Tea – Coffee – Rest – A Great Game For Your Music Lessons

You can easily brighten up your classroom Music Lesson with this simple game that children will ask for again and again! It’s easy to set up, you can do it successfully with no musical equipment at all and it teaches rhythm and musical confidence while everyone has fun! Add it to your lesson plans!


Arrange chairs in a big circle. Set aside one chair for yourself. If you have enough drums for the whole class, put one in front of each chair. The children will be using their hands to play the drums. You, the teacher, should ideally have a cowbell and a beater.

If you don’t have enough drums, you can alternate drums and other percussion instruments – such as tambourines, castanets etc – around the circle. You can get everyone to move around after each round of the game, so the instrument distribution will be fair. If you don’t have any instruments at all, just clap the rhythms!

Begin by demonstrating the main rhythm: crotchet, two quavers, crotchet (quarter note, two eighth notes, quarter note). The time signature is ¾.

Actually say “Tea, coffee, rest; tea, coffee, rest;” and get the whole class to repeat it several times. Then get them all to play the rhythm together on their instruments.

Next, substitute a “rest” for the third beat – in other words, the rhythm becomes crotchet, two quavers, crotchet rest (quarter note, two eighth notes, nothing). When they can all do this together, you’ll be ready to start the game. Explain that everyone has to abide by your rules and that your decisions will be final.

How to play Tea Coffee rest – training version

Get the children to put down their instruments for this version. Start quite slowly. Count aloud “one, two, three” and look straight at the child who is to start, to eliminate any doubt. You keep the pulse going with your cowbell.

The first child says “tea” on the first beat, the second child says “coffee” on the second beat and the third child says nothing at all. The fourth child says “tea” and so on. Insist that “coffee” is two even quavers (eighth notes) in strict rhythm. Keep going round the circle until everyone understands.

How to play Tea Coffee rest – real live version

The children take up their drums and percussion. Explain that this time they will be playing the same tea, coffee, rest rhythm on their instruments, one at a time. If anyone makes a mistake they will be “out” and will have to sit on the floor, leaving their instrument on the chair.

Count “one, two, three” as before and keep the pulse going with your cowbell (yes, even on the rests). The first child strikes his/her drum once on the first beat, the second child plays two quavers (eighth notes), the third does nothing, the fourth child plays once, the fifth plays two quavers (eighth notes), the sixth does nothing, and so on round the circle.

Whenever anyone makes a mistake they are “out”. They immediately put down their instrument (on the chair) and sit on the floor, without any argument! You restart with the same count-in, looking at the next child in the circle.

As the number of active players decreases, you can up the tempo. If you’re left with three (or six) good players who don’t make a mistake, just stop and restart (on a different child) quickly so that they are taken off guard. Or reverse the direction. When you’re down to two players, even you will be confused!

You can help the children by looking earnestly at each player when it’s their turn – or tease them by looking earnestly at another child so that they play at the wrong time.

Give the winner a Smartie or sticker or whatever currency they value, then get everyone to move around (by one chair) before sitting on the chairs again. Start again straight away and keep the pace up. Four rounds of the game are probably enough, even though the children would happily play it for hours. The next time you play you won’t have to do any explaining.

A note of caution: this game will make you seriously popular, but the downside is that children may tell their parents that they just play games in their music lessons. Be prepared to defend the activity and explain how it teaches children to count in time, to come in independently, to listen and fit in with others, to perform in a group and to recognise note values!

Thanks to Ros Shaw for telling me about this and many other great games.

Jacqueline M. Faulkner

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