Music Teaching Idea: Alternatives to Counting the Beats

One of the hardest paradigm shifts my students face is learning that rhythm is more important than note accuracy. In fact, the first thing they bring up when I ask them, “How do you think you did?” is “wrong notes”.

“Rhythm,” I tell them, “is harder to fix than notes.” Like many of my students, I am a multi-modal kinesthetic learner, so I use analogy to help drive my point. home: “Ppppp….lease….ppp..aaaass...mmmmeeee a Kleee..ex.”

Our brain tends to fill in the blanks and correct things like typos on a page, so we can read and listen to misspelled or even misused words and generally, suss out the meaning. However, in the case of the Kleenex question above, it’s a bit more difficult to figure out what the speaker is trying to say. This was illustrated beautifully at a Pattern Play workshop I attended in 2010 with Forrest Kinney.

When They Can’t Count the Beats in Music

We try hard to teach and encourage our students to count the beats: “1 & 2 &...” For the younger ones, we often use “ta’s” and “ti-ti’s”. Once in a while, however, I’ve had a student who has a mind block to either.

One year, I taught two boys who were huge Pokémon fans. To subdivide the beats, we used variations on Pikachu’s name: “Pi - Pi - Pi-ka-chu.” You can read about it here. For some students, we use food: “blue-ber-ry, huck-le-ber-ry, a-pple, pie”. It tends to make us extremely hungry during lessons, though.

This week, one of my beginners, a sweet introspective lad, was struggling with the timing on “Starry, Starry Night” from the Faber & Faber Piano Adventures series. His family is doing some travelling this summer and, he’s a bit of a history and geography buff, so we used country names to “count” the beats. We even invited the Grade 12 student after him to contribute, a process they both enjoyed.

Here’s our handiwork:

When I asked him to clap a small passage and later play it, my student performed marvelously.

Further Reading on Other Ways to Teach Counting the Beats in Music

A Strategy to Teach Ta Ti-Ti

Four Ways to Prepare Ti-Ti and Ta

Freebie Friday - Beat, Rhythm, Ta, & Ti-Ti