Teaching Rhythm

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Teacher counts out a full measure of steady beats with the metronome (eg. 1, 2, 3, 4)
  2. Students count out a full measure of steady beats with the metronome.
  3. Students perform the rhythm while continuing to count a steady beat with the metronome.

Count out loud

Require students to count out loud with or without a metronome while performing the rhythm with their body or instrument. To genuinely understand a rhythm pattern, students must perform the rhythm while simultaneously keeping a steady pulse somewhere else in their body. The biggest benefit to counting out loud is that students learn to count while they perform through rests and longer notes, which is the most important time to count. Students will tend to stop counting during the toughest rhythms, but they should count out loud, especially when the rhythms are difficult. After students have demonstrated that they can play while counting out loud, they may count in their head as they would in a performance.

Flash Slide Strategies

1. Set the metronome to a tempo that is comfortable for students.

2. Use the arrow buttons on your computer to flash a slide with notes onto the screen.

3. Leave the notes up as little or long as you like, then click the notes off the screen while the students say or play the notes they just saw.

4. Start by leaving notes up for four beats, and as students get better, display the notes for only 3 beats, then 2, then 1. Increase the tempo to further challenge students.

Sequence of increasing difficulty

Do the following with a metronome while counting out loud. Listed in order of difficulty, move up and down the list as students demonstrate various levels of mastery.

  1. clap or pizz rhythm on an open string
  2. pizz the written notes
  3. air bow the rhythm and keep the bow moving during sustained notes
  4. air bow the correct slurs/articulations
  5. perform arco on an open string
  6. perform the notes arco without slurs/articulations
  7. perform the notes arco with slurs/articulations

Advanced Strategies

For variety and to keep everyone engaged, have students choose which performance mode/difficulty level is right for them; also use these techniques in combinations. (Example: Violins pizz. while lower strings air bow.) Counting 8th notes (1 & 2 & 3 &) or 16th notes (1 e & a 2 e & a, etc) may be helpful when dissecting combinations of dotted 8th notes and 16th notes, or when teaching steady pulse to reduce rushing. Count especially during the rests or in the middle of long notes to help students identify the “negative space” and better understand the rhythms by knowing where the notes are not.

Model! But avoid teaching rhythm by repetition. Hammering a rhythm over and over may clean up rhythmic inaccuracies, but the students are not really learning to count and independently perform the rhythm. The goal is for students to learn to read and perform familiar rhythm patterns in unfamiliar combinations. The best time to teach rhythmic literacy is when they are learning new, unfamiliar exercises or music.