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Rhythm WAR in the Music Room


I’ll bet some of your students already know how to play WAR using standard playing cards. It will be easy to teach them to play the same game using a deck consisting of  musical note value cards. I remember playing this game with my music teacher, so there’s nothing original about it. Rhythm War and Math is just as fun today as it was years ago.


How to Play Rhythm War:

  • Deal out all the cards to 2 or more players.
  • Saying, “1-2-Hit,” Each player turns one card face down. All players lay down the topmost card.
  • The player laying down the note with the longest value collects all of the cards which were just laid down.
  • In the case of a tie, a “war” takes place.
  • WAR= This means that the tying players lay two cards face down and one card face up, while saying “I – declare – war.”
  • The player laying the face-up card with the greater value collects all of the cards which were just laid down.
  • If a war results in another tie, yet another war takes place…
  • When one player runs out of cards, the team members can collect all the cards and start over, or the player with the most cards may give up a few of his cards to keep the game going… that’s the best way to play!

Introducing Rhythm War on the SMARTBoard

The SMARTBoard is just perfect for introducing the rhythm and math concepts needed to play the game. When all of the attention is focused on the SMARTBoard, the explanations take up less playing time! 🙂 Download the Rhythm War SMART Notebook file at the bottom of this post. If you don’t see it, click on the title of this post and refresh to go to the original post. Feel free to change it up to suit your way of introducing the game. Even if you’ve played this game several times before, I suggest that you still take the time to go through all of the steps and rules to keep the children honest! Remember: “Won” cards go to the bottom of the deck, and we always play from the “Top” of the deck! The children often get tripped up on what merits a “War.”  Take time to explain this.

Rhythm War Game Prep

These are a few helpful suggestions:

  • The Rhythm War Cards(PDF) can be downloaded at the bottom of this post.  If you don’t see the download widget, you can download them here. Copy the cards to card-stock and laminate. Hint: If the cards curl after you cut them apart, run them back through lamination to make them sturdier. Yes, it is a pain to make the cards, but once they are made…. the fun can begin.
  • Store each set of cards in a “solo” cup. It’s easier than zip-loc bags and rubber bands!
  • I use my magical hula hoops to divide the children into groups. The inside of the hoop is the playing area and the children happily sit around the hoop. Instant, easy grouping!
  • One child is the dealer and must pass out ALL of the cards. Once the game begins, I walk around and offer to pass the cards out for them if I see that they are struggling with the big task. They don’t mind, and it helps them begin the game sooner.
  • I have a in my music room. All of the note values are posted and the children can look there if they need help remembering how many beats a note gets. If you don’t have a Rhythm Wall, use a poster to display the note value key.

    Rhythm Wall and Sofa kids

    The rhythm wall is visible for all the children to see as they check their understanding.

Rhythm War teaches Music and Math

This fun card game is great for teaching musical math concepts. It’s a  fast-paced fun way to reinforce rhythmic note values. We play this game at least twice during the year and it never gets old. If you follow this card game up with the 4/4 Shuffle, the math is further connected.
Here is a video compilation of several classes playing the game throughout the year. You’ll see crazy fun. There seems to be chaos, but it is just loud learning. This game works in a small group, but I think it’s more fun with a large group.

I love the chaos that active learning brings!!

It’s a perfect game to play when I end up having to teach a really large group at once – you know, those times when we have to cover for other teachers, or have to pinch hit at the last-minute, or it’s a fill-in time right before the holiday week begins. Keep this game handy because it’s a win-win for everyone.
This is a really fun game.
Rhythm WAR CARDS Complete
Rhythm WAR CARDS Complete
Version: 2015
4.7 MiB
Rhythm WAR Game Directions 2017
Rhythm WAR Game Directions 2017
8.0 MiB
Rhythm War SNotebook File As PDF 17
Rhythm War SNotebook File As PDF 17
9.2 MiB
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Cherie Herring

Music/Technology Integration at Hammond School
I teach elementary music, am passionate about integrating technology into my teaching, am obsessed with my SMARTBoard and iPad, and enjoy creating lessons and sharing ideas. I love technology almost as much as I love cheesecake, and with more energy and ideas than I know what to do with, I can't wait for the sun to come up each morning! I'm wife to Prince Charming and mom to three incredible girls who keep me balanced. . . sort of!

Latest posts by Cherie Herring (see all)

{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Pam Stevenson April 15, 2013, 6:34 PM

    You are awesome!!! Thank you so much for sharing!


    • Cherie Herring April 15, 2013, 9:33 PM

      Thank you, Pam! I love to share!

  • Julie Williams April 16, 2013, 8:56 PM

    I love this idea and want to incorporate it into my class. However, the download dotted half note sheet has an error. It says dotted eighth note. Oops!

    • Cherie Herring April 16, 2013, 9:05 PM

      I’ll fix it right now!! Thanks for letting me know!

    • Cherie Herring April 19, 2013, 11:07 AM

      I’ve corrected the dotted half note page and re-linked the download. All is well. Thanks for letting me know.. I totally missed that one! 🙂

  • prh April 17, 2013, 6:59 PM

    Thanks so much for sharing! I find so many of your pins valuable!

  • Katherine April 23, 2013, 11:24 AM

    Is there an updated link to the smartnotebook file? When I click on it, it says nothing there. Thanks!

    • Cherie Herring April 23, 2013, 8:06 PM

      Please check the blog link again. Someone accidentally deleted the files from a shared dropbox folder and I had to restore everything. If that doesn’t work, please let me know and I have a plan “B”
      Thanks, Cherie

  • diana April 25, 2013, 3:44 PM

    I am wondering how to use the fermata, natural sign and bass and treble clef sign cards. I have not ever played this game and am preparing to use it with my Gr. 4’s. Thanks for your help! And thanks for sharing!!

