dolmetsch onlinemusic and rhythm

Music & Rhythm
Brian Blood

Learning to Read & Play Rhythm

Tinka Knopf de Esteban writes:

We all learn in three different basic ways. We are all either visual learners, aural learners or kinesthetic learners, sometimes with some overlapping combination, but usually there is a predominant style for absorbing new information. The teacher's role is to teach to the learning strength of the student and it is necessary to have different teaching tools for different learning styles.

Where the student who is a visual learner he tends to be a good reader, who dislikes playing by ear. Theory books and diagrams work well. The explanation of rhythm from the pie chart works well. Draw the whole pie. (A full circle) This is a whole note. (Draw note) Cut it in half: this is a half note. There are two halves to the whole: there are two half notes to the whole note. Cut the pie in quarters. This is a quarter note. There are four quarters in a pie: there are four quarter notes to a whole note.

This approach starts from the top down, starting with the larger unit and going to the smaller unit. To compliment this system of instruction, it is best to find a beginning method book which starts the reading with whole notes.

What about the auditory learner? This is the student who relies heavily on playing by ear. He may guess at notes rather than read them. This student learns best through demonstration and imitation. Here, a different approach may be useful. Forget the theory. Use body language and use distinctive rhythm patterns. For example: draw a black note. Just the head. No stem. Ask the student to clap for each note written. Tell them to say black for each note head, and clap at the same time. Draw a series of these. Draw a White Note. Just the head. No stem. (Do this for speed in writing it out.) Say White Note: clap and raise your hands. (This gesture is a preliminary gesture for conducting two beats to the measure.) Say White Note evenly and with the gesture. Now, write these two notes in rhythmic combinations: Black, Black, White Note. Black, Black, White Note. Then add: Black, Black, Black, Black, White Note, White Note., etc. Have the student clap AND say each note.

The continuation, after a few lessons is: teach the dotted quarter as: White - Note - Dot, with the conducting gesture of Clap - out - up. Then comes the whole note which is taught as 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, with the conducting gesture of: clap - in - out - up. (A good gymnastic exercise!) Make sure the gesture is large and rhythmic in the body language. This is to encourage good coordination.

This approach starts from the bottom up, working from the shorter to the longer note values. To compliment this system, look for a beginning method which has lots of quarter notes and half notes in the beginning pieces.

The Music Education Madness site offers some ideas on teaching rhythm to primaries from Damon Wurth:

[Our thanks to Melodee for spotting the domain change.]

"I teach Kindergarten and First grade general music. One method I adopted for learning rhythm was for the children to say the word "short" for eighth notes (quavers), long for quarter notes (crotchets), and lo-ong for half notes (minims). I can show my students any combination of rhythms and most of them can keep the rhythm with complete accuracy. I feel that this system makes more sense than ta-ti-ti used in the Kodaly method."

Erica Davis responds: "Another idea for teaching rhythm to primaries: I teach first grade general music I use the word "one" for a quarter note (crotchet),"shar-ing" or "two things" for eighth notes (quaver) and "two-oo" for half notes (minim), etc.

The student who is a kinesthetic/tactile learner learns best by feel. This is the student who has to get the pattern in the fingers. This student loves to play music already learned. This student will memorize instantly, but in the hands. For example, once a finger pattern is set, often after just one attempt, it is set, and it is terribly difficult to change.

For this student, use the same technique as for the auditory learner, with the added feature of having them draw out the black and white note heads as you clap and conduct, and then draw out the note heads as you play a pattern on one note on the keyboard. The feeling of writing out the symbols will enhance the ability to see it on the printed page. In addition, all initial pieces, and even the scales should contain the same rhythmic combinations. When C scale is taught, use Black, Black, White Note as a rhythm pattern to repeat each note in the scale. This has two advantages: 1) reinforce the feel for the rhythm pattern, and 2) give additional strength to each finger through repetition, as well as reinforce exactly what the fingering pattern is. It has an added advantage of making a scale sound more rewarding! The beginning methods which compliment this learning style are those which have finger numbers. Later on, instead of finger numbers for each note, only the changing fingers (thumb under, or crossing over finger number) need to be marked. And, to prevent errors in fingering, pre teach any new fingering.

With a new student, try using a combination of all three ways for presenting rhythmic notation. There is no such thing as an arhythmic student. Some are more adept than others, but no student is completely devoid of rhythmic capacity. Sometimes the student becomes frustrated--especially an adult, especially battling difficult rhythms--but you mustn't let him/her become discouraged. He/she will catch on; you just don't know exactly when. Watch for the moment when there is a gleam in the eye. That look of " I've got it!" This is your key as to how to present material in the future.

