Teaching Rhythm

How and what to teach and learn.
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Neo Bri
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Teaching Rhythm

Post by Neo Bri » Tue Apr 24, 2018 10:55 pm

Hello TCers,

I'd like some advice on how you folks teach rhythm to students. It's a very difficult thing to explain, being intangible, etc.

I am against the notion of "either you got it or you don't". I've never liked that mentality and believe anything can be taught and acquired if you teach it well and if the student works at it.

So, let the advice begin. Thanks!
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boneagain
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by boneagain » Wed Apr 25, 2018 5:59 am

I know what "intangible" means, but would appreciate hearing how you see it applying to rhythm.

I'm pretty sure that any of the people I've marched with (school or militaryh) considered rhythm pretty tangible. OTOH I've danced with some folks who seemed immune to any physical manifestation of regularly recurring pulses.

Beatween heartbeats, clock ticks (even most quartz clocks still tick), and timed movement, I've usually been able to get a student to find SOMEthing in her or his background to anchor fundamental beat. Once s/he gets that down, it's a steady, not-to-long progression to subdivisions and varied emphasis and combinations. After that the student usually can get the idea of "time signature" without too much trouble, even for "odd meters."

But I have NO idea how I'd teach about rhythm if it were NOT tangible.... so you know have me very curious!
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Neo Bri
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Neo Bri » Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:29 am

boneagain wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 5:59 am
I know what "intangible" means, but would appreciate hearing how you see it applying to rhythm.

I'm pretty sure that any of the people I've marched with (school or militaryh) considered rhythm pretty tangible. OTOH I've danced with some folks who seemed immune to any physical manifestation of regularly recurring pulses.

Beatween heartbeats, clock ticks (even most quartz clocks still tick), and timed movement, I've usually been able to get a student to find SOMEthing in her or his background to anchor fundamental beat. Once s/he gets that down, it's a steady, not-to-long progression to subdivisions and varied emphasis and combinations. After that the student usually can get the idea of "time signature" without too much trouble, even for "odd meters."

But I have NO idea how I'd teach about rhythm if it were NOT tangible.... so you know have me very curious!
When I say intangible, I mean explaining the division of time (which is definintely intangible) can be tricky. Or course physically participating. And I don't mean teaching the most basic quart notes. But some students have a very difficult time with pretty basic rthyrhm, particularly when improvising.

I'm just looking for more opinions of people who have run into the problem while teaching.
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Redthunder
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Redthunder » Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:46 am

How old are these students? How long have they been playing/learning/talking in musical terms?
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Neo Bri
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Neo Bri » Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:50 am

Redthunder wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:46 am
How old are these students? How long have they been playing/learning/talking in musical terms?
It's a general question. Anywhere from 3rd grade to older adults.
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Redthunder
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Redthunder » Wed Apr 25, 2018 8:11 am

Neo Bri wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:50 am
Redthunder wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:46 am
How old are these students? How long have they been playing/learning/talking in musical terms?
It's a general question. Anywhere from 3rd grade to older adults.
Gotcha. Well, if you accept the idea that the process of learning music is a lot like learning language, then the first place I find best to start, is by immersing the student in the sounds of different rhythms, and ignoring any kind of written notation.

Usually my beginner lessons go like this:

Step One: Instrument Assembly

Step Two: Embouchure formation

Step Three: First Note

Step Four: Echo Patterns

I then improvise 4 or 8 beat rhythmic patterns, ranging from the simple to the complex, and having the students echo. I maintain a steady, audible pulse with my foot the entire time. I have yet to meet a student that could not echo most, if not all of my rhythmic patterns on the first day.

The next prompt I give is :"Now it's your turn. You will play and I will be your echo.", and I let each student play 3 or 4 of their own patterns. Here, is where I usually find the varying degrees of aptitude from student to student.

Basic: Student directly copies the first pattern they heard from me, usually something like four quarter notes. Often plays the same thing every time.

Intermediate: Student copies my patterns with varying degrees of complexity, and sometimes changes one or two rhythms to create their own unique variation.

Advanced: Student consistently creates a unique and complex rhythmic pattern that may or may not be related to what I played.

Generally speaking, most of the problems I find with students and rhythm are associated with reading music and notation. I like to strip away the layers and then just deal with rhythm from a multi-modal approach, including singing, clapping (or any other body percussion), as well as playing it on their instrument, but away from any context at first. As students learn and become more comfortable I teach them terms to attach to the patterns and beats they are hearing, and start exposing them to the notation of the rhythms they already know how to play, and they start to absorb everything and become capable of having musical conversations with musical terminology. This is analogous to how children learn to speak with a certain level of proficiency, and then are taught to read using words, phrases, and ideas that they already know, just presented in a different medium, the written word rather than the spoken one.

When it comes to singing rhythms, I start with neutral syllables, "Bum or Bah", and eventually transition to the Gordon MLT syllables (Du, Du De, Du Da Di), which are effective because they give specific sounds to specific parts of the beat, as well as organizes music into two broad rhythmic categories that children can fairly easily grasp, Duple Meter and Triple Meter. Find more information about that here. Additionally, this style of singing rhythms directly correlates to the articulations used on wind instruments, so there's an added benefit.

Ultimately I find that most children already have an understanding of what rhythm is and can often demonstrate complex rhythms by either singing or bodily motion, but they just don't know what it is that they are singing or doing, and often get confused, or told to do a very specific thing when they enter formal music classes. Keep it informal, throw out the notation (at least for a while), and encourage learning by constantly doing. That is my own approach.
Last edited by Redthunder on Wed Apr 25, 2018 9:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Neo Bri
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Neo Bri » Wed Apr 25, 2018 8:20 am

Excellent post, Redthunder. Thank you.
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Redthunder
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Redthunder » Wed Apr 25, 2018 8:29 am

Happy to contribute!

