Completely rhythmless

Posted by: Lyndall

Completely rhythmless - 10/15/03 05:39 PM

Does anyone out there have ideas for teaching a totally rhythm-deficient LATE INTERMEDIATE 14 yr old student?

There is no counting going on whatsover. I think this poor girl can't hear very well (she stares at the metronome's blinking light) & has trouble translating counting verbally (& other issues like slurs in LH vs staccato in RH) into playing actual notes.

Of course she isn't really late intermed. if she can't do this, but she does read notes & fingering extremely well & prefers learning challenging pieces.

Thanks.
Posted by: unreal

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/16/03 06:18 AM

Two ideas for starters: First, scrap the metronome. Metronomes help people who already have a sense of rhythm keep a steady tempo. They do not TEACH rhythm, especially the blinking light type. Second, counting of the 1234 type does not teach rhythm either. It is a method of keeping track of where you are in a measure, and to some people doesn't make much sense (i.e. why does the "&" come after the number instead of before?) I've had good results with the "tah" method of counting. It works best hands alone but can be adapted to hands together. The slur-with-staccato issue sounds like a problem with both rhythm (getting a "down-up" in one hand matched with a "down" in the other) and technique (tension, inability to easily lift hand off keys). Maybe you could help her get the "feel" of slur-with-staccato using simple 5-finger scales and Hanon-type warmups. Consistently, my best rhythm kids are always those who play in band, so I would have to say that is the best remedy.
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/16/03 08:04 AM

My initial thought: If this girl can put one foot in front of the other & walk, then she is not completely rhythmless.

Besides band, another great way to force a student to keep a steady rhythm is to play duets with him/her &/or have him/her play along with accompaniment CDs.

I agree that the use of either "tah" or "Blue Jello" (from Music Mind Games book by Michiko Yurko) counting is more effective than numerical counting.

Also, try whole body movements (arm swings, marching, etc.) in rhythm to music (use a cassette or CD player so you can do the movements with the student) &/or tapping out rhythm patterns on tabletop or bongo drums.

[ 10-16-2003: Message edited by: Jalapeņa ]
Posted by: Susan

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/16/03 08:16 AM

I have to disagree with the previous post, as I have had a lot of success using a wind up metronome to teach keeping a steady beat. The music has to be easy enough so they can play with no mistakes. I use five finger patterns to start with, played by rote. I teach how to play with the metronome at the lessons and do not let them use one at home until I'm sure they can do it right. We also do a lot of clapping, moving, and singing to the metronome. I have never had a judge mark my students down for rhythm, and I believe the metronome work is the reason. Of course I also have to teach them how to let the music breathe, but first everyone must learn a steady beat.
Posted by: unreal

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/16/03 08:36 AM

Susan, I agree with you--students must learn to keep a steady beat. It's just that the girl in question seemed completely unaware of a beat, so I thought different approaches seemed necessary. And actually, it's not the metronome teaching rhythm, it's YOU teaching rhythm, using the metronome to help you do it.
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/16/03 09:24 AM

I'd like to hear some other options for helping reinforce rhythm. I have a PA1 student who has slowly learned to count steadily - but I can't really say I'm seeing any pulsing. We have done all of the above. He can keep a steady rhythm when playing solo, but falls apart with the metronome, with clapping, swinging, marching, and with duets. He played at school last week and (horrors) the school teacher sat down to play the duet with him. I asked (fearfully) how it went. "Not very well." A predictable response. He's very bright, studies hard, always comes prepared. But man-o-man, no rhythm.
Posted by: Susan

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/17/03 11:28 AM

Unreal, I see what you mean now, and you make perfect sense. The metronome is a tool! You are right, we have to think outside the box and come up with different solutions.
--Susan
Posted by: Yum Yum

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/17/03 05:12 PM

I have a student just like the one you described. She's technicly alright and intellectually okay with understanding theory and even rhythm, but her PLAYING sounds like it has no steady beat underlying it.

I was so frustrated I tried something that actually sort of gave her a "light bulb" moment. Since then I do a little of this at every lesson, and encourage her to do it at home too. It's sounds simple but it can be really ear-opening!

