For students of all ages to get "in synch" with the metronome bounce a tennis ball in time to a metronome:
- Throw the ball down.
- Land on the click.
- Rotate your hand to "pick the ball up" on the bounce.
- Rotate your hand to throw the ball down.
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 enemy.
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.
—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.
—Karen Taddie, NCTM, Morgantown, West Virginia
Steps for learning rhythm
- Swing your arm to the beat. Count out loud.
- Point to the notes and count. Be sure your finger touches the note in rhythm.
- Tap and count-R.H. for R.H. rhythm, L.H. for L.H. rhythm.
- Play and count.
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 own!
- Colors. Quarter= "blue" Eighth= "pur-ple" (Music Mind Games by Michiko Yurko)
- Food. Quarter= "eat" Eighth= "yum-my"
- Food. Quarter= "bun" Eighth= "hot-dog"
- Carpenter. Quarter= "nail" Eighth= "ham-mer"
- Beach. Quarter= "scoop" Eighth= "sho-vel"
You get the idea. Make sure the student feels this with the WHOLE body: tell them to swing arms, stomp feet, clap. Engage!
—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.
—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!
—Jennifer Nubel, Naperville, Illinois
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 student thereafter.
—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 rhythm.
—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