Here is another article that I think explains the Gordon MLT approach to rhythm a little more clearly than the GIML website I linked to.

https://blog.musicteachershelper.com/ea ... d-rhythms/
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BGuttman
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by BGuttman » Wed Apr 25, 2018 9:21 am

I've seen using some words can help certain situations.

For the dotted eighth sixteenth eighth I use "Amserdam"
For a quarter note triplet some folks use "Tripalet"

Usually the first problem occurs with syncopation. I like to write out a line of the shortest note in the phrase, then tie over the notes that are longer. As a further exercise, I might want to, say, write a set of 4 eighth notes, and have the students play first the 4 notes, then tieing pairs. The first and last are easy, but the middle pair gets into the problems.

Sometimes reinforcing this with a metronome can also help.
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Goodgig
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Goodgig » Wed Apr 25, 2018 10:59 am

I teach elementary school music - preK through 6th grade. I use Gordon’s MLT and Kodak’s concepts. I define rhythm as the way the words go in a song. The kids just sang a canon and then we transferred that to percussion instruments. Also check out Orff.
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by Goodgig » Wed Apr 25, 2018 11:00 am

Kodaly (sorry, spell check kicked in)
boneagain
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by boneagain » Wed Apr 25, 2018 1:00 pm

Neo Bri wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:29 am
boneagain wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 5:59 am
I know what "intangible" means, but would appreciate hearing how you see it applying to rhythm.

I'm pretty sure that any of the people I've marched with (school or militaryh) considered rhythm pretty tangible. OTOH I've danced with some folks who seemed immune to any physical manifestation of regularly recurring pulses.

Beatween heartbeats, clock ticks (even most quartz clocks still tick), and timed movement, I've usually been able to get a student to find SOMEthing in her or his background to anchor fundamental beat. Once s/he gets that down, it's a steady, not-to-long progression to subdivisions and varied emphasis and combinations. After that the student usually can get the idea of "time signature" without too much trouble, even for "odd meters."

But I have NO idea how I'd teach about rhythm if it were NOT tangible.... so you know have me very curious!
When I say intangible, I mean explaining the division of time (which is definintely intangible) can be tricky. Or course physically participating. And I don't mean teaching the most basic quart notes. But some students have a very difficult time with pretty basic rthyrhm, particularly when improvising.

I'm just looking for more opinions of people who have run into the problem while teaching.
Ah, the ineffable je ne sais quois!

Always at the root of it is something tangible and basic, what I think you are calling undivided time.

But it DOES get tougher beyond that. And not just for beginners. Roger Voisin of the Boston Symphony told of how Leroy Anderson once tried to notate swing for Roger. Roger was known for his right-on-the-money rhythmic and pitch solfege of ANYTHING put in front of him, regardless of number and oddity of meter and tempo changes. But he frustrated the heck out of Anderson. Roger played EXACTLY what Anderson wrote. And it was STILL so far from swing as to be on another planet. Roger could HEAR the difference, but was so steeped in a different approach to time that he just could NOT get himself to swing.

I think the immersion suggested in other replies is one of the very best things we can provide to a student. From Roger's story I know to NOT try to explain a swing rhythm in normal metric terms. I cannot recall a single time where someone reading a long, heavily syncopated and cross-rhythmed soli has succeded by playing every note... success only came once they took the soli as phrases, and played the phrases or figures. And UNTIL they had the feel of the figures, they'd get lost every time.

Alan Raph had a great book called "Dance Band Rhythm and Interpretation." The Navy used to use that to turn squares into swingers. Instructors would have the students at MU school start slow, using their "old" habits. Once the basic shape of a figure was solid, the instructor would get the student to sing each figure as a line, not worrying about exact placement. Before long young players who had played nothing but conert band in high school and college were swinging to, well, beat the band :)

Sam has some great info on time, and bits and extensions therefrom. Have you checked the archives or his site?
baileyman
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by baileyman » Thu Apr 26, 2018 6:21 am

Once I needed to teach swing rhythm. We played swing duets and would bracket and repeat the rough spots. Kept time going the entire hour. This seemed to clean up lots of the boys interpretation.
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Re: Teaching Rhythm

Post by jazzaltobone » Sat May 19, 2018 9:42 pm

This is a subject currently near and dear to my heart. I am writing a book on rhythm for trombone. Within it I have created many exercises to help players evaluate their sense of time and then to improve it.

At some point or another, everybody turns on a metronome and plays with the regular four clicks to a bar. There is certainly value in that exercise, but I think that it only goes so far. Especially for jazz players who must create complex rhythms over complex backgrounds. Imagine improvising over a free drum solo or stop time. For many players, those are challenging moments.

I created an exercise in my book called Maniacal Metronome. Basically I've created click tracks consisting of 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 clicks to the beat, and then removing certain clicks just to make it that much more unintuitive.

https://www.altobone.com/evaluating-you ... metronome/

The point is to give players something to play over that provides them the beat but unintuitively enough to demand that their internal sense of time is rock solid. it may seem very hard at first, but the point of such a challenge is to motivate practice to make it easier. My contention is that it will strengthen their time.

This may not be the original intent of this post, but I think having a solid internal musical clock is a pre-requisite to mastering rhythm.

If you try it for yourself, let me know what you think.
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