Teaching Rhythm & Tonal Skills: Part 1

Some Traditional Music Education Beliefs Must Cease

Let's Begin--Open the Book to Page 1--The Quarter Note Equals One Beat
Really? It Does? Who Made That Rule?

How many music teachers start a beginner with those words? The real question is: "Why do music teachers teach rhythm by how it LOOKS, rather than how it FEELS related to what happens around it?" (What matters more--the mathematical value assigned to the beat, or the beat itself--how it feels and where it happens?) What are the results of this error? Years later, that same student cannot feel the beat, or has other rhythmic problems! Along with failing to feel beat, that student also cannot feel divisions of beats or subdivisions of beats, or elongations of beats, divisions, and subdivisions. The result? That student cannot accurately perform rhythm patterns comprised of various notes, dotted notes, rests, or ties, while maintaining a consistent meter. WHY? The look of a quarter note NEVER provides for feeling beats!

Tonal Is Relational

It is generally accepted that singing in tune (pitch matching), maintaining tonal and modal relationships among 7 scale notes (major, minor, dorian, etc.), and singing harmony (3rds, 6ths, I-IV-V chords, etc.) are all based on the inner ability to hear tonal RELATIONSHIPS. Why then don't we teach from the same belief concerning rhythm? We don't open a book on the first lesson, point to a middle C on the staff and say, "This is a middle register note, not high or low, and it equals the tonal center." In how many instances would that statement about middle C be as equally false as claiming the quarter note equals one beat? The look of a middle C note NEVER provides for hearing tonality!

Rhythm Is Relational

Like tonal, rhythm is also learned through RELATIONSHIPS. But one must be careful in what order relationships are approached. Many music teachers teach rhythm patterns first (Ta--Ta--Ti-Ti--Ta). Bad news! Two things are wrong with this! (1) That's still teaching Look instead of Feel, because every Ta = quarters, and every Ti = eighths. (2) How can one accurately feel a divided beat if (s)he has not first learned the beat? In proper sequence, we learn to feel the beat--within all styles of music in a variety of meters and tempos. We then learn to feel a divided beat (beat division) in all ways that create rhythm patterns. Basic beat divisions are two parts (duple) or three (triple). After beat divisions, we learn subdivisions. We also learn to combine beats, divisions, and subdivisions. These are known as beat elongations, division elongations, and subdivision elongations. Rests and ties can occur within any of these components. A rhythm chart to show these relationships, devised by Dr. Edwin Gordon, and other comparative rhythm charts, are presented in Knauss Music Curriculum, Book 1: Sequential Rhythm & Tonals Skills.

Try Out On Your Students

Print Excerpts (26 pp.) from KMC, Book 1A: Sequential Rhythm & Tonal Flash Cards to try out on your students. Especially note the Duple rhythm patterns #1-11 and the same #1-11 rhythms in Triple. The best learning happens when students experience contrasts--Duple vs. Triple. Duple and Triple patterns #1-11 are the first two contrasting sets in a sequence of 18 sets (187 rhythm flash cards in all). The best learning also happens when only one new (unfamiliar) item is added to what students already know (familiar). Each flash card set features only one new item added.
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