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Music Patterns

This article is part of our weekly series Executive Function Tips for Families.

Parents, do you have time on your hands? If you do, put those hands together for quick pattern playtime!


This game develops and strengthens the executive function skills of selective attention, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility through clapping and tapping patterns.

Executive Function Skills Practiced:

Selective Attention:

Your child must focus intently on the patterns you produce so they don’t miss a beat!

Inhibitory Control:

Frequent check-ins, modeling, and plenty of floor space help keep your child immersed in the moment.

Cognitive Flexibility:

During play, your child must recognize the pauses as well as the patterns to mimic you or predict what you’ll do next!


Before You Start:

Duration: 10-15 minutes

Materials List:

Materials are not a must! Consider adding instruments like these to keep the game engaging.

  • Rhythm sticks
  • Percussion instruments 
  • Tambourine


Medium-sized room with a clear space on the floor

Ready To Play? Game Levels and Step-by-Step Instructions:

  • The game works well with both individuals and small groups.

  • Choose the right level of play based on your child’s age, then move to a higher level as they build their skills.


Game Level 1- Find Your Spot (2-3 years):

  1. Sit down with your child.

  2. Demonstrate clapping and stopping and instruct your child by saying, “Can you follow me? 

  3. I’m going to clap, clap, clap, and STOP.”

  4. Repeat with varying numbers of claps before stopping.

  5. Continue until your child finds it easy to play along.


Game Level 2- Traditional Rules (3-4 years):

  1. Sit down with your child. 

  2. Introduce clapping, stopping, and tapping knees by saying, “Clap my hands and tap my knees, clap my hands and tap my knees.”

  3. Create an A/B pattern and repeat, gradually increasing the complexity.

  4. Ask your child to stop and model the “stopping” sign. The stopping sign can be whatever you want to indicate that you and your child should stop clapping (e.g., motioning your hand in a certain way or making a funny face.)

  5. Continue until the pattern becomes easy for them. The child should be able to switch back and forth between the different patterns with ease. 

Game Level 3- Altering the Line (4-5 years):

  1. Continue with clapping and tapping in an A/B pattern.

  2. Freeze hands after a clap and ask, “What comes after a clap?”

  3. Encourage your child to notice and predict the pattern changes. The child should be asked to guess what action or beat comes next in the pattern that they have learned.

  4. Introduce additional movements and reduce repetitions before asking what comes next.

  5. Gradually make the pattern more challenging (e.g., AAB/AAB, ABA/ABA).


Talk & Reflect:

Ask your child different questions like:

“Was it easy or hard to remember to stop clapping?”
“How did you remember to tap your knees after you clapped?”
“Did anyone count the movements in their mind?”
After asking your child questions, reflect on your child’s responses, acknowledging the difficulty of the game.

Additional Ideas & Resources:

  • For older children, make the pattern more complex and switch the pattern for them to notice.

  • Older children may also be encouraged to come up with their own patterns. 

  • Invite your child to model an action that he or she wants so that it can be incorporated into the game.

  • Try using different musical instruments to create patterns.

  • Try using a drum to strike a specific number of times while directing your child to repeat the pattern with their claps.

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