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Counting Out Loud: A Fresh Look at a Traditional Practice Tool

I give my piano students many tools to improve their practice, such as logging their time and playing their music backwards, but one of the most useful tools is counting while playing. This  technique is one of our most-loved pedagogical practices, and its benefits cannot be understated. By outlining these advantages for ourselves and our stud...
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Feel the Beat: Building a Strong Rhythmic Foundation for Musical Success

As piano teachers, we strive to instill a love of making music in our students.  The inevitable process of making mistakes along that journey, however, creates challenges and intriguing mysteries to be solved. "Why did the mistake happen?" "What in the score did the student not understand?" As I searched for answers, I discovered that a cleare...
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Coping with cross-rhythms

One of the most frequent problems I have encountered with students in my teaching, examining, and adjudicating is their approach to cross-rhythms. Yet, a lack of confidence—even fear—can easily be overcome by informed analysis and practical application. I therefore encourage students to accompany me through the following stages. My examples come ex...
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Yoda eats mushroom pizza

It's the last lesson before the recital. Garrett, age five, is playing "Graduation March," the final piece in Time to Begin from The Music Tree . The B section is made up entirely of half notes and whole notes. The good news? Garrett's rhythm is perfect; a huge improvement over last week, when all of the long notes were being cut short and the acco...
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Create and motivate: Rhythm boxes, part III

My last two columns introduced the placement of Xs in boxes to help beginning students understand rhythms better. Now, I'll wrap up this series with ideas about how to use rhythm boxes to practice more complex rhythmic concepts. Start by using a word processor to make and print blank tables like those below. Then, try these activities with your adv...
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Understanding bar lines: A brief history

In Western notation, the vertical bar line through the musical staff first came into usage at a point in history when polyphonic textured music (two or more melodies simultaneously) evolved from monophonic textured music (one melody only; no accompaniment). The principal purpose of employing bar lines at that moment in time was to coordinate singer...
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Learning & Teaching: Create & Motivate

Rhythm boxes, Part II by Bradley Sowash  The last column introduced placing Xs in "rhythm boxes" to represent well-known tunes. Here are more ideas to enhance rhythmic understanding by teaching with this versatile tool.   Rhythm box activities Start by making and printing blank tables like those below. Then, try these activities with...
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Rhythm Boxes, Part 1

W hen asked to teach a music course to undergraduate dance majors, I soon realized that decoding written rhythms does  not come easily to non-musicians. For these students, writing Xs in "rhythm boxes" was easier to understand than learning to read music notation. Later, I transferred the idea to my books and lessons, providing music students ...
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Recommended TED Talk

Rhythm is everything The pianist's bible begins: "In the beginning, there was rhythm." This quote, often attributed to Hans van Bülow, has been heard in countless piano lessons. In this TEDIndia "talk," not a word is uttered (there are some rhythmic vocalizations). Instead, the percussionist Sivamani takes the audience through a sixteen-minute rhyt...
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Teaching Tips from Louise Goss

Teaching Tips from Louise Goss
Louise Goss was a superb clinician and speaker. She had great clarity in her thinking about musical learning and an extraordinary vocabulary, but the quality that stood out above all else was her immense practicality. Most of these quotes are excerpts from transcripts of her public lectures delivered to groups of piano teachers.  I often wish ...
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Owning the Rhythm

Owning the Rhythm
"As teachers, what we want is a student who owns the rhythm. He owns it, he doesn't have to borrow it from the teacher. He can use it whenever needed, in any piece in the whole wide world. He's got it for life! " – Frances Clark After my year as an intern at the New School for Music Study, I was teaching at a school with thin walls. Without meaning...
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Brain trust: Words of wisdom from early childhood experts

Brain trust: Words of wisdom from early childhood experts
There's nothing more invigorating than a room full of young children eager to learn music. And there may not be anything more important to all music educators than giving these young children a good start.  In addition to a love of music and children, early childhood specialists need comprehensive training. Three top thinkers in early childhoo...
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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 a...
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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 t...
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