Learning and Development

Musical Activities to Learn About Shapes in the Early Years

  • Musical Activities to Learn About Shapes in the Early Years

Sam Dixon suggests a musical way to help three-year-olds learn about rectangles, triangles and more…

Songs are a fantastic way to introduce any concept to young children. They not only assist speech development, but the melody and rhythm of the music encourages memory and understanding too. As an early years music specialist, I’m often asked by teachers for songs about shapes. Shapes and music work particularly well together because aspects of the music can reflect the physical nature of the shape. The following song, The Rectangle Rumba, uses a rectangular-shaped character, Ms Rectangle (pictured right), to explain the shape to the children. As the children learn the song they should be encouraged to dance along, drawing out the shape first with their hands in the air and then with their feet on the floor. It’s a lot of fun! A free recording of the song is available to listen to on this page, and there is a dance-along video online.

What to do

Show the children the picture of Ms Rectangle. Explain that she comes from Latin America and loves to dance. Can they see the fruit on her headband? Point out her four sides: two long and two short. Ask the children to draw a rectangle in the air. Tell them that her favourite dance is The Rectangle Rumba and that she uses this song to dance to.

Use the free recording or online video and demonstrate the actions (listed below) with the music. When you are demonstrating the dance moves, bear in mind that the children will mirror your actions; so a ‘long step to the right’ needs to be reversed by the practitioner. You move to your left and the children will move to their right.

Extra activities

Here are some more games with which to explore music and shapes together:

Shapes in the air
Every shape has a certain number of sides and every piece of music has a certain number of beats in each bar. For example, waltzes have three beats in the bar. You can count along, 1 2 3, 1 2 3, etc. Play the children some recordings of waltzes and practise drawing triangles in the air, in time to the music. If the music is fast, your triangles will have to be small. If the music is slow, you can draw enormous ones! Use marches (with four beats in each bar) to practise drawing squares in the air. Try playing different pieces of music and ask the children if they think it’s a ‘triangle’ tune or a ‘square’ tune.

Instrument shape up
Display a selection of instruments, e.g. triangle, drum, tambourine, wood block, chimes, recorder, etc. How many different shapes can children see? Can they find tiny circles on the recorder?

Vocal roller coaster
Draw a continuous line on a board with hill shapes, roller coaster loop circles and stair patterns. Tell the children that they are going to go on a roller coaster ride with their voices. Follow the line with your finger and their voices should rise and fall as the line does. Begin with the sound ‘OO’, then try it again with an ‘EE’, then finally ‘AH’. Try leaving breaks in the line, where the sound should stop, and restart when the line does. Ask the children to sing the whole thing softly (or loudly), so that they do not associate going higher in pitch with getting louder in volume.

Sam Dixon teaches class music at Brighton College.