Some kids come by rhythm naturally. They just “feel it”. Watching my daughter’s dance recital recently I spent a lot of my time scanning the group for the one or two children who “had it”. And with enough practice, it became easy to quickly spot those dancers who felt rhythm in their whole body… not just their feet.
Piano students need to be as adept at feeling rhythm as do dancers. And, just as dancers need to feel the rhythm in more than just their feet, teaching rhythm to piano students shouldn’t be limited to simply their fingers and hands.
Two Sisters Who Feel it…
I was so inspired by this video I found recently. These girls are sisters and are ages 12 and 8. Obviously rhythm comes to them naturally. I love how nonchalant they are about the whole thing….“This is easy” they seem to say. Check out the video below.
I’m betting that if you showed your piano students this rhythmic sequence it would take them quite a while to internalize it. Some students may never master it. And while in many cultures rhythm is a part of daily life – children grow up feeling rhythm with their whole-body every single day… for many this is simply not the case.
Incorporate whole-body rhythm teaching in your piano studio
If you find yourself teaching rhythm to your piano students simply using clapping or counting along as they play, try the following exercises to engage them in a whole-body rhythmic learning experience.
1) Use drums, rhythm sticks, tambourines, triangles, marimbas etc. instead of always just clapping rhythms. By training your student’s ears to hear rhythm using various pitches and sounds you are engaging their brain in a way that will have longer-lasting effects than simply clapping or counting. Plus… it’s fun!
2) Incorporate movement into your piano lessons on a regular basis. Students need to be listening to music to learn to easily find and feel the underlying beat of a piece. Regularly expose them to recordings of inspiring music and have them move or sway to the beat. You’ll be surprised at how many children can’t do this naturally. They need to be shown how. This transfers over to their playing in a profound way. How can they effectively play a Bouree if they have never danced to one?!
3) Encourage your students to use more than just their fingers or hands to demonstrate an understanding of rhythm. Have them jump a given rhythm, click the rhythm with their tongue, tip-toe etc. By engaging their entire body you’re making strong connections.
4) Teach your students to conduct. By learning a simple 4/4 conducting pattern, your students will gain a solid understanding of how beats are arranged in music. Put on some fantastic orchestral pieces and pick up a baton at your local music store for them to use. They’ll love it.
There are so many ways to incorporate rhythmic training into your piano lessons. By making whole-body rhythm learning a priority from the start with your young beginners, you will build a strong foundation that will have enormous pay-offs in their future on your piano bench. So get moving! 🙂
Just out of curiosity, how many of you are able to imitate the rhythm on the video? How long did it take you to master it?