I’ve Got Rhythm and You Got it Too!
I find that although rhythm is one of the most challenging elements in music to communicate, it can also be one of the most satisfying concepts to teach.
From the beginning, when teaching in home piano lessons, we as teachers try to instill this concept. The concept that counting is an integral part of music, that two comes after one, and one comes after four-at least in common time that is. We teach them that rhythm is an underlying force that they create, not an optional piece to be tossed off when the music gets too hard. We show them the metronome, we have them count aloud, and we have them clap and snap and stomp. The thing I’ve learned though, is until it clicks, rhythm is just a word.
Don’t Force It
What can make it click though? I’ve thought about this for a long time, and the conclusion I’ve come to is you can’t force it. Some students get it immediately and some others just don’t grasp it. If you try and force rhythm on them, they will only drift further away. I get really excited for students with great natural rhythm. Not only because they are a blast to teach, but also because things will come easier to them, and they will probably get a lot of enjoyment out of their in home piano lessons. For those students who have difficulty, I love the challenge and the satisfaction of helping a student break through that barrier is an exciting accomplishment for student and teacher. I try to get them to think of rhythm in the context of the music they listen to. I ask them to sing me a song that they like, then I play the melody on the piano and ask them to clap along. Sometimes it’s a mess! Some students have trouble finding the beat, let alone creating one, but other times it fits right in. With many students, once they can do it on a song they know, they can apply it to any song, including the one they are working on with me.
Language of Music
Reading rhythms is easy when it comes right down to
it. How many students can count to four and how many can’t? It can be a bit
more complicated than just counting to four of course, but I have learned that
making things simple when it comes to rhythm, is sometimes the best way to help
a student understand. Can the student point out on the page where all the beats
go? Sometimes I’m amazed, especially with older students, how this exercise can be a challenge. Yet, this is all reading rhythms in music is. Taking these symbols and interpreting them into the context of universal rhythm. This symbol means a full beat, this one makes two, these four with the little flags equal another two beats. That’s how it starts, and all we do is try and get the student to see these alien symbols and get as familiar with them as they are with the English language.
So if a student can clap, they can count. If they are able to perceive the rhythm in a tangible way, then there’s only one more step for them to be able to look at the note values, look at the time signature, and then have their light bulbs explode! “Oooooooh” is music to a piano teacher’s ear in this situation. It might seem like a giant leap, to go from clapping and stomping to being able to describe in detail the rhythmic values in a piece of music, but I think it’s not as far as one would think. “Feeling it” is a huge step in grasping rhythm and clapping is great way to engage a student in the feeling of rhythm.
Connecting the symbols of rhythm and the feeling of rhythm is the final step. The most rewarding feeling I can get when teaching in home piano lessons is when suddenly, instead of the ghost of melody, I start hearing genuine music. In that moment, it doesn’t matter
that we aren’t in Carnegie Hall or playing with the Houston Symphony. When my student finds their rhythm, they have the potential to understand more and improve faster and from then on, the possibilities are endless!
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Image #1 sourced from (pianofortestudio.net)
Image #2 sourced from (elmhurstmusicacademy.com)