Teachers often use marching to music only for their youngest pupils, but large-muscle activities are valuable to students of all ages. Using these big muscle groups helps internalize the rhythm, particularly when you're trying to get the student to feel a basic pulse which underlies a "note-y" passage. Try walking, placing the footfalls on the main pulse while singing the other voice (or chanting or whatever your vocal skills allow!). For example when dealing with 3 over 2, put the main pulse in the feet and overlay the other rhythm in song. One common form of large-muscle activity is 'beating one's foot'. If discrete, it can be very helpful to musicians with all levels of experience.

Rhythmic Marking and Metronomes

While the student plays, tap a pencil and count out loud. With a beginner, you might also point to each main beat in the bar. This three-pronged approach applied consistently produces students with an excellent rhythmic foundation: count, point, and tap for each piece at each lesson. By making this a regular feature of your teaching the student will come to expect it rather than be flustered by some unforeseen addition. At some point down the road, he may even start to prepare for it by counting aloud at home!

For beginners, "note counting" is preferable to "beat counting," as they seem to grasp counting concepts more quickly this way. It also reinforces the idea that every time the count is "one" a new note must begin. Writing in the counting in your student's music. Write it in the same place every time, say the area between the treble and bass staves in piano music, or above the notes in recorder music. A colour also helps the counting stand out from the other printing and numbers on the page, for example a blue pencil, and write large numbers so there is no confusion that these might be fingering aids.

When introducing quavers, ask the student to write in the counting for each piece. All of it, even the rests. Tell them they must do this for a month, plus count out loud at home and use the metronome. Don't wait to introduce this tool! Little ones in their earliest lessons can begin to use the metronome, matching claps or steps to its tick. Even after your student is reasonably proficient in its use, be sure to set material each week calling for the metronome in order to keep his/her skills sharp.

Let enough time sink in before moving from short to shorter notes. Give the student plenty of music using only those species of notes they have learned so that they become familiar with beaming, combinations of notes and rests, the use of dots, etc.

Rhythm and Dance

One online music teaching resource, Whole Octave, suggests that

Listening to and dancing to contemporary music, or other kinds of rhythmic music, is one of the most fun and valuable supplemental activities for a young piano student. A weak spot in American music education is the teaching of rhythm. Some would say that this is because in our culture, we don't dance enough. Students who have experience such as dancing or eurhythmics early on often are the most successful piano performers.

Although it may seem a small thing at first, one of the most important things the best dance instructors do is to get all the students moving at the same time. They avoid confusion by saying, "Ready . . . and" to start dancers moving. They verbalize their teaching cues in various ways so all students have an equal chance to learn the dance. When they want to demonstrate, they say something like, "Just watch," or "Don't do it yet," (or both!). This allows students to observe a step without the distraction of moving.

Top instructors progress through complicated patterns at a slowed tempo first and then build to the correct tempo when most of the students can handle it. (A teaching aid in this area is a variable-speed music system.) Regardless of the tempo, they always keep the proper rhythm of the steps.

When teaching students in a circle formation, good teachers usually position themselves with their backs close to one side so their well-projected voices can reach the most students. Then they continuously change their position around the circle so all students have a chance to dance behind them. Of course, they covertly pause longer in front of those students who are having the most trouble. If students are singled out for special attention, it is done without being malicious and with those students who have asked to be corrected before bad habits develop.

This arrangment is also found in the 'drum circle'. A 'drum circle' consists of a group of participants that form a circle around a central figure: the facilitator. The job of the facilitator is to inspire, teach, and orchestrate the group to its highest rhythmic potential. Anyone can act as facilitator, regardless of their musical experience or talent, but they should possess a few key qualities: lack of inhibition, and good communication and listening skills. In the case of a kids’ community drum circle, an adult is the obvious best choice for the first few trial runs.

To begin, separate the group into sections and demonstrate a simple rhythm to one group after another, always turning clockwise. Beginning with the first, demonstrate a simple rhythm and invite them to play along. You can select any of the rhythms in this booklet to get you started.

Continue around the circle introducing a different rhythm to each section. Once the group is playing as a unified whole, you can begin to introduce simple solos that add punctuation to the group’s core rhythm. Once comfortable, children will enjoy contributing to this new dynamic by experimenting with solo rhythms of their own.

When you sense a lull in the rhythm or diminished energy in the group, this is known as a transition point. It is an opportunity to breathe new life into the drum circle by altering the group’s core rhythm. Changing the rhythm of just one of the sections will have an immediate impact.

Closing a drum circle is easy - when you sense a transition point and feel that the group doesn’t have the energy or desire to continue, simply increase the volume and tempo to a thundering climax, ending by holding your beaters high in the air.

