In the post “On the Rhythm- Part 1”, the beginning steps of listening and feeling rhythm were discussed.
Bringing awareness to hearing short and long sounds is the next step after feeling the beat. Twinkle A begins with all staccato short sounds. Before teaching Twinkle B bring the students attention to the length of the sound by playing one note and listening to how long it last. This activity can continue over several weeks and at home as well. Students who from the very beginning hear not only when the sound starts but also when the sound ends will play with much better tone and rhythm. The Twinkle B rhythm is excellent for teaching the combination of short and long sounds.
Next, when students begin learning a piece, they usually find the correct notes (pitch) first. The student may also have the general feeling of the rhythm so that the piece is recognizable by ear. However, the exact rhythm needs to be reinforced by the parent and teacher as the next step. It is difficult for students to feel longer notes for example, so there is a tendency that these note values are played shorter when the piece is being learned. The dotted half note in “French Children’s Song” is a good example of this. Another familiar example is the dotted quarter notes, and also the half notes in “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
There are several ways to help the student with feeling and playing the correct rhythm. The student can play with the teacher who is keeping a steady beat. At home the parent can sing the melody in correct rhythm as the child plays. At the lesson, the student can clap the steady beat while the teacher plays. Sometimes it helps to show the child a metronome, which they are very interested in, and then the teacher can play the piece with metronome at various tempos keeping a steady beat. This help the students differentiate rhythm and tempo. At a later stage, the parent can clap the beat (softly) for the child at home practice. This can be done in the lesson first to make sure it is helpful to the child.
Specifically, on a spot such as a dotted half note, the teacher can clap the beat on that note when the child plays so that they feel the pulse on the long note. By clapping the pulse without counting “1, 2, 3” the child will be able to play without too much thinking. Of course understanding counting is important too, and is good to do after the child can feel the beat without the use of numbers.
Recognizing the rhythm of pieces without hearing the melody is another good tool for internalizing the rhythm. The teacher or another student can clap the rhythm of a piece, and then the student(s) can guess what song it is. The students enjoy this activity. Mary Had a Little Lamb and London Bridge have the same rhythm until the last two measures, so students have to listen until the last two measures to know which piece is being played. This internalization of the rhythm helps students perform the pieces better, and is also a step towards reading rhythm.
By bringing awareness to the long and short sounds, we are preparing the student to learn the visual symbols for these note values, and enabling them to play and feel music with good rhythm.