We put on her LESSON CD and we became the rhythm section! If it's in 3/4, I'll clap the downbeats and she snaps on beats 2 and 3 or the other way around. If it's in Common Time, we might just clap together on the off-beats. I also get out the woodblock and a little set of bongo drums to fool with as well. Sometimes she has trouble with the simplest thing in "feeling" the beat. But now she's starting to feel it! Yea!

I never make it like she has a big problem or anything....just like this is a fun thing to do to "warm up our ears." \:D
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/17/03 05:17 PM

Watch the student's eyes. Is s/he keeping his/her eyes on the music? I had a very rhythmically challenged student once who could clap or tap or march just fine but couldn't play her pieces with a steady beat. Turned out she was looking down at her hands so much that she was losing her place in the music, thus having problems with the rhythm. :rolleyes: I covered up her hands with a manilla folder to remove the temptation to look down. Rhythm problem fixed! \:D
Posted by: Lyndall

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/18/03 06:12 PM

Thanks to all of you for your suggestions.

I'll definitely take her off the metronome since right now it doesn't appear to help but is more of a hindrance & frustration to her.

She does keep her eyes on the music well so don't think that's the prob. Intellectually she knows the counts & can write in 1+2+ etc in all the right places, but doesn't seem to relate the knowledge to playing, especially when the music has to speed up.

Think I'll have to invest in some bongos cause she might think it's pretty cool & I'll check out Music Mind Games too.

We'll see how she gets on.

Incidentally she just performed a Sonatina very well for our recital - she sort of just memorizes how it's supposed to go (rhythm-wise) even though she follows the music. When she learns it wrong, I have a heck of a time correcting her though!
Posted by: Susan

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/18/03 06:33 PM

Jalapeņa, I agree with you about looking at the hands. Years ago for an invention contest my son made a "hand cover" for me to use in lessons. He won an award. The kids liked it better than me using a notebook. But it really got in the way of my teaching, so I stopped using it. My son was heartbroken. \:\(
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/23/03 02:00 PM

My rhythmless student is coming shortly and it just occurred to me that there is another unusual problem with this student. He is the only student I have who can't seem to sit solidly on the bench. That is, he always kind of hangs from the front edge. I've given him a book (wrapped in contact paper) to put his feet because he is just inches from the floor, but he kicks it aside. I've corrected his seated position often, but with only minimal success. He just can't seem to sit square on the bench. I'm wondering how a student who is dangling off the bench could be expected to pulse with the rhythm. Seems to be it would be difficult. He is doing great in every other way.

[ 10-23-2003: Message edited by: Lilla ]
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/23/03 04:55 PM

OK - he's come and gone. We made sure he was seated squarely on the bench. I had to correct him several times. I noticed that the more he concentrated on counting, etc, the more he started to scoot forward, closer to the music. We made some progress in rhythm. He played Matchmaker (PA Pop rep 1) well, then fell apart on the duet. It's like he is terrified, or extremely self-conscious when the focus falls on him to keep the rhythm. We went line by line playing duet, and basically corrected dotted halfs - that worked. I gave him a specific "counting song" - that is, a piece he's finished well, but we're doing it for one more week with the total goal being to count out loud and play correctly. He is hopeless with the metronome at this point. This week will be a challenge as he has Juggler from PA1. We named and played the notes, counted and clapped. We'll see. He is so bright and always comes prepared. I'd really like to see him get over this hump.
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/23/03 05:56 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Lilla:
I noticed that the more he concentrated on counting, etc, the more he started to scoot forward, closer to the music.


A thought: Has he had his vision checked? Maybe he can't see well.

Another thought: Do you observe any correlation between the rhythm problems & the pieces he either hasn't practiced or hasn't practiced enough? Maybe it just takes him a while to get the rhythm off the page & into his bones, so to speak. Maybe he just needs to work harder than most students in this particular area.
Posted by: pianoc

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/23/03 09:35 PM

Have you tried marching, dancing - to songs. Any songs? I've taught quite a few students from backgrounds that don't allow any dancing of any kind. Even when they were young. Many of them can intellectually count out rhythms, clap them with me, but they don't feel them from within enough to keep it up when they play. I started marching (can't call it dancing) to recorded music. For most of them - it really helped. This has been with young students as well as a few transfer students that weren't doing very well with their previuos teachers - some 12-13.

