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Can A Sense of Rhythm Be Taught?


BbAltered

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Hello. There is a teenager in my neighborhood to whom I give informal piano lessons. He's interested in boogie-woogie, a perfect place to get started.

 

He has a hard time with keeping a steady tempo and loses and adds beats sort of at random. A metronome and drum loops seem to make it worse as he often gets confused and stops altogether when with the additional rhythmic material is playing.

 

What are good things I can do to help him develop steady tempo and good rhythmic feel?

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I am not going to get into the details of the many exercises. But I want to say good time can be learned within the person themselves, unless they have a disability of some sort. A person can train themselves. A coach can suggest ways of developing the sense of rhythm. If the student can't tap their left heel steadily and continuously, then that's where I would start. The left heel is neurologically linked to left arm, the time keeper in boogie and all other piano styles. There is a walking/marching instinct in humans. Once a person has a a good tap going "in their body" effortlessly and without having to think or worry about it, then that's when all other rhythms can readily begin to be played over their internal human meter (like your own internal metronome.) In the end, good time can not be intellectual, it cannot be "taught" but it can be developed and coached over time. A student with bad time will have to work on it over a lengthy time to see improvement.

Keeping the form is another different skill than keeping a good pulse. We eventually hear (feel) the bars as groups over time, same with the chords, that comes with experience of playing and counting the bars. I don't expect folks to be able to do it unless they have worked fairly hard for many hours and are truly dedicated to it. So it's really up to them to actualize it. A sense of rhythm can be developed internally but most folks are simply not cut out put in the work that is often required in many cases.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Find 700 of Harry’s piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and jazz piano tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas

 

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Remove the instrument from the equation and have him clap to a song he likes. Then have him tap on his knees with two hands. First the same pattern then L R L R then have him do eighths in one hand and quarters in the other. Then reverse.

 

There's sense of tempo and steady beat and then there is L/R coordination, and then there is finger control. You're just doing something too hard for him at the moment. Back off and either find something easier or simplify what you're working on. IMHO

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Lots of people will have lots of suggestions, but two right off the bat: ALWAYS have him count two measures before playing, down to the most common subdivision (probably 8th or 16ths for boogie-woogie), come in at the correct tempo to the count, and CONTINUE to count while playing. He'll notice the pauses he takes while counting out loud more than the ones caused by muscle resistance or slow processing.

 

Second: use the metronome. Have him play a piece at 1/4 speed, all the way through, with metronome on smallest subdivision (say, 8ths). When he's nailed that (only then), move to second-smallest subdivision (quarters in this case). You can even go to third-smallest (halfs). Then go up to half speed and do this all again. Then 3/4 speed. Finally, same thing at tempo. (Always, only advance one he's nailed each step.) By the time he gets up to tempo, playing the piece in rhythm should be fairly habitual for him.

 

Yes, I do believe rhythm can be refined. At least I hope so, so that one day I will have it.

 

 

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I will be pedantic and say that, as the question is asked: Can a sense of rhythm be taught?, I would say no. I think you have that sense or you don't.

 

Can one be taught to play in time? Yes.

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I will be pedantic and say that, as the question is asked: Can a sense of rhythm be taught?, I would say no. I think you have that sense or you don't.

 

Can one be taught to play in time? Yes.

 

Hmmm.... not sure I agree.

Without a doubt there are children that show inherent aptitude for all sorts of things, but that doesn't mean that with education others that don't immediately catch on can't. I know we like to mistify music apart from other fields a bit with notions of you "got it" or "you ain't got it". And of course to an extent this is true (but in more things than just music). But surely there is an average/mean/median point to which most (not all, but perhaps many) can get to in their musical aspirations... including sense of tempo, meter, rhythm, beat, etc. A difficult point to prove or disprove - even with all sorts of studies. YMMV

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Does the teen know they're off? That's what I keep running into with people - they're off and they don't know it. I'm not sure how to cope with that. If they realize it then it seems it's much more likely they can correct and improve.