The circle, whether it be for dance, for drumming or maybe working with an instrumental ensemble gives everybody a feeling of involvement and keeps the leader, teacher or facilitator close to all the group members.

The Kodaly method emphasises the way that musical experience should precede musical understanding. When teaching music use accurate and correct musical terms and vocabulary. Don't use non-musical definitions. The sequence should begin with rhythm because it is the strongest and most natural urge of the child. For a child music is not so much programatic as personal. Children need to have enjoyable musical experiences. You can create a great respect in them for their bodies through dance. Let the children "experience first, then intellectualize, later". After they have already experienced a concept without knowing what they were doing, it is internalized and they have ownership.

As with dance, learning rhythm is made easier by breaking the whole piece into smaller units rather than trying to play the whole work over and over again. Try to work on areas that give particular problems. Once the difficulties have been mastered, refit the sections back into their context by starting a few bars before them and letting the player play on for a few bars more. This will avoid the passages setting up negative mental 'flags' and feelings of anxiety a few bars before they arise.

So when teaching instrumental groups or classes, give clear signals, expect the students to watch and wait for you, and start off at a comfortable speed. Make sure everybody can see you and hear you and that they all feel part of the learning process. You should be a teacher with some animation and some humor in your teaching. It’s important to remember to change your mode as you go between beginners and more advanced students. For beginners you have to speak more slowly, you have to be more patient, you may have to repeat the same thing over and over and over. Always be prepared to explain everything slowly and in detail. Explaining and teaching slowly is actually HARDER because you have to be very sure of every word that you say. In this situation the student can comprehend everything you say and when you explain it slow, you better know what you’re talking about.

But, as the great Samba teacher June LaBerta said, "remember the word kiss; it means Keep it simple, stupid."

A particular problem with wind-instrument playing is the timing of the preparatory breath, the inhale that comes before the first note is sounded. This preparation is not only important to wind-players.

The great pianist and teacher, Leschetizky made several pertinent observations about rhythm in music.

He observed "... what deep breaths (Anton) Rubinstein used to take at the beginning of long phrases, and also what repose he had and what dramatic pauses. "There is more rhythm between the notes than in the notes themselves." He commented that Liszt used to say this: "Paula Szalit is the only one who ever asked me to tell how Rubinstein breathed. No one else ever seemed interested to know."

There should be a rhythmic link between this first breath and what is to follow - a quick breath before a series of quick notes, a slow breath before longer notes - to focus the whole body as well as the mind on what is about to happen. "'Decide exactly what it is you want to do in the first place' Leschetizky impressed on everyone; "then how you will do it; then play it. Stop and think if you played it in the way you meant to do; then only, if sure of this, go ahead. Without concentration, remember, you can do nothing. The brain must guide the fingers, not the fingers the brain".

His advice on how to change from one rhythm to another is expressed elegantly. "Teach yourself to make a rallentando evenly by watching the drops of water cease as you turn off the tap. A player with unbalanced rhythm reminds me of an intoxicated man who cannot walk straight. To make an effective accelerando, you must glide into rapidity as steadily as a train increases its speed when steaming out of a station."

Rhythm & Sight-reading

Dianne Hardy writes, in Teaching Sight-Reading at the Piano: Methodology and Significance

Many studies have been conducted concerning the reading of rhythm. Elliott (1982) categorized many types of sight-reading errors and found 70 percent to be rhythm errors. Rhythm durations can be grouped into patterns and several models have been proposed to explain how rhythmical patterns are perceived. A proposal by Lonquet-Higgins (1978), cited in Hardy, using rhythmic structures by the barlines and the beams connecting eighth and sixteenth notes, show that the most important factors in determining the metrical hypotheses are the lengths of notes and where they occur in relation to the beat.

Sloboda (1976) found a tendency for readers to relax momentarily at the phrase boundaries, thereby interrupting the rhythmic pulse. Lowder (1983) documented that pitch errors are usually accompanied by rhythmic errors, especially at the bar line while Hughes and Watkins, (1986) in using a tape-recorded soloist for subjects were able to raise rhythm accuracy scores of sight-readers. Boyle (1968) improved rhythmic reading skills in students by utilizing bodily movement. Teachers need to help students achieve a sense of forward motion toward rhythmic points, such as the strong beats at the bar line and the crest of the phrase. While the eye is taking in details of what is coming, there is the necessity to remember what has just been observed; so sight-reading is, in this sense playing from memory. Strict rhythm must be observed and students need to be told to keep the basic beat at all costs because pausing or correcting note errors is not acceptable. Instead good reading involves a rapid and sure grasp of the meaning and sweep of the phrase, rather than a painful note-by-note accuracy.

