top of page
Creating Rhythms and Composing


To understand how different rhythms are used in Iranian music and to create music using newly composed rhythms.

The activities below also link to numeracy curricular work.


Iranian music uses many different rhythms. Sometimes, these rhythmic patterns are built out of smaller units, just like lego bricks, often from 2- and 3- beat units. These kinds of rhythms are called 'additive rhythms'.



  • 5-time can be made from (2 + 3) or (3 + 2)

  • 7-time can be made from (3 + 2 + 2), (2 + 3 + 2) or (2 + 2 + 3)

  • 11-time can be made from (3 + 3 + 3 + 2) and other combinations

  • 13-time can be made from (3 + 3 + 3 + 2 + 2) and other combinations

  • And so on ...

  • What other rhythmic patterns can you create?

  • Cross-curricular link to numeracy work

Below are audio examples, of 5-time and 7-time.


Other combinations of 2- and 3- beat patterns, and other kinds of rhythmic cycles, can be heard in music traditions in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Balkans.


In The Phoenix of Persia, you can hear:

  • a 5-beat cycle (1-2, 1-2-3) when King Sam and Queen Aram are first introduced (Chapter 4, from 1:30), played on tanbur.

  • a 14-beat cycle (1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4) when the soldiers takes Prince Zal to the mountains (Chapter 6).

  • a 9-beat cycle (1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3) (Chapter 7), played on santur.


Start with 5-time: clap the pattern slowly: 12 123 / 12 123 / 12 123 /

Teachers can start clapping first at a steady speed and then whole class joins in. Repeat the cycle until it feels comfortable and everyone is in time together. 

N.B. Emphasise the bold counts and keep a consistent pulse and steady speed.

Now try 7-time: 12 12 123 / 12 12 123 / 12 12 123

Again, repeat the cycle until it feels comfortable and everyone is in time together. 


Composing and performing your own rhythms

  • Pupils can work in small groups to compose their own rhythms made up of any combination of 2- and 3- beat units (but there must be at least one of each).

  • This rhythm can then be played in a ‘cycle’, looping round again and again, perhaps arranged differently each time.

  • Pupils can use clapping or untuned classroom percussion. They may choose to answer each other, or pass the rhythm around members of the group, or all play together.

        (skills: decision-making; team-work; counting; keeping in time; co-ordination; organisation;                presentation).

  • Using flashcards can be useful in helping pupils construct rhythms.

       For instance. 5-time:

       Or 7-time:

  • Here is a link to a page where the flashcards document can be downloaded and printed. These flashcards were developed by teacher Eloise Garland, while working with pupils at Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children in London.


  • Give each group 10 mins to work on their rhythmic patterns, after which each group can perform to the whole class, who will be asked to listen and feedback verbally as to what they liked about each pattern (skills: listening; evaluating; presenting).

  • Each group can be asked to introduce their rhythmic pattern, explain their particular combination of 2’s and 3’s, how they decided on the pattern and how they decided to arrange it within the group.


Extension work

Try the above using different kinds of classroom instruments with different timbres, textures and sounds. Ask pupils to describe these sounds using a range of adjectives. This could also lead to a writing exercise. 

00:00 / 00:38
00:00 / 00:43
Screenshot 2020-12-04 at 13.01.16.png
Screenshot 2020-12-04 at 13.00.52.png
Screenshot 2020-12-04 at 13.38.07.png
Screenshot 2020-12-04 at 13.38.02.png
Screenshot 2020-12-04 at 13.38.02.png
Screenshot 2020-12-04 at 13.38.02.png
Screenshot 2020-12-04 at 13.38.07.png
bottom of page