Looking for fun new songs for your music room next school year? In this post, I’ll share beat-passing games, which are games in which the beat is passed from one person to the next.

Typically, at the end, the last person to be hit is "out." It is so much harder to pass the beat than it is to keep it on your lap, so whether your students have a solid foundation of the beat since kindergarten and need a challenge, or if students are just learning a steady beat, these can be very fun and rewarding games for upper elementary!

A lot of my students seem to play "Down by the banks of the hanky panky." Although I don't play the game with my students, I sometimes refer to it so students understand how we'll be playing a beat-passing game.

One of my favorite beat-passing games is "Oboshinotentoten." It is an African-American folk song that I learned from my friend Sue Leithold Bowcock. Here is the notation:

For the game, students stand in a circle with hands facing up, their left hands under their neighbor’s hand and their right hands above their neighbor’s hand.

When the song begins, one student crosses their right hand over their body to tap the hand of their neighbor on their left. The beat continues around the circle until "1, 2, 3, 4, 5."

If someone gets their hand tapped on "5," they are out; if they pull their hand away in time, the person who was trying to tap their hand on "5" is out. The person who is "out" goes to the middle of the circle until more people join him/her, and two games can occur at the same time.

The game is great for teaching syncopa, and for practicing re and/or the do pentatonic scale.

Another favorite beat passing game is "Freddy Oaka," which I also learned from Sue! Here is the notation:

The game is a twist on the typical beat-passing game: everyone sits in a circle with their left hands palm up under their left neighbor’s hand, and their right hands palm up over their right neighbor’s hand.

One person starts at the beginning of the song, crossing their right hand over to their neighbor’s left hand to the beat. That person hits the next person, who hits the next person, etc. Whomever is hit on the word “no” chooses a number between two and 20.

That person starts, taps the neighbor’s right hand, and the tapping continues until the designated number; that person who is about to be tapped pulls their hand away. If the person does not pull their hand away, they are out and they go into the middle of the circle.

If the person does pull their hand away, the person who tried to tap is out and goes into the middle of the circle. Another game begins in the middle when there are three students, so that two games are happening simultaneously!

The song is great for teaching tika-ti and low sol (and fun side note — the beginning sounds just like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm").

These games are wonderful for passing down songs, because kids will often play them on the playground, teach them to their younger siblings, etc., which is exactly what we want them to do! I hope your students enjoy these games as much as mine do!