Some students will always find rhythm to be the most challenging part of piano lessons. It’s also the most important part of music so it’s vital that we find lots of ways to teach rhythm patterns to our students.
By having lots of tricks up your sleeve (like those found in my book Rhythm in 5), you’ll be able to work on rhythm skills week-after-week, without it grating on your students. And approaching rhythm teaching as a vocabulary of patterns is the best solution, especially for students who struggle in this area.
Improvisation is one of my most valuable tools to teach rhythm patterns to my piano students. Here are just a couple of ways you can use teach rhythm patterns creatively.
Cut and Paste from Pieces
This is one of the best ways to ensure success for your students who have trouble with rhythm.
- Look ahead to a piece your student will be learning soon.
- Take out a rhythm pattern that repeats throughout the piece, or choose a particularly tricky rhythm section.
- Teach your student this rhythm pattern without reference to the notation, using Kodály or other rhythm syllables.
- Tap, stamp and clap this rhythm together.
- Play a simple chord progression in the key of the upcoming piece while your student improvises using the matching scale and the rhythm pattern you have been practising. They can play any notes from the scale but must repeat that same rhythm pattern.
Now, when you introduce the new piece you get to introduce your student to the notation of the rhythm they already know. They’ve already experienced the pattern and felt it and used it – so they’ll have much more success with it.
- Take out your Relative Rhythm cards (you can download them below if you don’t already have a set) and ask your student to close their eyes and pick one out at random.
- Use this as the first note in the rhythm and ask your student to choose another and another until you have a 2 bar/measure rhythm. (If some of the notes don’t fit, just throw back and pick again!)
- Tap, clap, stamp and chant this rhythm together.
- Have your student rewrite it on a sheet of paper and take this over to the piano.
- Teach your student a simple chord progression such as I-V-vi-IV.
- Have them play this with chords/fifths/thirds in the right hand in the randomised rhythm and root notes held for the full bar/measure in the left.
- Improvise over the top while they play then swap places and play the chord progression while they improvise.
You might even take this a step further and use the randomised rhythm as the basis for a composition you write together.
Download Relative Rhythm Cards
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Do you use improvisation to teach rhythm patterns?
What fun creative ideas have you tried to improve your students’ rhythm skills? Share them in the comments. 🙂