Once they are able to listen to a recording and know when to take the first step and keep it moving without watching me first - I start seeing improvement in their playing also. I had one student that wasn't allowed to play for a week - just listen to the recordings and "march". I was a little afraid of getting into trouble with the parents - but it really helped the student.
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/24/03 07:41 AM

Yes, at the outset we concentrated on all types of rhythmic activities. He just didn't seem to get it. I do wonder if it's self-consciousness. His mother has just stopped attending lessons - after 6 months. I think I'll backtrack and try the rhythmic activities again without mom present. We also tried CDs once he got into PA1. I thought he'd love it, but he hated it. Maybe we should try again. Mom & Dad are immensely pleased with his progress, but know that we have a glitch with the counting. This week it seemed he was responding better to instruction and trying harder. We did fairly well with Matchmaker, while it was a total loss the first few times around. I had intended to lay off the duets - but he's playing pieces at school and the teacher sits down with him. Tres embarrassing to the poor child.

 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoc:
Have you tried marching, dancing - to songs. Any songs? I've taught quite a few students from backgrounds that don't allow any dancing of any kind. Even when they were young. Many of them can intellectually count out rhythms, clap them with me, but they don't feel them from within enough to keep it up when they play. I started marching (can't call it dancing) to recorded music. For most of them - it really helped. This has been with young students as well as a few transfer students that weren't doing very well with their previuos teachers - some 12-13.

Once they are able to listen to a recording and know when to take the first step and keep it moving without watching me first - I start seeing improvement in their playing also. I had one student that wasn't allowed to play for a week - just listen to the recordings and "march". I was a little afraid of getting into trouble with the parents - but it really helped the student.


Jala - yes, I was wondering about vision also. I'll call his mom.

[ 10-24-2003: Message edited by: Lilla ]
Posted by: Lyndall

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/24/03 08:37 AM

I doubt my rhythmless student would get into marching around the room (she's nearly 15 yrs old).

I think that counting aloud while playing might be the answer for her because her rhythm improves, but when she stops counting her rhythm falls apart. In fact many of mine benefit from counting aloud & I don't insist on it nearly enough - usually they must count one piece/section aloud each lesson but I need to be stricter! You also have to hope that they will continue to count silently at home - they have 6 days without my reminders!

And what about beat - how do you stop students from getting faster? I guess the marching here will help the younger ones if I do some with them every week...
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/24/03 09:00 AM

The solution of course is to help them to feel the pulse. Some students instinctively pulse and never have a counting issue. Other's need to work at it. I have several students who always play perfectly if they are counting (or pulsing). But they always, always have to be reminded to count. There are others who don't pulse, but intellectually count and although a bit mechanically, effectively perform the piece. Are there any unique suggestions or solutions you have found to encourage the more difficult students to pulse? I do intend to try a suggestion to clap/tap along with a recording in various ways to create a rhythm section, with different rhythmic instruments. HL has a suggestion to use a small box and a glass to tap along. (Better be a solid glass/vase. LOL)
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/31/03 09:20 AM

Thought I'd add a note about my rhythmless student. Because he is diligent and Mom pays attention, he came to his lesson last night with pretty good counting. I'm not sure that I'd call it rhythm. But he improved dramatically.

But, I reminded him that next week starts Christmas. He said he doesn't like Christmas pieces. I played thru every piece in PA1 Stocking Stuffers and had him rate them 1-10. 10 = I love it and can't wait to play it. 1 = I hate that song and don't ever want to hear it again. He rated about 3 pieces 10 - all very upbeat, rhythmic pieces. A couple 1 = unknown melodies and O Come All Ye Faithful. Isn't that strange? He's attracted to peppy, rhythmic melodies. Hmmmmm. (Yes, most boys are). But I see it as the route to securing good rhythmic habits. I'm thinking to forget all about every counting tactic I've ever heard, and just focus on feeling and making music for Christmas. That is, take away all the mechanics, the detail, the chore and drudgery, and focus on making the piano sing, and the piece take it's natural (rhythmic) course. By the time New Year's Day arrives (no Christmas music allowed after New Year's), I betcha he'll have rhythm. cross my fingers xxxxxx
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/31/03 11:44 AM

