Apologies for my long absence, everyone! I'm happy to be back.
It's a completely true cliche: teaching is learning, twice. If you think you know something well, try teaching it to someone else. The odds are ten to one you'll learn so much that you'll find it hard to believe you ever "knew" it before.
Which is a fancy way of saying I'm rethinking the order of games I've used for several years. Here's the thing: Real Rhythm cards are absolutely ideal for initially explaining the relationships between notes and rests. They are yet another example of a material that teaches itself. Unfortunately, they are not currently available (we're working hard to get a new version out soon!) but you can see an example in this video. The old Warner Brothers version was very light blue with plain backs; the new ones are slightly darker blue and have pictures on the backs of Magic Note and Gold Coin values, in addition to tiny Blue Jello drawings.
As with any rhythm game, I start with the basic five notes: whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth. "Can you find the longest note?" I spread out the cards on the floor. Since they're proportionally sized, even a three-year-old can find the biggest card, so it's a great success experience.
"Right; the whole note is the longest because it has four beats." (The more you can repeat the terms, the better your students will learn them; just remember not to fall into the trap of quizzing them. They'll remember on their own, in their own time.) "And because it has four beats, we also call it fo-o-o-our." Make the sign. Then ask the student to find the next longest note, continuing the dialogue until the notes are all placed, one above the other.
Next, repeat with the rests. This is even easier, because you can just say, "Which rest matches the half note? That's right, the half rest. They're exactly the same size, because they have the same number of beats." When you finish with these, you'll have a nice pyramid-shaped diagram; or, as I like to say, a Christmas tree.
"Now we can decorate the tree." I like to start at the top, since teaching addition is easier than teaching division. "This sixteenth rest is so tiny, it only gets one Magic Note." It's a small note and we play it very fast. Can you say "huck?" I say it with them, making the sign. "Even faster?" They always love to go faster!
Comparisons are easy: "The eighth note is twice as big, so if we added two sixteenth notes together we'd get -- right! Two magic notes." The students love to turn over each card and painstakingly cover the Magic Note drawings on the back with real Magic Notes. When we reach the quarter note and rest, I emphasize the idea of a beat: "A blue is one beat, right? How many blue kids are on the back?" (Or, in case of the rest, "How many mice?") They understand instantly and intuitively that a half note is two beats and a whole rest, four beats. And at the end, their Christmas tree is twinkling with colored balls and glinting with gold coins. They will gaze and admire and beg to do it all over again.
When these concepts are firmly established, I add in the dotted notes, again comparing sizes. If the child is old enough, I'll explain what the dot means -- half again as long as the original note. Finally, we add the multi-note cards: jello, huckleberry, etc. I add a few at each session, making sure to reinforce both the Blue Jello words and the musical terms, so that the students learn that they're interchangeable.
Once they know the Real Rhythm Cards well, they're fun to use for other games. One of my favorites is Making Measures. We start with 4/4, the most basic time signature, and create measures of music using the whole note and rest as guides. If students try to make a measure with too many or too few beats, it's immediately obvious, because the line of notes is too long or too short. They quickly learn to group eighth and sixteenth values together for more easy playing. When the measure is complete, we sign and clap the rhythm, and sometimes even go to the piano and make up a melody.
There are many more games, of course, as for all of the Music Mind Games materials, and I'm sure you have your own in the works! If you're fortunate enough to have a set of Real Rhythm cards, I'd love to hear how you're using them.