop Sticks

And as for storage, oh goodness, in my, like 40 years basically of teaching, I’ve tried lots of things. So I used to have them in little groups with rubber bands. Now that got a bit tricky because some of the kids could not put the rubber band back on, we generally didn’t get hurt by the rubber bands, but they were just a bit problematic. And then after a while they also rotted. So they were fairly useless because they rotted or they broke and went oh, this is just a pain, I don’t want to do rubber bands.

I did Ziploc bags. Again, they worked pretty well. Sometimes they broke, sometimes not enough would go back in the bag and the child wouldn’t have enough, other kids had too many. And I don’t know it just became a bit of a pain actually.

Deb in her podcast, if you’ve been back to listen, she uses glasses cases as in spectacle cases, and the kids love them and it works well for her, I will tell you what I do. I have a big tub of them. It’s sort of like a draw a tub that sits in shelves. And they’re just in a great big tub. And I literally get them to go over and grab a handful.

Sometimes I grab handfuls and hand them out, I find it is just as quick as anything else. If they don’t grab enough, they get up and get some more. If they grab too many, I get them to put some back. It’s just quicker and we have a system. And I think that’s the key. Whatever you do, it’s got to be some sort of system that they know and that they can operate, you know, the less that you have to do the better.

So if your kids know you’re using paddle pop sticks, they know what to do and what’s going to happen and it will be quick. I also find it super quick to put away if it’s just my big tub of paddle pop sticks, sticks away, done. And I’m starting the next activity and they are just putting their paddle pop sticks in, picking up randoms and they’re over, ready. So that works for me, who knows, I might change my mind again. But whatever works for you, whatever storage works, and whatever system works!

Paddle Pop Sticks for Assessment

I love paddle pop sticks for assessment, and I have at least one official summative assessment tasks that I do. It’s actually in year 2, or Deb and I do, we both do this. And I use time signatures and bar lines. And they have to create a rhythmic pattern using specific elements of a specific link. And I take a photo of that and it’s all fabulous works so well for summative assessment.

But I also find it incredibly useful as formative assessment. As we’re learning about these rhythms I get the students to perform what they’ve written, whether we’re doing it all together, whether it’s been a dictation, we’re doing it together, whether it’s a composition, which I actually didn’t mention composition.

Creating Compositions with Paddle Pop Sticks

Paddle pop sticks are amazing for composition. It’s so easy, you guys, you can give them whatever parameters you like, or none. In fact, for fun sometimes before we’ve packed away I said, see if you can make a really long composition, how many beats is it and they get together with their friends and it’s just so much fun. Anyway, composition fabulous, but I get them to perform while they point to the stems.

And I find one of the little problems when kids first learn about tas and titis is that they look at a titi, so you imagine two stems and a beam. So there’s your two quavers your two, now what is it in the American system, eighth notes, your two eighth notes, right. Some students think that is one sound. Because they are connected, the two stems and the beam. It does look like one unit, but it’s two sounds.

Plates each represent one beat.
Paddle Pop Stick Rhythms on Plates to Teach Two Sounds for Titi. Plates each represent one beat.

And when the students are saying the rhythm names and pointing to the stems, you can see straight away if they’re saying titi. And they’re actually pointing to four quavers while they say titi, then you know straight away, you can fix in a second, you can lean over and say, actually, that’s a titi, that’s a sound, and that’s a sound. So we go titi, can you do it like that, and you fix it instantly.

So I find formative assessment and picking up those little issues with paddle pop sticks. It’s fabulous. If I did that same activity on a worksheet or in my little workbooks, which I do love by the way, I wouldn’t pick that up. I wouldn’t pick up that they’re pointing to two quavers and thinking it’s one quaver. So I find it is very useful as formative assessment.

So it is fun, it is easy. It’s an great way to practice your rhythms, known rhythms, unknown rhythms, compositions, without actually putting pencil to paper. The kids will think it is so much fun, and it works really well. So I would love to know, reach out to me on the socials and let me know how else you use paddle pop sticks. I think they’re amazing things, and cheap as chips.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this quickie episode of the Crescendo Music Education podcast. See you next time. I appreciate you and all of my colleagues, and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don’t forget, you’ll find the show notes on I’d love a share, rate, or review to help other music educators find this podcast.

All I can be is the best version of me.

All you can do is be the best you.

Until next time, bye.

Sign Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators. You’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms in the show notes. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. You can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops, and webinars for a low annual fee and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me, Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know, laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

What do you call a snowman in the summer? A puddle!

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Episode 21: Intentional Collaboration (Part 1 of 2)

Episode 22: Intentional Collaboration (Part 2 of 2)

Where to find me:

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