 

I would've said drum loops but you already tried that.

 

Sorry. Not helping. Just commiserating!

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I will be pedantic and say that, as the question is asked: Can a sense of rhythm be taught?, I would say no. I think you have that sense or you don't.

 

Can one be taught to play in time? Yes.

 

Hmmm.... not sure I agree.

Without a doubt there are children that show inherent aptitude for all sorts of things, but that doesn't mean that with education others that don't immediately catch on can't. I know we like to mistify music apart from other fields a bit with notions of you "got it" or "you ain't got it". And of course to an extent this is true (but in more things than just music). But surely there is an average/mean/median point to which most (not all, but perhaps many) can get to in their musical aspirations... including sense of tempo, meter, rhythm, beat, etc. A difficult point to prove or disprove - even with all sorts of studies. YMMV

 

I'd pedant in the other direction and say that rhythm is one of the few things that does even need to be taught. Literally every second that we are alive, we possess a constantly running metronome (our heart). We have two feet, so we walk in rhythm. (We calibrate that one to intentionally increase, decrease, or match speed.) We breath in and out, in a nice neat repeating loop. We naturally entrain to others' walking speeds, breathing rates, and even heart rates, without anyone teaching us how (or us even noticing).

 

Certainly, that doesn't mean that everyone who plays an instrument will play in perfect rhythm. But it does strongly suggest that most of the challenge is in the specific muscle-related and cognitive tasks associated with the instrument, rather than in the abstract concept of "rhythm" itself.

 

 

Now out! "Mind the Gap," a 24-song album of new material.
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No comment.

 

[video:youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yD3iaURppQw

Ha ha, there's videos like this all over the place. European audiences don't tend to have a consistent tempo or steady beat issue. They just don't understand the language. I compare this to... a native english speaker listening to German for the first time and trying his darndest to pick out words that sound like english words - assuming those words will even mean what they sound like. For this audience, they may as well just be clapping along with a polka. Beat one feels GOOD! :)

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No. You can either feel it or you can't. I see this ALL the time with many people that play various instruments. Sometimes you can tell by how they approach or hold the instrument. Yes you can teach exercises or different things but a certain point people just won't get it. Now I would have to see the person the OP is talking about but generally these types of people just don't have good musicality. You can bring it out of someone but unless their internal clock and pulse is already there it's pointless, it only gets so good.

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A friend teaches guitar. Day one he asks them to clap a slow steady beat. If they can't, he sends them home.

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What are good things I can do to help him develop steady tempo and good rhythmic feel?

Wow, sounds like a challenge. I suggest that you keep breaking it down until he can process what's going on. I suppose if you break it down to the point where you're asking him to just clap or tap a steady beat with the metronome and he can't do it then I'm at a loss. But, I never met a person who couldn't do this. Assuming he can do this, then build it up gradually from there making sure he's always able to process what's going on.

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I'd say yes, to a point. I consider myself a solid rhythm player now, but in younger days I was more of a "flail 1000 miles an hour" lead wannabe. Fast complicated solos were the only thing that interested me. I listen to old recordings and they are not really in the groove at all. I think the difference is that I began to focus more on that aspect, and with practice it becomes second nature to sit in the pocket.

 

So maybe I had rhythm all along and it needed cultivation, this could be that way for everyone for all I know.

 

Flip side, I hear people "singing" to the radio or what-not and I think: "How can you not hear that being several semi-tones off-pitch" LOL So maybe some causes are indeed lost.

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I you just clap with a metronome that is the place to start..1/4 notes then Triplets than 16ts..at a slow tempo to start with. A person having rhythm but unable to play piano in rhythm is not unusual/uncommon....I'm not saying the student has or doesn't have at lest some rhythm...I'm just saying adding and missing beats on piano or any instrument is not uncommon....and I think more common on piano with the use of and voicing w/ 2 hands and a horizontal plane of the keyboard!

