Teaching Rhythm

What’s more challenging than teaching piano students to read notes?

Teaching them to count.

At least this has been my experience.

I think that this is because rhythm is more abstract. A note is a note. A 440 is the second space from the bottom in the treble clef. Start on middle C and count up six.

But what is a quarter note?

A quarter note gets one beat…right?

Well, most of the time.

What’s a beat?

A unit of time that can be any speed. From very slow to super-fast.

It’s no wonder that beginning piano students young and old find the concept of rhythm a bit hard to grasp.

When teaching students to understand rhythm and apply it to their music (i.e. counting) I think there are a few things working against me.

Number one – Rhythm involves math. Enough said. I am aware that there is some old wives’ tale that musicians just love math and are naturally good at it. Maybe, but I haven’t met many musical math wizards. I am certainly don’t fall into that category myself.

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Teaching Piano Students To Read Music

I tell my students that music reading is our burden to bear. I played the violin all through school and reading the treble clef one note at a time was a piece of cake. Of course, there was all of that annoying tone and intonation to focus on. The bow arm position and vibrato it’s all pretty complicated.

Pianists have two hands that operate the same way, no problems with intonation, embouchure, vibrato. But what we do have is two clefs and a lot of notes! The only people who have more notes than us are organists.

Teaching most students to read music well is no easy task! But when students can read well our lives as teachers is so much easier! Some of my students learn to read very easily, for most, it takes some more effort. There are a few who have a really tough time learning to read music notation.

Know your student

In my experience, most piano students fall into one of two categories. Visual learners and auditory learners. Because it is human nature to take the path of least resistance visual learners tend to look at the score and auditory learners tend to try to pick things up by ear.

Some students take to reading easily. They have an easy time connecting what’s going on in the score with what happens on the keyboard. Others have naturally great ears and can hear something and learn it without looking at the music very much for these students reading seems counterproductive.

As a teacher it is crucial that I watch and listen carefully to see how each student is learning.

How to Begin

I can honestly say I became so frustrated with many of the piano method books available that I wrote my own. I recommend you stay away from any method books that have hand positions and fingerings over every note. Use a method that introduces new concepts slowly and gives students plenty of time to absorb what they are learning. You may also want to use more than one method and always have lots of supplemental music.

Downplay Mnemonic Devices

I start my students with middle C and we go from there. I don’t even mention “every good boy does fine” I use this only as a reference, it can be helpful to help a student find the first note of a piece. That’s it though, no counting lines and spaces.

How Music is Read,

Piano music is read by seeing patterns and transferring those patterns into music on the keyboard. Think about it. As an experienced pianist, do you ever think about note names while you are playing?

The score is a picture of what happens on the keyboard.

Notes go up. Notes go down, skips, jumps, chords, repeated notes. It’s all very logical. I tell my students that, what the music looks like is what it is. It never tricks you. This may all seem obvious, but it isn’t. I have found that pointing this out to my students really helps them to make the connection between the score and the keyboard.

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Positive Perspective Piano Teaching

This post is an excerpt from my book

“The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town” Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students.

“A Miracle is a shift in perspective.” The Monarch System

So what is perspective anyway? I think we all have some idea.

“A simple shift in your perspective about the importance or meaning of a particular event, or a shift in your belief about your capacity to cope with it positively, can change your focus and your emotional reality”. Definition from dictionary.com

I have discovered that perspective is just about everything in teaching and in life. My perspective is powerful. It determines what I believe and what I believe determines how I feel. How I feel impacts my outlook on life and my outlook on others. If I am feeling good and peaceful I can focus and get more accomplished. If I am enthusiastic and energetic I am more creative. My perspective is also contagious when I am happy and motivated the people around me are likely to be happy. and motivated, If I am excited they probably will be as well.

In short, I have found that the world around me turns out to be a reflection of what is going on inside of myself.  This means that if I wish to have a vibrant joyful studio, I need to be a vibrant joyful teacher. For me, the key to this is to be able to maintain a positive perspective in any situation. Not only to think of new ways to do things but to see things that could be perceived as negative in a positive light.

I read this story some time ago.

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