Rhythm, Rhythm, Who’s Got Rhythm?

Not very many students, unfortunately! 🙂 I received this question from another teacher and thought it would be a great one to get some feedback and suggestions from others. I’ll share a few of my thoughts below, but I would love to glean some ideas from other teachers as well. How would you answer this question?

When do you let students stop counting out loud for a prepared piece during lesson time?  I understand that counting out loud is a good tool, but sometimes students start associating it with the notation, not the actual rhythm.  The student also has to learn how to count in his head and be able to see a rhythm pattern and just play it.  I understand this, but am having trouble getting this across to the student, or knowing the right time to transition.

Don’t you love it when you observe that a student is playing the rhythm of a piece incorrectly, so you ask them to count it out loud and they respond, “But I’m counting in my head.” Uh-huh. I’ll bet. I usually say, “Oh good, this should be easy then. Just have your mouth say what your brain is already thinking.” Of course, every experienced teacher knows that no such counting was taking place in the recesses of the brain. It was probably diverted down other neurological pathways…like pondering the fare to be offered at the next mealtime, so some such musically-related topic. 🙂

Okay…satire aside, this is a huge issue for many students and it is one that I have become much more strict about over the years. If a student plays the rhythm incorrectly, they count out loud. Period. If they ask when I will let them stop counting out loud, I tell them “As soon as you can play the rhythm correctly.” Some students naturally have a great sense of rhythm and mentally associate rhythmic values with sound. They intuitively play the rhythm correctly, even if they’re not counting it in their head or out loud. Super! No point in making them count out loud if the rhythm is already correct. (They have separate rhythm drills where they have to learn the process of counting rhythms, but if they play rhythmically without counting, I’m fine with that.)

One of the things I try to emphasize with students right off the bat is the difference between rhythm and pulse. I relate pulse to our bodily pulse and call it “the heartbeat of the music.” Doing a variety of Eurhythmic activities, clapping, snapping, playing rhythm instruments, tapping, walking/dancing, etc. is an excellent way to help students develop a sense of pulse. Also, listening to music and trying to tap along with the pulse is helpful. With some students, this is a long process. They won’t get it in one week, or one month, or even one year, but we keep hammering away at it. I try to make little steps of progress each week, constantly reinforcing the importance of excellent rhythm skills. Yes, it’s hard work for them, but I assure them over and over again that it will be well worth it in the end. I know, because I was in their shoes once myself. 🙂

Related Posts: Feeling the Pulse Teaching Ideas Category

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