Ahrens and Atkinson (1966) quoted Sir Ernest MacMillan as saying: "Good sight-reading is nine-tenths rhythm and one-tenth notes". Teachers can have students sight-read with the aid of a metronome, as it will force the student acquire skill in keeping the basic pulse.

Dalcroze Eurhythmics

Dalcroze Eurhythmics is a unique approach to Music Education. It is based on the premise that the human body is the source of all musical ideas. Physical awareness or kinaesthetic intelligence is one of our most powerful senses, yet it is often taken for granted. We use it in everyday situations to keep our balance, judge distances, and manipulate the objects around us. In a similar way, we must move with flexibility, fluidity, and economy in order to play a musical instrument with both passion and skill. Dalcroze Eurhythmics allows us to gain a practical, physical experience of music before we theorise and perform. This ensures that the whole person (not just the fingers and the brain) is educated in the development of musicianship and artistry.

Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) was a Swiss composer and pianist. In the early years of the twentieth century, he began to research the effect of human movement on musical perception, and the impact of musical elements on movement technique. He called his approach to Music Education, Eurhythmics. It means, literally, "good rhythm".

His work developed and gained widespread acclaim in the period immediately prior to World War I. Artists in theatre, dance, and visual forms began to attend his classes. The demonstration lessons he gave in Germany attracted professionals in fields such as physiology and psychology. In this period, Jaques-Dalcroze's followers and supporters included Stanislavski, pioneer of modern theatre; George Bernard Shaw, British writer and critic; Marie Rambert, choreographer and founder of Ballet Rambert; and Adolphe Appia, visionary stage designer. Clearly, Dalcroze Eurhythmics had made a major impact in fields beyond Music Education.

Today, Dalcroze Eurhythmics still attracts high-calibre performers due to its emphasis on educating the "whole person". It also earns credit as a mechanism for cross-fertilisation between artforms. Prominent figures include the American composer and performance artist, Meredith Monk, who studied at Steinway Hall in New York. The British pop singer, Annie Lennox, studied at the London School (she even named her band Eurythmics).

Dalcroze Eurhythmics provides a concrete approach (movement) to an abstract art (music). In learning about time, space, energy, weight, and balance through movement, we develop a framework with which to approach the same elements in music. Movement is a universal and fundamental human experience. If its impact in everyday situations is the creative well-spring of the composer, then human movement is the point of entry to the deepest level of musical comprehension.

Dalcroze Eurhythmics has a three-part structure, consisting of Rhythmics, Solfège, and Improvisation.


Rhythmics classes engage the whole body in the physical exploration of musical rhythm, melody, harmony, form, etc. This involves locomotion (moving through space) and gesture (while stationary). Our bodies gain a physical memory of moving to music. Rhythmic exercises refine body memory in terms of technical accuracy and artistic sensibility. It is this refinement of our physical memory that will ultimately inform and improve our instrumental and vocal performance. Rhythmics classes examine the relationship between time, space, and energy in music and movement. They focus on technical mastery of rhythmic ideas found in various musical repertoires, uniting the technical and expressive components of performance. In Rhythmics classes, technique becomes the vehicle for musical expression.


Solfège is the European term for the study of pitch through ear training and sight-singing. Jaques-Dalcroze sought to enliven such studies by incorporating concepts of rhythm and space. In this way, the duration of pitches, and the distances between them, can be studied in tandem with the pitches themselves. This is known as Rhythmic Solfège. Jaques-Dalcroze's concern for producing a flexible performer is reflected in his exercises for teaching keys and scales. Known as the Dalcroze Scales, they train the ear and voice to begin any scale somewhere other than the most obvious, fundamental note (the tonic). Considering the extent to which late nineteenth-century harmony strayed from the tonic, he saw this as an invaluable skill for theoretical analysis, and performance adaptability. This is still the case, today.


Communicating and teaching musical material through an instrument tests the flexibility, fluidity, and economy of the Dalcroze-trained musician. Improvisation classes involve the presentation of a particular musical idea, using all the means at the disposal of a composer, instantaneously. For example: play or sing a theme which contains mixed meter, features a tritone in the melody, and can be sung in canon. This capability is the foundation of the Dalcroze teacher's Art. As a class of students move through space, the teacher gives musical cues with the piano, the voice, or a percussion instrument. Such stimulus engages the ear, and makes us want to move. High-quality stimulus cultivates technical accuracy and artistic sensibility. Concern for the physical origins of music has a profound effect on the Dalcroze-trained performer. Improvisation provides the aesthetic and kinaesthetic building blocks for quality music making.