How to Teach Beat-Passing Games

These ideas are for passing a SINGLE object around the circle, not cup passing games and similar where EVERYONE has an object. Many elimination games are played using a single object.

Singing games that involve passing an object to the beat are favorites in the music classroom. No matter what object you use, there are some basic how-tos for teaching kids. Here are some tricks and a list of favorite games.

When I’m teaching the concept for the first time or going over reminders to students who’ve already learned, here is the sequence.

  1. Teaching Pass the Beat Games
    1. Pre-Teaching
    2. Introduce the Song
    3. Secret Magical Compliments & Fixes
    4. Ideas for the Kids Who Are OUT
    5. The END of the Game CAUTIONS
  2. Games
    1. Pass the Pumpkin
    2. In and Out
    3. GROWING LIST-more coming soon!

Teaching Pass the Beat Games


  1. Identify, discuss, and demonstrate the qualities of a good pass. The word “pass” can be misleading. It’s not a toss, drop, or throw. It is PLACED directly and easily in the next person’s hand. In their hand, not dropped in front of them, to the side of them, or in the space created by their criss-cross applesauce legs.
  2. There’s a responsibility on the receiver to have their hand ready. Also, the receiver RECEIVES the pass and does not grab the object from the giver.
  3. Identify that the beat means not going faster or slower in different parts of the circle.
  4. Counting Practice
    • The class pats their legs to a steady beat as they count 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. The teacher points to each child driving home the idea that each child is ONE beat.
    • Repeat the process
    • Add a bean bag or ball reminding students that they should have the item in THEIR hand on THEIR number and only THEIR number. This process lets kids internalize the steadiness of a steady beat.

The object never STOPS. The object doesn’t speed up or down. (important if your song has rests or longer held notes so that students don’t try to match the rhythm)

Introduce the Song

  1. If you haven’t learned the song, do it now with steady beat patting.
  2. Play with your beat-passing object. Make sure the students are singing. The teacher should still walk around the outside of the circle pointing to who should have it.
  3. Let them try it without your help and see where the problems are occurring.
    • If a student is not keeping the beat and you feel it is purposeful, address it. For example, if the object is especially tantalizing 😄 (a soft fuzzy ball, a cute pumpkin, etc) kids may want to hold on to it longer.
    • Many times though, students just get excited or nervous and go too fast.

Secret Magical Compliments & Fixes

  • Time to play “for real” as an out game or however the game is intended.
  • Become the COACH
    • Don’t sing with them.
    • Don’t help them restart the game after each “out.” Tell them they are in charge. Tell them to watch who has the ball at the end of the verse and when you see them ready to begin the first pass, that’s when they need to pat and sing.
    • You’ll find your leaders. Compliment them. “I loved the way Tyrese started singing to get the game going again.” “I loved the way Shari moved back right away when she was out so that the game could continue.”

Ideas for the Kids Who Are OUT

  • Simply scoot back out of the circle, not changing your basic position in the circle, watch the game, and continue to sing and pat.
  • Go get rhythm sticks, sit in your “out” circle spot, sing, and PLAY the steady beat.
  • Get a scarf and move around the room to the beat as the game continues. (this is for classes that have lots of self-control and leadership)

The END of the Game CAUTIONS

Kids get excited when it’s down to the last 4, 3, 2 and so I stop the game and remind them of a couple of safety and sportsmanship items.

  • What do you say at the end of the game? “Congratulations” to the winner and “Good game” to the one who did not win. (or whatever sportsmanship ideas you want to impart) Many times when I ask the question, kids automatically recite what they’ve learned from their after-school sports)
  • While we want to be excited at the end of the game, we will use our words so no jumping, touching, slapping on the back, etc.


Pass the Pumpkin

Here’s the link to this wonderful game that can be used ALL year. Of course it’s great for Halloween. If your school doesn’t celebrate Halloween, change the words. Instead of “Halloween is here” sing “Pumpkin time is here.”

Check out my lyrics writing activity for the spring where I asked kids what you would pass that is spring related.

In and Out

  • This is a perfect game for first and second graders, even third.
  • The challenge is to get them to keep passing on the rests.
  • This rhyme is great for teaching or reinforcing quarter notes and rests!

GROWING LIST-more coming soon!

Pass the Pumpkin

Get your students playing barred instruments with this Orff arrangement (and other ideas) for the Halloween song, Pass the Pumpkin. Halloween is the perfect backdrop for engaging learning activities in music class.

This is a great beat-passing game! Whoever has the pumpkin on the last beat of the song is OUT! Continue playing until there is a final winner. As students get out, they can go get sticks and play to the beat as the game progresses.

Learn more about how to teach beat passing games.

A spooky picture to go along with the classic Halloween song Pass the Pumpkin.
Continue reading “Pass the Pumpkin”