Rhythm in piano lessons is often the most neglected part. This is mostly because it’s the difficult part. Learning the note name is black and white (pun intended), simple, and straightforward. However, rhythm is time that is “felt” rather than seen, making it difficult to teach and learn. It’s easier to pretend it’s not there! That’s unfortunate, because rhythm is the “glue” that holds the notes together, and I believe, the most important part of music. Without timing, music becomes a bunch of scattered notes. Therefore, I like to start a beginner student focusing on the rhythm.
Using steady beat in the piano lesson
The first step in learning rhythm is to feel the “steady beat”. This can be done by clapping the beats while listening to music or using a metronome. A metronome is a machine that keeps the steady beat perfectly (see picture). Today you can download a metronome app on a phone or tablet for free or at very little cost. For styles, pop and rock are usually the best for clapping with, since it’s based on a perfect steady beat. If playing in a band or accompanying a singer, keeping the steady beat is critical to keep everyone on the same beat. Taking time to focus on the rhythm is important in the overall learning, no matter what instrument.
The other important factor about rhythm in piano lessons is feeling the beat numbers in a measure (the notes between each bar line). The most common meter is 4/4 meter (counting 1-2-3-4), and each beat has it’s own unique “feel”. The 1 of each measure is what I like to call the “big” beat, because it’s the prominent feel in a measure. It enables the musician to know when the beginning of a measure starts. The 1 and the 3 are called the “down” beats, and the 2 and 4 are called the “up beats”. Normally the lower register notes such as the bass (electric or upright), and the bass drum, will play the down beats. The higher register instruments typically play on the up beats (keyboard and guitar, etc).
Repetition-the key to reading fluently
Most piano method books teach very little on rhythm in the piano lesson, if at all. It may show the time value and name of each note, but that doesn’t help the student reading fluently in a sequence of notes. It’s in the continual reading from one note to another that is important. And since reading the name of the note as well as the rhythm when playing a song, being able to automatically read the rhythm is crucial. In my book, “Rhythm Workbook”, it gives rhythm without note names in a continual reading, therefore helping the student become automatic. It takes hours of repetition to become fluent when learning a language. It’s much the same when learning to read music, which is a “musical language”. Drills and repetition is the key to being fluent in reading, whether it be the rhythm or note names.
If you or your student struggle with rhythm in the piano lesson, I suggest using the “Rhythm Workbook” at Melody Music Publishers. Focusing on reading the rhythm and counting out loud without notation will help create a fluency. And this book can be used for any instrument. Using a metronome is suggested to keep the steady beat while playing and counting. Taking extra time to focus on the rhythm will help when reading music when the note names are added in the reading process. And once the student and musician is reading rhythm fluently, it’s actually FUN to read the rhythm. There’s no need to ignore it any longer.
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