  • diana April 25, 2013, 3:45 PM

    OOPS! Wondering how to use fermata, natural sign, bass and treble clef sign cards in Rhythm Wars game!

    • Cherie Herring April 25, 2013, 3:55 PM

      Only the fermata is used in the rhythm war game. I use these sets of cards for several other games and just included them. While you are preparing all the cards just go ahead and make these extra cards as well and put a rubber and around them and save them for later… Or just discard them. Enjoy!

  • Clare May 2, 2013, 1:56 PM

    What a great rhythm game, especially here at the end of the school year! Quick question – about how many cards to you use per deck? I just wanted to make sure I printed out enough. Thanks! LOVE your website! 🙂

    • Cherie Herring May 2, 2013, 2:10 PM

      I usually group my students around the hula hoops in groups of 5. I would run a set of all the cards in the PDF for each group of students. I store them in solo cups. It’s a bunch of cards! 🙂

  • Alli Grebe May 9, 2013, 11:07 AM

    Your ideas are wonderful!!!

    • Cherie Herring May 9, 2013, 11:24 AM

      Thank you, Alli!

  • Dianne C May 27, 2013, 8:48 PM

    Cheri my kids absolutely love the Solfege listening activity! I used it as an informal assessment, I meant to write when we did it but this reminded me. Thank you for ALL of the awesome things you share. I appreciate your generosity so much.

    • Cherie Herring May 27, 2013, 8:57 PM

      Thank you, Dianne, for the nice comment! I’m so happy you’ve been able to use the activity. I do have more to share . . . after the school year ends!
      🙂 Cherie

  • Terri November 6, 2013, 7:00 PM

    Thank you but I wish this was for Promethean Board. I can usually convert Smart files to Pro board but not with this file. It sounds like a great game.

  • Cherie Herring November 6, 2013, 7:07 PM

    Terri, I wonder what it is about this activity that prevents it from being converted? It really is NOT a complicated file. In fact, I can send you a PDF of the file and you can re-create it on your IWB easily. The cards are available as a link in this post.

    Here is the PDF file. I hope it will work for you.

    • Terri March 15, 2014, 11:09 PM

      I’m not sure, but when I tried to send each file to my email at school then open them on the Pro board, they didn’t open. I think it has to do with the way the files were grouped together, separately labeled svg and metadata instead of one big smartboard file. Thank you for the pdf!

      • Terri March 15, 2014, 11:10 PM

        Whoops, I clicked the pdf link but it says the file has been moved or deleted.

  • kelly February 18, 2014, 10:09 PM

    Thanks so much for this activity! I haven’t tried it yet but I can’t wait! You were right though, making the cards themselves has been a pain :/

    Do you have a pdf of the cards you use on your rhythm wall? I’d love to make one myself. Thanks so much!

    • Cherie Herring February 18, 2014, 11:10 PM

      Hi Kelly! One hint about the cards… Copy them to card stock or to construction paper and then laminate them twice. If you laminate them just once, they will curl, but if you cut them out, turn them over, and laminate them again, they will be stronger and stay flat. I’ll look for the images I used on the rhythm wall, but I think I just used a regular image and kept enlarging it on the copier on 11.5 x 17″ paper until I got them big enough. I know it’s a pain, but just keep thinking how much fun it’s going to be for the kids…. and YOU! :)Cherie

  • Cherie Herring March 15, 2014, 11:24 PM

    Terri, I just checked the links from my computer and my ipad and they are all working fine. When you downloaded the Smart file, did you extract it before opening it? I can send you the PDF cards directly. Let me know..

  • Katie August 28, 2014, 12:09 PM

    I love your rhythm war game and am excited to use it in my music classes! I do not have a SMART board at my school, but I do have a promethean board. Is there a different way you can send me the file for the directions part of the game? Even if you just have them in a word document?

    That would be fantastic!

    Thank you so much!
    Katie Mattioli

  • Anna C Benson February 3, 2015, 11:02 PM

    Hi Cherie,

    I am trying to download the directions to your note name war game but they are not compatible to my mac. Is there another version of the download I could get? Thanks!


    • Cherie Herring February 23, 2015, 9:13 PM

      Hi Anna,
      I just uploaded a PDF file of the SMARTNotebook direction file. I tried to make the directions as clear as I could for the PDF version. I am trying to get a group of students together to make a directions video, but that just isn’t happening as quickly as I had hoped. I do hope this helps you understand how the game is played. Please ask questions if I haven’t made it clear enough. – cherie

  • Ande' February 23, 2015, 1:59 AM

    Hi! This is an awesome idea! Thank you so much for sharing!! I am not able to open the link to the pdf, it says it is no longer available 🙁 is there another link?

    • Cherie Herring February 23, 2015, 9:14 PM

      Ande, I just reworked the post. The PDF file is actually at the bottom of the post and you can download it there. I took away the broken link. Thanks for pointing it out and I’m sorry for the confusion. Have fun!! – Cherie

  • Lois May 30, 2015, 3:01 PM

    I tried to download both the 4/4 shuffle and the smart board file and it tells me it is corrupt? Or microsoft doesn’t recognize it as valid? I’m not sure what to do? Thanks for any help.

  • Jennifer September 29, 2015, 9:56 PM

    I can’t wait to try this with my class! Thanks so much for this 🙂

  • Jennifer July 24, 2017, 1:20 PM

    This is a great idea! Where are the links? I couldn’t find them at the bottom.

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