For students of all ages to get "in synch" with the metronome
bounce a tennis ball in time to a metronome:
Students must be able to do all of the above 10 times at each
metronome setting with each hand. This teaches staying with the
metronome, listening, rotation and physical coordination.
-Patricia Kershaw, NCTM, Highlands Ranch, Colorado
When working with difficult rhythms for late-elementary or
early-intermediate students, such as a combination of eighth notes
and triplets in Danube Sonatina in C, use fruit names instead of
counting (plum, strawberry, plum, strawberry, apple, apple, apple
and so forth).
A ritardando at the end of a piece-coming up to a double bar-is
like a car gently slowing for a stop sign. Your mom doesn't slam on
the brakes, and neither should you!
Introduce a metronome at the first or second lesson, very
casually, so that it becomes a valued friend, rather than a dreaded
I have found that some students do not like to count aloud when
beginning to study a new piece of music. They all understand that
this is the best way to learn new material, but I still have to
count aloud with them until they master their assignments. I also
include duets at lessons when counting is essential.
-Submitted by Beatrice L. Frank, Arlington, Virginia
Assign rhythm exercises well in advance of new rhythms appearing
in new pieces.
One of my favorite activities as a child was dancing-ethnic folk
dancing. Even now as an adult, I continually look for opportunities
to attend ethnic-related events where dancing is the main form of
entertainment. This skill has helped me get my piano students off
the bench and moving around as they learn to internalize the music
they play: mazurkas, polkas, waltzes, tangos, bourrees, csardas,
gigues and so forth. The rhythmic and stylistic skills students can
gain from this activity are so worthwhile.
-Submitted by Karen Taddie, NCTM, Morgantown, West
Steps for learning rhythm
Young students count by saying note values in rhythm: quarter,
half-note, half-note-dot, whole-note-hold-it
-Valda May, Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Use words to help your students get the eighth note/quarter note
connection. Below are some ideas. Be creative and make up your
You get the idea. Make sure the student feels this with the
WHOLE body: tell them to swing arms, stomp feet,
-Michelle Conda, Cincinnati, Ohio
When a student encounters a new rhythm and needs help
understanding it, we write it down on a separate sheet of paper.
Then we double every note value, which usually makes the rhythm
look familiar as we go from fractions of beats to whole beats. Then
we play the familiar pattern on a single pitch until the student
can play it quickly. Finally, the student looks at the original
rhythm and plays it on one pitch. This gives the student an easy
method for deciphering rhythms that can be used at home.
-Submitted by Andrea Warren, NCTM, Houston, Texas
This may not work for all teachers (or students), but I've had
some fun and good success with it: when my beginners (adults
included) give half notes only one beat, the same as quarter notes,
I tell them, with mock fervor, "A half note has worked long and
hard to be worth two beats! It deserves to get it!", and then we
repeat the counting, relishing that second, hard-earned beat. This
really has been quite effective, maybe, because the students just
don't want to hear me say such a ridiculous thing again!
-Submitted by Jennifer Nubel, Naperville,
When trying to teach students to lift for rests, try the
following. Not only is it fun, but it makes a lasting impression
and the rests are remembered! Give the student a rhythm instrument
and have him stand behind the teacher while the teacher plays the
piece. The student's "job" is to "play" the rests at the correct
time on the rhythm instrument. This requires the student to pay
close attention to the music, and brings him a greater awareness of
where, and how important, the rests are. When this skill is
mastered (after one or two times through), then have the student
switch positions with the teacher. The student plays his piece and
the teacher "plays" the rests on the rhythm instrument. I have had
great success doing this, and the rests are never a problem for the
-Amy Rose Immerman, Cincinnati, Ohio
When a student is having difficulty capturing the correct rhythm
of a piece, go back to a basic beat using the given time signature.
But instead of using the piano, use rhythm instruments. The teacher
can be the "metronome" with a drum or rhythm sticks, while the
student plays another instrument to correct his or her
-Carol Condit, Loveland, Colorado
Ghost Play-When students have difficulty with a rhythm, pattern,
trill or turn, I have them place their fingers lightly on the keys.
I play the music close to the fall board so they can feel the
pattern; then they try it. Sometimes by feeling the pattern or
turn, they are then successful when they try it. This has worked
for three against two, turns and simple pieces when left hand and
right hand play together.
-Jill Hanrahan, NCTM, Colorado Springs, Colorado