As the children enjoy finding the notes to the songs, they will sometimes speed up on the sections that they know well, and slow down in other parts of the piece. It is important to help them learn how to keep a steady rhythm after they are fluent in the notes.

Rhythm is a natural part of life, and life ability. The word rhythm comes from the Greek word ‘rhythmos” and means “flow”. Our heartbeat is a natural pulse. We breathe in a rhythm. The earth has daily, monthly, yearly (etc) rhythms. Our lives revolve around daily rhythms. It is quite natural for children to play music with good rhythm. We do not have to “teach” it.

There are many studies and articles about babies natural sense of rhythm. Here are a couple links, and you can google Babies and rhythm for lots more:

Babies have a sense of Rhythm
Babies are born to Dance
Newborn Infants Detect the Beat in Music

These articles support research showing that infants respond to rhythm and keep a beat or pulse with their body. Our job is to preserve this natural ability to feel rhythm and apply it while playing piano. So, we need to be aware that as soon as the mind becomes too busy thinking about what to do, the natural feeling diminishes.

Rhythm has different parts. There is the steady beat which creates the underlying pulse. The meter represented by the time signature at the beginning of the piece makes groups of deep and light sounds out of the steady beat. So, if the meter is 3 beats per measure, beat one is the deep sound and beat 3 is the lighter sound. These groupings are the basic component of meter and provide the base upon which the individual rhythm of the piece is set. For example, Twinkle has 4 beats in each group or measure, and Cuckoo has 3 beats (like a waltz). It is not important for the children to “know” this, but as adults it is good to be aware of it at this point as you are listening. See if you can tell when you are listening if you hear/feel duple (2 or 4 beats) or triple (3 beats) groupings. We will be working on this in the near future. The term “rhythm” then refers to the individual short and long sounds in a piece, but also generally means the beat, the meter and the individual rhythm as one whole.

In group class the children were easily able to clap the beat, and then lightly clap the rhythm of several Book 1 pieces. Please do this at home as well. It is not necessary to make it part of the regular practice, but on occasion as you are listening to the disc. We will continue doing this in the group class.

The best way to develop the child’s ability to be able to stay on the rhythm while playing the piano is for the teacher to play with the student in the lessons. Sometimes it may seem that there is not much “teaching” going on during these times. This is the next step for the child after they have learned the notes. It is not really beneficial for the child to play with the disc. The disc cannot adapt to the natural tempo the child is ready to play on. Also there is no “ready-go” so the child cannot come in accurately on the the rhythm. Therefore, the time at the lesson to play together with the teacher is vitally important.

Please continue to have your child get ready before playing when you are practicing with them. Of course they can also have time at the piano which is “free time”.
By getting ready on each note of the twinkles, on each spot, phrase and piece, they are developing the ability to start on the rhythm. By getting ready each time, they are developing the habit of finding good body balance and concentration before playing. This is the first essential step to having good rhythm It is much easier to keep a rhythm once it is started. Actually it is impossible to have good rhythm if it is not started at the beginning. The beginning of the piece is crucial for setting the rhythm so please observe the way that you say “go”. Practice how you say “go” so that the word “go” sounds like the way a conductor of an orchestra looks when they start the orchestra. If you imagine this it will help.

When you sing solfege as the child plays you are also helping them to keep a natural rhythm. You can say: “let’s stay together as you play and I sing”. Next you can lightly tap the steady beat. If they have trouble then it is probably a part of the piece they need to spot practice (separate from playing the whole piece), because they are unsure or unable to play the correct notes in rhythm on that part.

It is important to introduce the concept of keeping the steady beat after the child can play the notes well. This includes playing with good body balance, and good tone. The concept of sequencing skills to present the most important point at the appropriate time is the “core focus principle of nurturing”, and is one of the seven principles of Core Education

So, please do not try to have them keep the steady beat on the pieces they are just learning. Dr. Suzuki said :

“Raise your ability on a piece you can play.”

Helping the children keep a steady beat on the pieces they can already play is a good example of what he meant in that statement.

For Further Reading:
*“How To Teach Beginners” by Dr. Katoaka: Part 4 General Considerations in Book 1