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Yes, it is important to work on feeling a pulse and then work on the physical and mental understanding of how to break that pulse down in various divisions.

 

When my friend went to his first bass lesson years ago, his teacher had him work out of a snare drum book for the first batch of lessons. He wasn't even allowed to open his bass case until they got that out of the way. (Granted, that might have also been part of his teacher's screening process. "Let's see if you are serious about doing this.") That worked really well. My friend developed coordination, really good reading skills and solid time.

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A friend teaches guitar. Day one he asks them to clap a slow steady beat. If they can't, he sends them home.

 

My mom taught piano for over 50 years. She always evaluated a prospective student for basic rhythm aptitude and ability to discern higher vs lower pitches vocally.

 

Some just didn't have any natural ability. She would send them home too.

Moe

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There is the ability to feel the beat, and the ability to express the beat in some mechanical way. You probably can't express a rhythm correctly if you can't feel it, but if someone is not playing rhythms correctly on the piano, their sense of rhythm might be better than their piano playing shows.

 

I have played the sax for over 45 years, but only starting plunking keyboard instruments in our covers band 10 years ago. For several years, i could not play a repeated 8th note sequence correctly - think of simple things like the piano part on Led Zep "Rock and Roll" or on Johnny B Goode. I just could not bang away on repeated 8th notes for more than a few bars without messing up, because my rhythmic expression skills were in my mouth and not in my hands.

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I got to a stage once where I had the particular rhythm ok in my head but couldn't play it. My coordination wasn't good enough. When I tried hand drumming it, it was better but still not 100% so I continued the hand drumming til I got that right, then the playing soon followed. IMO if you have trouble hand drumming something, you'll likely have trouble playing it too.
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Not according to my wife...

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I was a half-Dutch, half Chinese-Indonesian kid growing up in a smaller, predominantly white town in The Netherlands. Both my parents were pianists ( with varying degrees of talent) and all I ever heard at home was Classical music. Pop music was discouraged (but tolerated).

 

My first encounter with the beat was when my mom took me and my brother to see The Wiz (the movie with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson). It changed everything.

 

I don't think I had any particular rhythmic talent, but I do believe I have good ears. And if you can hear it, you can learn it.

 

Over the years, I have worked hard on the beat. In The Netherlands, I played with Caribbean ensembles. When I lived in Kenya, I picked up a lot of African stuff. These days I do Latin gigs, and I play in a black Church.

 

That for a kid coming out of an environment where the grooviest thing was this:

 

[video:youtube]RHFN5xxBMrc

 

So yeah, I'd say you can learn rhythm.

 

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Of course. It's a learned skill, same as reading, or wiping your butt.

 

There are people out there that are more sensitive to time and rhythm, but if someone can count they can learn rhythm.

 

..Joe

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I was a half-Dutch, half Chinese-Indonesian kid

 

What are you now????

 

:laugh:

 

..Joe

Setup: Korg Kronos 61, Roland XV-88, Korg Triton-Rack, Motif-Rack, Korg N1r, Alesis QSR, Roland M-GS64 Yamaha KX-88, KX76, Roland Super-JX, E-Mu Longboard 61, Kawai K1II, Kawai K4.
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I am rhythmically challenged, always have been, always will be. Takes constant practice to stay at an acceptable level so my bandmates don't notice. I can usually find and keep the groove pretty easy, but often lose it when the band stops and I am to keep it going for a solo. It is also tough for me to start a tune in the right tempo, with the right feel. I'm pretty sure the rest of the band knows my weak spots, but like mentioned earlier, lots-O-practice with metronomes and beat machines.

 

When ever I get called out for some unusual timing, I usually say I'm emmulating a Willie Nelson solo. I'm anxious to try some of the fantastic suggestions offered here. Thanks to all. I love this place.

 

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I would say that a sense of rhythm can be improved, as long as there's something there to work with. I have met and known a few people who will forever lack the necessary "lump of coal", but they are honestly not the norm.
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