Rhythmic Issues and Metronome
Found in: Musicality, Pedaling, Technique
Cheryl P., Texas
I have a student that seems to have rhythmic issues. He is working really hard and has made huge progress but still seems to have a little trouble hearing and processing some of the rhythms. His mom is making him use a metronome at home because she says he practices his songs too fast and she wants him to slow down. I told her today that this isn’t necessary. Will the metronome help or hurt his progress?
Patti P., Hawaii
I personally would rather have them listen to/practice with the recording. I think the metronome is a great tool, one I personally use often, but not for playing through entire pieces. It can make practice drudgery and playing very mechanical. I tend to not use it until a student is in their teens, and then only selectively. It adds another layer of complexity and another thought process.
I had a student once (pre SM) who had all kind of trouble playing rhythmically. He did his listening to the audio recordings (a Suzuki student) faithfully, was a very devoted student, but something in his physiology made it difficult. I seriously began to doubt if he would ever play with a lively sense of rhythm. It really took him a long time, but he eventually did. Lots of hearing rhythmical playing helped eventually. We would work on specific spots during his lesson, but I didn’t require he have it perfect before we moved on, or we would have sat on the beginning pieces forever! It did finally click for him, and I was so proud of his ability to stick with it the program until he got it.
I would suggest more duets perhaps, mom learning to play the songs so they could do it together. That’s always a good excuse to have him slow down without it becoming nagging. She can tell him she needs him to slow down for her. Duets in class, too, with other students, one playing the RH, one the LH. Using Elizabeth’s duets would be great as well.
Here’s another thought. Playing fast isn’t really a rhythmic issue, if they are playing fast in the correct rhythm. I do ask them to slow down a bit if they are stumbling in any way. Children naturally have a faster pace than adults, and really love to play quickly. The slow pieces are much more challenging for them. I don’t worry about them playing faster as long as they are playing them well. I do sometimes ask them to play the slower pace (where appropriate for the piece) just to make sure they can be in control of the tempo. But I don’t ask them to always play slowly because they find it boring!
You didn’t mention where this student is in the program. Knowing that might help us with suggestions.
Robin Keehn, Washington
It is my experience that the most effective way to help a student with issues of beat and rhythm is to provide a tangible physical connection to the steady beat for them. In the best scenario, our students would come with a well established sense of beat that has been nurtured from infancy through rocking, bouncing and swaying and reinforced over the years through listening and moving to music. This doesn’t always happen and for those students who lack in this area, the metronome isn’t very effective. The metronome only provides an aural (and visual if you could watch it) indication of steady beat. It is not easily internalized.
When students don’t feel the beat, it affects their sense of both beat and rhythm and the best way to access it is through experience. As a teacher, pat that steady beat on their shoulder or back. Slow down and keep that beat while your student plays his pieces. I would go to Night Storm, Dreams, Honey Dew, Jackson Blues etc…and keep the beat on something he does well. Once he is playing evenly (and slowly), maybe you can take the tempo up and see how he does. You could also have him walk and speak the lyrics while his feet keep the beat.
Is there a particular piece he is struggling with? Please let us know because many teachers have sorted through various rhythm issues and may be able to offer helpful suggestions.
So, in my opinion, the metronome won’t help but developing a strong sense of the steady beat (and how the rhythm fits into the beat) experientially will.
Sue C., Australia
I have been playing Foundation Duets and Variations 1 with students lately. It has duets for a number of Level One and Two songs. It is really helpful with teaching timing in a natural way. I ask student to have a long break between each sentence and after a few tries or 2 or 3 weeks they are much better.
You could play your own accompaniment with chords if you don’t have duet book.
I have started playing the duets with adults as well and have noticed that there is some of special feeling or ease between me and student. It is enjoyable. Just don’t start until they play the song reasonably.
I had duet book for a number of months before I started using them as it took a while for me to get used to them and learn them.