best way to teach counting : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

As a new teacher, I am wondering the best way to teach counting to beginning students. The only methods I have explored so far are Alfreds and Music Tree. Is it best to teach, say quarter notes, by saying "one, one, one, one" like Alfred teaches? If and when do you change them over to counting "one, two, three, four". In a reply to another question on counting in this msg board, one man suggested teaching counting by ordinals, not cardinals, such as "first, second, third, fourth". Anyone else try that? Does that work? In the Music Tree method, in the beginning book, it doesn't seem to emphasize counting out loud but just to teach the child to feel the rhythm (that a half note is held twice as long as a quarter note). Am I misinterpreting this? What is the best way to explain this to a 5-7 year old? I have a terrible memory and can't remember how my teacher taught it to me when I started at age 6. Thanks for any advice. Melissa

-- Melissa (, September 09, 2002


I've changed my whole approach to teaching rhythm. I don't teach "1-2-3-4", as young kids (age 4-7) are going to have a hard time understanding that. Instead, I focus on students first "feeling" the beat; getting them to internalize rhythm. I start by having them tap some rhythm sticks freely to an instrumental CD (something peppy, like a children's CD). Then I introduce quarter notes and whole notes, using syllables like "tahn, tahn, tahn, tahn" and saying "great-big-whole-note". The idea again is for them to FEEL that the whole note is different from the quarter. We clap, use rhythm instruments, etc... Even the young ones get pretty good at reading a 2-4 measure rhythm pattern and clapping or tapping it out. Alexa

-- alexandra (, September 09, 2002.

As a new teacher, my greatest piece of advice to you is to remember Frances Clark's admonishment: Teaching is not telling. Hence, you don't need to "explain" rhythm to students. They need to experience it, as Ali so wonderfully suggested.

You will find a variety of opinions on the subject of what counting method to use. I have found that either the "1 1 1-2" or "ta ta ta ta- ah" versions to work best, especially the latter. Children won't confuse it with finger numbers. If you choose the former, the benefit is that they are actually saying the value of the note.

If you choose something like "quarter, quarter . . ." you have to deal with the fact that you have a note with a 1 beat value, yet you are saying a two syllable word. I'd stay away from that.

The most important thing is that the students hear and feel the beat through listening and movement activities. Applying it to the note on the page will not be problematic if they have a good aural and physical feel for the beat.

-- Arlene Steffen (, September 14, 2002.

This is a question that I frequently pose to my pedagogy classes as we evaluate "piano methods." Personally, I like to use a book titled "Rhythm with Rhyme and Reason (Counting Made Easy as Pie)" by Hazel Cobb. My copy of this is very old and I honestly don't know whether it is still in print or not. It was published by Mills Music.

This book matches words with rhythms and makes it very easy for young (and old!) students to internalize or "feel" the rhythms correctly. For example, the quarter note is assigned the word "PIE," a half note is "PIE-YUM," a two eighth grouping is "AP-PLE," a three triplet grouping is "CHOC-O-LATE," a four sixteenth grouping is "HUC-KLE-BER-RY" etc. There are many more words assigned for various combinations of rhythms, including dotted figures. This system works well because it uses something the student has already experienced (speech) to realize something "new" (musical rhythms).

I hope this gives you some ideas. If you cannot find the book, I think you can still apply the general principles, i.e. find words that the student knows that "fit" the rhythms you are trying to teach. Once a student has internalized the "feel" of the rhythm, he/she will be able to use just about any counting system. For example, we (those of us who know quarter notes and half notes)can make the words "quarter, quarter, half note" fit the rhythm that is depicted by the rhythmic names, but the words do not actually sound like the rhythms they represent.

I hope this has not been too confusing. If you have any comments or questions, I would be happy to "chat" more.

-- Kathryn Fouse (, September 24, 2002.

Re: teaching counting. I am an experienced ex-head of department and have recently started my own private teaching practice. I am English and therfore use european time-names, although I have included alternatives. Three main methods seem to work: 1. French time names: Eg. Taa-aa-aa-aa; Taa-aa; Taa; Ta-te, etc. 2. Counting out the counts eg: 1,1,1-2 for crotchet, crotchet, minim (Quarter, quarter, Half note). Frog for crotchet or quarter note, Tadpole for two quavers or two eighths, Fro-ogs for a minim or a half note. I have also used food names such as tea, tea, co-fee, tea. I can help with more detail if necessary. The main ting is to have various methods at your fingertips as different pupils of different ages, aspirations and backgrounds etc, relate to different methods. Eg the Frog, Tad-pole method might not suit a fifteen year old lad! Try using names of footballers or pop stars instead.

-- Stuart Butterworth (, December 13, 2002.

Like Stuart Butterworth from England, I would think twice about using fraction names to substitute the correct names for each note, semibreve down to quavers. I had in the past a volunteer with the American Peace Corps with distinction passes for his degrees help me out and he didn't know the proper terminology of the notes. Briefly, after using various methods, I write my own material for beginners and I tend to favor the crotchet and the quaver to represent a long and shorter note. I also call the crotchet a walking note for its usual characteristic of walking on the piano and the quaver the jogging note. The minim would be a pausing note and the semiquaver a running note. The feet are the main balance of the pianist at the piano. Therefore it will also be the best place to generate and control movement. Using the correct terminology will save the student much confusion when they meet different timesignatures other than the crothcet beat.

-- June Ryan (, April 03, 2003.

To me rhythmn is something you feel. Tapping your foot and counting helps to keep everything ordered and is the beginning of finding the rhythmn though. But for emphasising notes and getting the sound you want its best to listen to someone else play a track, jamming or doodle with what I've heard helps me find something I like the sound of.

-- Nigel Hollier (, November 02, 2004.

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