Joe's Blog

The beginner who has trouble with rhythm and counting

March 28, 2018

At her lesson yesterday “C” told me that the amount of focus and concentration she needs to keep track of rhythm as she plays through a piece in real time is so great that she often cannot sustain that effort, given that she is already focusing on what the notes are.

There are some students who are convinced that they do not have the ability to play with the rhythm in addition to playing the correct notes.

Often I find that their conclusion is inaccurate.  They do have the ability to feel and reproduce a rhythm; what they lack is the ability to translate the visual notation of that rhythm, a series of odd looking musical symbols, into the feeling of the rhythm that is already in their bodies.

While playing, the student if necessary can interpret and react to just one note at a time.  However, for rhythm, it requires fusing a group of successive written symbols into a single sustained act through time.  In other words, the rhythm does not lie in a single note but in a series of notes.

To prove to the student that they do have the ability to execute rhythms accurately, I use just one note (middle C for example) and reiterate it in a certain rhythm.  For instance if I play the sequence:

| dotted-quarter eighth  |  dotted-quarter eighth  |  eighth eighth  quarter  | half  |

the majority of students will be able to play that rhythm back.  They will do so at the same tempo in which I played it.  This last fact suggests that they achieve this without subdividing the conscious duration of their rendition into separate notes, without breaking it into a series of separate notes, each with its own private duration.

Now that the student is aware that they do have the ability to mimic, and therefore repeat if necessary particular rhythms, what’s left to do is leisurely learning to recognize the visual concatenation of symbols that stand for that whole experience that their body already knows and has internalized.

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