Epo I Tai Tai

Epo I Tai Tai is one of my favorite "syn-co-pa" songs to use with 4th grade.  I introduce it with a hand clapping game that goes like this:

 I introduce it with a hand clapping game that goes like this:
  1. Have the students listen for the longest sound as you sing the song. ("e")
  2. Have them count how many times "e" occurs.
  3. Every time they hear "e" have them perform this following pattern: right hand (in the air, mocking patting a partner's hand), clap both hands, left hand (same as with right: up, tapping phantom partner), clap
  4. Have them listen for how many times "Epo i tai tai" happens while they perform the patter for "e".  This is tricky, a lot of times they will say five (they'll count epo i tuki tuki)
  5. Add pat-pat-clap-clap on "Epo i Tai Tai"
  6. Have them count how many times "epo i tuki tuki" happens
  7. Add pat-pat-both (patting both of phantom partner's hands)-both
  8. We will sing it a few times more practicing the pattern but that's all I do with it the first day.
  9. The next lesson we will review the pattern and add having a partner
  10. Eventually, they will be in concentric circles, facing their partners performing the pattern.  After they are successful with the pattern I will start calling "left" or "right" at the end of the 1st, 2nd or 4th phrase.  This is A LOT of fun!
Pedagogically, I use this to prepare and practice "syn-co-pa" or single eighth note-quarter note-single eighth note.

When we are practicing we will read and clap the rhythm of the first slide of the following powerpoint. We will derive where ties need to be inserted to make the rhythm match the song and then they will read the second slide with the ties inserted:

Once we have presented syn-co-pa, we will read this slide on rhythm syllables:

In 5th grade, once we have presented low ti and are practicing this element we will sing this mystery song and then play the game:

Here are some other activity ideas:

Sitting circle on the floor
body percussion:
pat pat clap clap snap snap snap snap (repeat)
pat pat clap clap pat pat head head
pat pat clap clap snap snap snap snap

When students are proficient with the body percussion, have them perform the pattern using rhythm sticks. The pattern is:

Floor, floor, cross, cross, out, out , out, out (repeat)
Floor, floor, cross, cross, floor, floor, up, up
Floor, floor, cross, cross, out, out, out, out

Cross = tap sticks together
Out = tap your sticks with your neighbors sticks to your right and left at the same time.
Up = pulse sticks holding them straight up for 4 beats.

When your students are proficient at doing this, have them practice flipping their sticks in 2 beats. Say, “flip, catch”. This movement replaces the “up” done on the first tuki-tuki.

Have students sit in 2 concentric circles so they face a partner. Instead of “flip, catch”, change it to “toss, catch” and they toss their sticks and catch their partners sticks.


  1. I think you might reconsider using this song with your students once you read a little about its history and translation:

  2. Thanks for the link! I have seen the history before but I'll be honest, I don't share that with them. I usually just tell them that many people say this song is from Hawaii (which is what the girl scout source says) but it's actually a song of the Maori people.

    I love the history behind folk songs but as educators we have to decide if a song's history is appropriate or not for children. Take for instance "Lucy Locket." Teachers everywhere use this song with their students but you would never tell them it's about two prostitutes. Another example is "Ring Around the Rosie." That one is about the Black Plague but it's not a history that we share with children. (at least 1-6 year olds). However, that being said, it is important that we are educated about a song's history and that's why the link you shared is really important. It allows us to decide if we personally want to make the decision to use add that piece to our repetoire. My mom LOVES teaching "Weldon" but my friend Tanya doesn't like to teach it because of it's history.

    A really fun read on folk songs is "The Singing Game" by Iona and Peter Opie, you should read it if you get a chance. Thanks again for sharing the link, I appreciate it!

  3. I love this song. I can't believe that this one was a stereotypical nursery/folk song, stemming from mature origins. I thought, "It's Maorian, so maybe they'll be more modest." Nope. Not at all.


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