Over the years in teaching, you learn that every student has at least one weakness – for some it’s sight reading, others it’s ear or finger dexterity, still others have a problem with rhythm.  Rhythm is one of the more challenging aspects to correct in teaching because it involves an inate sense of pulse.  Does not the concept of ‘beat’ come from that of our own hearts? We’ve somehow ‘mechanized’ this basic concept into numbers and counting, beats per minute (BPM) and metronomes with Maelzel’s markings.  Teaching rhythm IMHO needs to be an extension of movement… of the sensation that we are actually part of time.  Many years ago, i decided (especially with young students) to throw out the concept of counting for 2 reasons: one is that it requires math (2 beats plus 1 beat plus a half of a beat = 3 and half beats plus a…) I found that kids simply got bogged down with the math!!! How crazy is that?  Calm down… for all the Classical formal teachers… don’t panic… i still teach counting but not at early levels.  The second reason i don’t teach counting is due to the fact that i found students were getting confused with finger numbers.  Music doesn’t need to have two sets of numbers going on… one for fingering, the other for counting.  So i abandoned counting… with GREAT success.

What do i do instead? I simply teach rhythmic words… words that remind us of motion. I just want to mention that this is in no way a NEW concept.  Rhythmic words or phrases have been done for decades.  This is just something that i used consistently to teach with.   Here’s the setup:

A quarter note looks like a leg with a big cartoon shoe… let’s call that WALK

Four quarters then (say it) are WALK WALK WALK WALK

Eighth notes usually come in pairs and are faster… well faster than walking would be RUN-NING.  So when you say “running” that represents double the speed and two notes instead of one. Quarter, 2 Eighths, Quarter Quarter would be WALK RUN-NING WALK WALK.  See where i’m going with this?

OK now it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous but hey ALL of my students have learned rhythm in half an hour so… it WORKS.

A Half note is hollow right? It’s not filled in.  This is…. wait for it… Cinderella’s slipper. TA DA! Hahaaaa… and so if you’re walking in glass slippers you need to walk SLOW-LY – this is two syllables but twice as long as a walk.

Half note, Quarter, 2 Eighths would then be SLOW-LY WALK RUNNING… oh and BTW when you say these, they need to be robotic-like… feeling the pulse.

Anyway… if you want more of the musical phrases… i have a raft of them – everything from Swing Batta… to the Sneeze to Beautiful Bicycle… lol… i may never have taught counting but i sure instilled rhythm into each of my students and had a good laugh at the same time.