Maybe it’s happened to you…
A young piano student sits down at the piano, bangs out a piano piece without any regard for rhythm and then, as long as he played all of the right notes, turns to you with a great big, “I did it!” grin.
That’s just how many young piano students roll.
For some, their idea of success is almost entirely tied to simply playing the right notes. But rhythm?… That’s just an annoying roadblock that gets in the way of completing a piece. Sure, they’ll happily play the measures with rhythms they find easy, but when they are confronted with something more difficult… rhythm is secondary to hitting the right keys.
In today’s post we’re sharing a fun little strategy that will turn this around.
Reinforcing Rhythm With “Plain Jane” and “Random Rhonda”
If certain measures of music are causing rhythmic headaches, sometimes the melody just has to “get out of the way” in order to give your students the chance to absorb and learn the challenging rhythms.
One effective strategy to accomplish this involves two rhythmic heroes, Plain Jane and Random Rhonda. This strategy is fun, simple and effective. If you have a pencil (or if you want to really get crazy… pencil crayons) you can make some magic happen.
Here’s how it works…
With your piano student, identify two of the most difficult rhythmic measures in his piece of music.
Above one of these measures, draw a “Plain Jane” smiley face. Nothing fancy… no hair, no dimples, glasses, no hats… just a circle, two eyes, and a smile. Above the other measure draw a “Random Rhonda” smiley face. Random Rhonda is exciting, so in addition to the two eyes and a smile add funky multi-colored hair, fancy glasses, and other funky accessories.
Next, explain to your piano student what he should do when he encounters these two characters. When he sees Plain Jane, he must ignore the written melody and play only the rhythm on a single note (choosing a note within the key signature of the piece that is near to the notes he has just played). When he sees Random Rhonda, he must ignore the written melody and instead improv a simple melody to match the rhythm of the measure (using keys within the key signature of the piece that are within close proximity).
Let Plain Jane and Random Rhonda hang around until you’re certain that the difficult measures of rhythm are committed to muscle memory. By reinforcing the rhythm by playing it on a single note (Plain Jane) or by playing the rhythm on random, improvised notes (Random Rhonda) your students will not commit an incorrect rhythm to muscle memory. Once the rhythm is learned, he will then have a smooth transition back to an accurately played measure of music.
When your student is ready, erase, cross out or cover up the faces and let the melody and rhythm as written come together to make beautiful music.
Messing Around With Music
I am a huge fan of writing, drawing, and commenting directly on my students’ music. I see their piano pieces as educational notebooks that (so long as the markings don’t become too cluttered) are a valuable learning resource in the presence of on-page markings.
If you’re looking for for ways to make increase educational value with on-page markings, check out these piano teaching posts.