Good counting is as important as good notereading. Instill good habits in your students from the first lesson
Here are some ideas you might find helpful in teaching good rhythm skills.
The student will realize that you intend to do this at every lesson and will expect it rather than be flustered by some unforeseen addition. At some point down the road, he will start to *prepare* for it by counting aloud at home!
I prefer to teach "unit counting" to beginners rather than "meter counting," as beginners seem to grasp counting concepts more quickly this way. It also reinforces the idea that every time the count is "one" a new note must begin.
Be generous in writing in the counting in your student's music. Write it in the same place every time. I like the area between the treble and bass staves. A color also helps the counting stand out from the other printing and numbers on the page. I use a blue pencil and write large numbers so there is no confusion that these might be fingering aids. When my students see blue, they know the information is about counting.
When introducing eighth-notes (see below), require the student to write in the counting for each piece. All of it. They may moan and groan, but tell them they must do this for a month, plus count out loud at home and use the metronome. After that, the choice is all theirs. (By this time, of course, they won't have any trouble counting eighths, and you can sleep well at night no matter whether they decide to carry on these three tasks or not!)
After your student is reasonably proficient in its use, be sure to assign materials each week calling for the metronome. You want to keep his skills sharp. Besides, hearing that tick prepares him for hearing you tap your pencil!
Don't leave counting to chance. Don't force your student to resort to some make-shift personal system of interpreting notes and rests. Teach it thoroughly and systematically and check often that it is completely understood.
All students, even adults, profit from a beginning study that does not require eighth-notes. Withhold eighth-notes from all children below grade 4 and from those not reading all notes falling two octaves on each side of middle C. Teens and adults should not have eighths during their first 9-12 months of study.
Similarly, after eighth-notes have been taught, withhold sixteenths for a while. There is plenty of music that uses nothing smaller than eighth-notes. Even if a song with sixteenths "comes next" in the book, skip over it and come back. Opt for a rock-solid understanding of one concept before presenting another. Even though it seems that you are not advancing as quickly through different material as you think perhaps you should, your care and time will amply repay you both.
copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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