Playing with rhythm : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I ran across this item in another chatroom - this is fascinating. What specifically do you other teachers do to help instill rhythmic playing - aside from the selection of supplemental materials?

"I am jazz trained. My teacher is now emphasizing groove, time feel, and sitting "in the pocket." Looking at music from a more rhythmically-oriented aspect has changed my outlook on music completely. It changes the way I approach playing in any setting. He really hammers me to ride with the rhythm section, lock in with the drums, and just internalize that steady grooving pulse. It's cool. To emphasize the swing feel in jazz, he's making me play Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins "heads" (melodies) very very very very very very very very slowly -- like at 40 bpm! The good thing is -- it's helping!

Lilla C.

-- Lilla Carlisle (, March 05, 2001


It is SO TRUE that rhythm is "caught, not taught". Most major piano methods have CD accompaniments. While students need to play pieces WITHOUT CD's (to avoid learning by ear and NOT reading), I find that my students benefit GREATLY from playing some of their pieces with CD's. Mathematical, cerebral counting does very little until students can hear a REAL groove with drums, bass, and other instuments, swing/march/conduct/tap/boogie-down to the music, and FEEL the rhythm inside & out. Students quickly learn that the CD (or band mates or orchestra musicians) DO NOT STOP & START OVER when they make a mistake. You can also use the CD to have the child play on the FIRST BEATS ONLY of the piece, which helps them learn the basic "rim tones" (a la Abby Whiteside), and also is a way to create a sight-playing experience from an existing piece. This also reinforces what Max Camp talks about in his books; coordinating wrist movements to the strong beats.

The metronome can do very little in the early stages, until students have developed their own "conductor". Which is more exciting and motivating? -- playing to a "monotoned tick" or playing with a drummer, bassist, cellist, etc. who support your single-note melody with rhythm & harmony & "feel"?

-- John Bisceglia (, March 19, 2001.

Thanks, John, Some very good comments. By playing the first beats only, you're referring to the first note in each measure? Interesting. I'm going to try it with a little girl who is panicking when playing with the CDs. She gets all uptight about keeping up and I suggested she not play along unless she knows the piece well. But this method might help her. I'm very intrigued with this learning process - analyzing the music count-by-count doesn't do it when you're looking for a groove. You have to somehow teach the student to let go and wing it a few times until they catch the beat. Appreciate your input.

-- Lilla Carlisle (, March 19, 2001.

I use CDs a lot. I have my students work on a piece slowly without the CD accomp. (parents are told not to allow their children to even listen to the CD during the first week of practice). Once they can handle that, then they practice with the CD at slow practice tempo, then gradually work up to using the CD at performance tempo.

What I DON'T do is have students use CDs with every single book they work out of. They use CDs for the pieces in their lessons books & for their classical supp. books, but NOT for their technique books or other repertoire books. That way, they reap the benefits of listening to the rhythms, dynamics, etc. plus gain ensemble experience; but they're not using the CDs so much that it interferes with note reading.

My students use 5-6 books per level (one book is theory), so using 1- 2 CDs is not going to hurt anything & certainly does help. Since my students started using CDs this year, I've noticed that they play more securely (i.e., confident with the rhythms & notes) & much more expressively (you'd be surprised how much better their tone production & articulations are when they hear the dynamics, ritards, etc. on the recorded orchestrations).

I think it's true that if you already have it in your mind how the music is SUPPOSED to sound, your fingers find a way to produce that sound. That's not to say that teachers shouldn't teach technique. But certainly the road to artistic, expressive performance is much shorter when the ear is trained.

-- Music Educator (, March 20, 2001.

Feeling the rhythm is so very important. With any student, esp. ones that struggle with a sense of pulse or rhythmic fluency, I have them MOVE! First we move the large muscles in a rhythmic fashion to a steady beat or pulse (March, step, swing arms, bounce on large plastic balls, etc.). Then we begin to refine the movements to smaller muscles (patting, clapping, finger tapping, tapping sticks, drums, etc.). Finally, we transfer all of this to the fingers at the keyboard. Of course, a sense of beat needs to become internalized. Those who seem to have a poor sense of pulse, may simply not "hear" the pulse in the music. To play jazz, esp., one must have a completely secure sense of pulse seeing how all the complicated rhythms and syncopations are measured against this pulse. A sense of meter is also crucial. You gotta know where that down beat is!

-- Gretchen T. (, March 22, 2001.

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