What are the most important rhythmic skills for the early-level student?

I remember the first time I heard Elvina Pearce talk about piano teaching. I was a doctoral candidate in piano performance and pedagogy at Northwestern University in the mid-1980s, and a special class of master's and doctoral students was assembled so that "Mrs. Pearce" could teach both at the same time. From the very start I was riveted by the pre...
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How do you decipher rhythms when transcribing the recordings of Bill Evans?

​I have been a devotee of the music of jazz pianist Bill Evans since my early teenage years. I own many of his recordings and have listened to them numerous times over the decades, constantly hearing new things in them. I also was fortunate to hear him perform live on campus when I was a college student in St. Louis in the 1970s—a marvelous ex...
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Boiling it down: Recipes for effective teaching

When I think back on the great teachers I have encountered in my life, I find that they all had one thing in common—the ability to boil things down to their essence. These teachers' abilities to reveal the essence of the subject matter made my understanding possible. Perhaps it was an applied teacher communicating the essentials of tone production,...
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The rhythms of jazz: Syncopation

An important aspect of rhythm (in any style of music) is the alternation of accented and unaccented musical elements. When the accented elements differ from what is expected, we have syncopation, an essential part of jazz. This article will examine two kinds of syncopation first outlined by Winthrop Sargeant in his pioneering 1938 work Jazz: Hot an...
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Can young students learn rhythmic flexibility?

It has been said by many that in music, rhythm is what happens between the beats. That is true, yet those words don't sufficiently communicate what we actually experience in rhythm. Much of what we teach is from notation, an inherently artificial and scant symbolic representation of music. These two facts conspire to create a problem: you can't fai...
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It’s about time (we discuss rhythm)

My previous articles have discussed different aspects of dealing with sounds we make as jazz/pop musicians. These include chord voicings, blues licks, scales, melodic sequences, etc. However, the truth of the matter is that these aspects are only half of the big picture when playing jazz and pop. The other half entails WHEN all of these aspects are...
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Questions & Answers

Q. I understand that you believe in swinging, clapping, and tapping as methods for developing rhythmic security in young students. Please suggest the ways in which you use each modality in your own teaching. A. All three methods are invaluable ways in which to develop rhythmic security in young students. All are equally important, but each has its ...
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What aspects of teaching rhythm are the most difficult for your intern teachers?"

Yes, you may remember seeing this same topic previously in this Department—twice! When pedagogy teachers are confronted with this question (either artificially by us in this magazine, or in reality in their classrooms by the inherent complexity of helping other people learn how to teach effectively), crucial facets of teaching that are important to...
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How do you teach the rhythm challenges in Debussy's Clair de lune?

In this department over the past thirteen years, many authors and myself have alluded to two different meanings of the term "rhythm." Prosaic rhythm (also called counting rhythm) is the mere timing of events decoded from the printed page using counting or other methods. Poetic rhythm is much broader, encompassing virtually everything...
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"Is a physically gifted student likely to be rhythmically reliable and musically aware?"

Anyone who has taught piano or any other instrument for more than a short time invariably must deal with one of the major challenges facing a music teacher. That is, becoming a good player simultaneously involves diverse kinds of learning: perceptual, physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, etc. To make matters even more complex, each student...
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How do you teach polyrhythms?

In my college years I encountered a recurring four-against-five pattern in a 20th-century piece, and my initial attempts to do it were not successful. My teacher recommended that I approximate the pattern ("fake it") while I learned the rest of the music. He also suggested that I first try tapping the polyrhythm away from the piano, which I did aft...
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How do you develop a sense of rhythm in your adult students?

from the series: It's Never Too Late: Adult Piano Study I just finished teaching a particularly challenging lesson to Jeff. Week after week we struggle with keeping a steady pulse. I know he is just as frustrated as I am, yet he has trouble breaking habits developed over years of self-learning. In the "old days," I would simply allow the "puls...
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When is it appropriate to leave rhythms UNperfected for a given student? Have I mis-assigned a piece in that case?

from the series: The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm Sometimes quantity is quality. As a young teenaged pianist, I had great fun learning transcriptions of Dave Brubeck improvisations. His was the first jazz piano music that I sunk my teeth into. I loved the sound of the rich complex harmonies, the counterpoint, the unique textures and voicings (I...
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How do you teach measure groupings (hypermeter) to your intermediate-level students?

from the series: ​The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm Bruce Berr, Editor I was introduced to measure groupings when I was a college junior - not by a teacher but a classmate. We were rehearsing the scherzo of the Beethoven Cello and Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 69 (see Excerpt 1). We did our first run-through at a moderate tempo just to see h...
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What common pitfalls occur in the teaching of rhythmic subdivisions?

from the series: The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm Bruce Berr, Editor My colleague Craig Sale and I have swapped departments this issue by each contributing an article in the other's subject area. Both essays deal with avoiding common teaching pitfalls. It has been stimulating for us to focus on different areas, and we hope that you will fi...
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What have I learned being an editor of the Rhythm Department?

I once heard it said that no one learns more at a clinic than the clinician. As strange as that may sound, based on my own experiences, I believe it is true and it applies to more than just workshops. When someone is put in charge of something, an interesting phenomenon occurs - one perceives more and ponders it more deeply. An extra sensitivi...
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How do you get students to really play the rests in their pieces?

Introduction This same question appeared in the Rhythm Department almost nine years ago in the Winter 1997 issue of Keyboard Companion. Three excellent teachers - Linda Poquette, Steven Rosenfeld, and Mary Jane Clarke - presented insightful ideas, and a lot of ground was covered. I invite you to look (again!) at those essays in your library of...
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How do rhythm and tempo interact with each other, and how does this inform your teaching?

As unlikely as it may seem, people like myself who enjoy tinkering with old radios have to deal with a phenomenon that is similar to one that we piano teachers confront. Before the appearance of computer-synthesized and controlled devices, even high priced communications equipment such as shortwave radios and ham radio transceivers gradually d...
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What Is "Shakespearean Counting" And How Do You Use It In Your Teaching?

from the series: The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm Bruce Berr, Editor Last year I had the opportunity to review videotapes of teaching that were submitted to Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). The tapes were to be considered for use at one of the Pedagogy Saturday programs that kicked off the MTNA National Conference in Salt Lake C...
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How do you help your students achieve rhythmic continuity in slow pieces without sounding mechanical?

from the series: ​The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm The music must proceed forward at all times, and in an inevitable and seemingly uniform way. My most memorable musical moment at the 2003 National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy was during one of the short student recitals that were sprinkled throughout the Conference each day. A teen-aged stu...
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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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