Lilla: Don't count on the use of well-known, rhythmic pieces to straighten out a student's rhythm problems. Maybe it'll work (I hope for your sake that it will), but it might not. In working with my adult student (who obviously had some sort of LD, so this might not apply to your "rhythmless" student), I noticed that when playing songs that she was already familiar with, rhythm wasn't a problem... but that whenever I assigned music that was not familiar to her, she had major difficulties with rhythm. I think her problems stemmed from her inability to learn to read music (she couldn't distinguish intervals--couldn't tell the difference between a 2nd & an octave, for example--and she had major difficulty counting numerically). How well does your student read music? Also, consider the fact that it's possible that he did better this week because his mother made sure he practiced. At any rate, sooner or later your student is going to have to learn how to read & play music that is unfamiliar to him... unless, of course, he refuses to play music that he doesn't know & love, in which case you'll have to decide whether you wish to continue working with him. After all, the pieces in the lessons book are written with pedagogical purposes in mind. If you only allow him to play only the music he loves, he will not learn all the important concepts & skills that he needs to learn in order to become a competent, well-rounded pianist.

JMHO, of course. Good luck.

[ 10-31-2003: Message edited by: Jalapeņa ]
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 10/31/03 12:55 PM

Thanks, Jala. Actually, he is a very good note reader. He has always completed and retained each week's lessons, including consistent practice. We'll be working on rhythm with Christmas pieces that he loves, but we'll also be continuing with the PA1 Lesson, Tech.& Art, and Pop Rep w/Activities. He has also started his B maj scale. I will be using the additional pieces in his Christmas book for line-a-day sightreading. I believe what has happened with the rhythm issue, is that he has become too focused/nervous on the counting, and therefore it becomes unnatural and forced. Not at all what we're looking for. Just as we often assign a "counting piece" - one where they focus on that concept only, I'll be assigning Christmas pieces where we focus on the *feel*. We'll see how it goes. Until last night, I had thought I'd lose this student. He seemed bored. But in going through the Christmas pieces and rating them, he glowed and laughed. I think he's going to be ok.
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: Completely rhythmless - 11/01/03 11:48 AM

Getting nervous about anything, whether it's rhythm or technique or what have you, is certainly a recipe for disaster.
Posted by: Joan Lulich

Re: Completely rhythmless - 01/02/04 06:54 PM

Have you tried Guy Duckworth's Discovery Series? He has a unique way of introducing rhythm. A 15 year old would find it challenging.
Posted by: Lyndall

Re: Completely rhythmless - 01/09/04 02:39 PM

Thanks for the suggestion. Think I'll try it out because the poor girl totally messed up the rhythm of a great version of O Come All Ye Faithful at our Christmas recital and worse, messed up another girl in another simple duet. I could scream!
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Completely rhythmless - 02/02/04 08:24 AM

Though I'd send an update on my rhythm-challenged student. We went back to beginning rhythm activities and it's working well - he's having fun. For some reason it didn't "take" the first time around. I've sent him home with a rhythm activity sheet - listen to CD's, create the big beats, then the small beats, then makes rhythms on both (use a heavy glass and small box; select one of my collection of batons, sing doo-wop, make silly steps or movements). It seems to be working. We're translating slowly to keyboard - listening, tapping, pulsing. Anyone else do this? And what have you tried if it didn't work? More of the same? or a different route?
Posted by: pianoc

Re: Completely rhythmless - 02/02/04 09:02 AM

I just started using more hand percussion instruments - besides tamborine and maraccas. The Cabassa is my new favorite instrument! It works great with syncopation rhythms - tapping the top for first beat, and then swishing the stringed balls (swishing is not really very descriptive) for the eighth notes.

Just another way to get students to "feel" they rhythm. When it works - it works.
Posted by: ChristyA

Re: Completely rhythmless - 02/03/04 04:44 PM

I think your idea of having him listen to cd's is a great idea--I hope it works for him. I would be curious to find out if being self-conscious is a problem. I know that when I was a kid taking lessons I was very self-conscious, and often had rhythm problems. My teacher had me doing the usual things, marching, swinging my arm--but it never worked because I was way too self-conscious to relax and feel the beat that way. I think it would've worked at the time to do something like you've suggested. I have a student or two I should try it with too. Let me know how it works for you.