Teaching Meter Through Manipulatives

Unifix cubes and toothpicks are a great way to show meter.


Meter is one of those concepts that is difficult to teach because it is abstract and must be felt. You can give your students lots of experience with meter, and they can be pros at finding the steady beat, but if they don’t understand the organization of beats into groups, they just won’t get it.

I’ve been teaching meter using Quaver Music. It’s brilliant how Quaver presents it: beats can be strong or weak, and they are arranged into groups. Meter is how the beats are grouped. Unifix cubes (also called snap cubes) make a great way of taking this abstract concept and making it concrete and tactile for kids.

First, the kids grabbed a handful of cubes and found a place on the floor.
Second, I played a song with an easily identifiable meter. The students had to pat the steady beat, then switch to patting only the strong beats and clapping the weak beats, then count how many beats were in a group (starting with “one” when they patted their legs). This is how they arrived at the number of beats in a group.
Third, the students arranged their cubes in a line, with spaces between each group of beats.


Students create beat groups to show the meter of a piece

Some students even chose two different colors; one color for the strong beats and one color for the weak beats. (Differentiation! Boom!)
Fourth, students placed toothpicks vertically between the beat groups to represent bar lines.
Finally, as the music continued to play, students tapped the cubes with their fingertips in time with the beat. This allowed them to check their answers.


This boy is tapping his cubes in time with the music to check his answers.

The whole process was great for assessment because I could immediately see who was struggling AND what they were struggling with. It kept the class occupied so I could give individual attention to the students who needed it.

And the best part…? The whole activity took only ten minues. TEN MINUTES! Visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and aural learning, authentic music learning, and formative (and summative if you want) assessment, all in ten minutes. Pull this one out the next time you’re being observed. You’re welcome. 😉

What do you think? Have you tried this before? Would you like to try it? How do you see it going over with your students?

Thanks for reading!
-Mallory 🙂

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