Hey, teachers! We’re down to the final 4 weeks of recital prep here in my studio, and some of my people have got me a little bit nervous with their COUNTING.

I feel for my students who hate to count. Quite deeply, really, because it just feels so… math-y. And like many musicians, I do not like math. I’ll never forget the beloved student who exclaimed in frustration about three weeks into piano lessons several years ago, “numbers and piano don’t match!” I totally relate to her sentiment, but, alas, music and math must coincide.

As we all well know, music just doesn’t sound like… music… without a steady beat and rhythmic accuracy. It’s fundamental.

But we’re going to make this thing fun today, friends. Promise.

If you’re not one to get off the bench at piano lessons, this is an easy, no-fuss, no materials way to start. Next time you have a student who is struggling to keep a steady beat OR observe the rhythmic values (body percussion works wonders for both! This is the magic!), pull them off the bench. If your student is anything like most of mine, they will be thrilled 😉

Demonstrate a few ways to make a sound using only your body [clap, snap, pat your legs, stomp, tap the floor…] You can do this seated or standing.
– encourage creativity: ask the student to find a NEW way to make sound with his/her body. (You might want to prepare yourself for a fart noise. Just saying. It happens occasionally, and I find that it’s usually helpful to embrace the crazy – because that kid is going to love you to pieces when you make the fart noise back at him in a few minutes…)
…But If you’re a little more of a grown-up than me, perhaps specify: “How can you make a different sound with your hands or feet?”

Back to the matter at hand.

Today, we’re going to focus on simple meters – so if the meter of the song is 4/4, ask your student to pick her four favorite sounds. If it’s 3/4, have her pick 3 sounds. Experiment with those sounds for a few minutes, and then ask your student to identify the STRONGEST sound. This is beat 1. Let the other sounds follow.

Examples: 3/4: STOMP – pat – clap – STOMP – pat – clap – STOMP – pat – clap
4/4: STOMP – pat – clap – snap – STOP – pat – clap 
– snap

BONUS POINTS if you can turn this into a hand-clapping game (ex: PAT – clap – together – clap… for a 4/4 meter or PAT – clap – together for 3/4). I find this especially helpful with my younger students who tend to have shorter attention spans. Sit criss-cross-applesauce and have FUN!

Then, practice the pattern until it becomes comfortable for your student. Once it feels comfortable, start singing the words to the song while keeping the body percussion pattern going (or sing the tune on a neutral syllable like la-la-la). Repeat, repeat, repeat until everybody giggles and smiles and feels confident.

Then go back to the piano. Have the student play the song while you keep the pattern going. Then YOU play the song while the student keeps the pattern going – remember to follow the student rather than leading. This gives your student ownership – and helps her to hear any hesitations out loud. Ask for feedback from your student: Why do you think it’s more difficult to “play” that it is to “say”? Do you think someone could sing along with your accompaniment? How can you make your playing flow as smoothly as your body percussion?

My young students request this activity OVER AND OVER and I am always so glad, because the rhythm naturally falls into place when it is set into their body. Not to mention, they can’t help but to smile – and isn’t that what music is all about?

Bottom line: I find that my students are much more highly motivated to succeed at the piano when they have already experienced success from their own hands. 

Try this out and let me know how it goes!

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