Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Teaching Grouping

21 The Coins of the Money Changers

I always found the rhythmic grouping of notes and rests very difficult to explain to students. How do you try and explain this concept to your theory and composition pupils?

Here’s an idea I stumbled on recently which seems to be helping: “money, money, money!”

• Before attempting to beam notes up into the correct groups, I first lay out a mixed selection of coins equivalent to four pounds sterling (I’m from England but the principle is the same whatever the coinage of your country. You can use real money or plastic play money).

• I then ask the pupil to organise the coins into four stacks equal to one pound, no more no less. The principle that this exercise demonstrates to them is that you can have simple piles of just two coins or more complex ones but that they all add up to the same combined value of a pound.

example money

• Taking that idea a step further, when presented with a seemingly random string of notes, starting carefully from the beginning of the bar (measure), the notes need to be added up to the value of a crotchet (quarter note), as was done with the money.


• Finally, for ease of music reading, the notes need to be beamed to show these groups (no more no less)

This logical analogy seems to be helping students make sense of what had previously been a difficult concept. How do you teach grouping? How could you develop this idea yourself?


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About the Author

Reuben Vincent
Reuben Vincent is a freelance musician working as a composer, producer and private music teacher, based from his purpose built recording studio in Bagillt, Flintshire, North Wales, UK. His main instrument is the piano although he is also known for a "mean" solo on the Kazoo!!!


  1. Louise Jones

    This is a great idea! I, too, have difficulty explaining grouping to students of all ages. I did, however, have one primary-school-aged child who has given me a great analogy to use when teaching others….when explaining that in 4/4 time notes shouldn’t be beamed between beats 2 and 3 of the bar, she suddenly exclaimed “Ah, it’s just like World War 1! The Allies are beats 1-2, the Germans are beats 3-4 and the space between beats 2 and 3 is No Man’s Land – nothing can cross it!” I thought that was a great way of visualising the bar, and it’s worked each time since then!

  2. Dawn Duncliffe

    I’ve come up with a few different ways over the years, given that fractions are taught in school much later than I need to cover them with many students. The big one is using food – a 4 year old definitely won’t know what 1/2 or 1/4 is as math, but they sure know what it is when it’s a treat of some kind to be shared! This is how I work to solve uneven eighth notes – their sibling/friend gets the bigger portion if they are played unevenly. There are many other food applications.
    As for the not connecting 2 and 3 rule, I just hold up my hand in the Vulcan pose – “Spock yes” – then move the middle fingers together – “this no”. After a while, the theory students just need to be reminded “Spock yes” and they clean up their exercises. The beauty of this is that it’s a study aid that’s allowed to go into an exam room since it merely involves fingers.

  3. Reuben Vincent

    Thanks Dawn for the beats 2 and 3 idea. I love it!!! Gotta try that with my lot. Thanks again

  4. Reuben Vincent

    Thanks Louise. Isn’t it amazing what kids come up with. Sometimes we are the student and they are the teacher! Great idea. I’ll try that out. Many thanks

  5. Dan Vrancic

    This seems like it could work pretty well. As a high school music teacher, I believe it is important to have many ways of teaching different concepts – I think I will add this one to my repertoire. I run and in my free course, I discuss rhythm in video 2. My philosophy is to use counting with numbers and gradually build on the subdivisions. I have seen other interesting adaptations such as using lego pieces to represent the subdivisions. I firmly believe that any visually tangible educational tool that can be used to explain a concept will be highly effective. Thanks for sharing this!

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