Do you have a reluctant “counter”? I’m betting you do… whether you ask your piano students to count out loud as they play or to simply internalize a steady beat… there are always a few children who have difficulty with counting.
But being lax with rhythm is a slippery slope – and although I’m all for connecting with music on an emotional level above all else… a sense of rhythm and beat is typically necessary to have anyone else enjoy your performances.
We’ve discussed how to use a metronome effectively before in a previous post – so today we thought we’d venture into more “steady beat seeking” activities.
Rock Star Alternatives To Counting Out Loud
I have to admit that I hated counting out loud as I played when I was a child (actually, I still do). It was hard! It distracted me from being able to listen to what I was playing, and I found it physically difficult to play and verbalize. My child brain told me it was therefore just better to not count… so I didn’t.
Because of my own past experiences I’m sensitive to my reluctant counters. And so I’ve developed several different (fun) ways to help them find a steady beat and avoid frustration. These all (obviously) happen after your student understands the rhythm of the piece and are designed to help students then hang that framework of rhythm onto a steady beat.
1. Rock Star Bars – Using post-it notes, cover up 3-5 different measures in a one page piece (more if it’s longer). If you use the small post-its they’re usually the perfect size. Draw a star on the back of each one… and these become “Rock Star Bars”. When your students reach these covered measures they should stop playing, and instead count “1+2+3+4+” (or whatever makes sense depending on the time signature) as though they are a drummer in a band counting in. They then continue on playing from the next uncovered measure at the same tempo as their counting. It’s as though they have a band counting them in repeatedly throughout their piece. This is perfect for keeping your jackrabbits and slowpokes at a steady tempo.
2. Tick Tock Sidekick – Once your students are used to counting for those “Rock Star Bars” they can set the metronome and play along, stopping to allow their “tick tock sidekick” to count those covered bars for them. It’s much more fun if you give the metronome a great name (like “Billy Beatbox”… Those of you using the Beatbox Manifesto book from PianoBookClub.com will have some great names to pick from!) Then you can shout “Take it away Billy!” for those measures where the metronome takes over.
3. Like a Cockatoo – Some kids who don’t like to verbally count can still move effectively to internalize the beat. For these kids I encourage a slight (slight slight slight!) head bob that they can feel, and I can see, as they play. But before we do any of this… they have to watch the video below. They get the idea immediately and this is often an “aha!” moment fix (Thanks Snowball the Cockatoo!)
More Than One Way…
If you’re finding that something just isn’t clicking for a particular student then we encourage you to get outside the box and find different ways of explaining the same concept. For some this change is exactly what is needed for a breakthrough moment. Below are some great “out-of-the-box” teaching articles you may also want to read: