Some beginning students are naturals at rhythm. As soon as they master the notes of a piece, more often than not, the rhythm just falls in place. For other students, playing with a steady pulse and correct rhythms presents more of a challenge.
For a young student who struggles to feel rhythms, counting out loud or working with a metronome isn’t always the answer, at least not the best immediate answer. One of my favorite multi-sensory tools for fixing rhythms is a simple playground ball. It’s easy to dribble a ball with a steady beat – so why not take advantage of a “steady” motion that’s already ingrained in your student?
We use the ball to fix just about anything and everything that can go rhythmically wrong with an elementary piece. It can help students feel a steady pulse, count durations, resist the urge to rush repeated notes, etc. It’s a great tool to use when you present a new piece for the first time, or when you’re trying to remedy a problem in a previously assigned piece. Your students will think they’re playing, not working!
Here’s a short video clip of one of my students dribbling and chanting the words to a passage from one of his pieces:
Do you notice that the sound of the ball hitting the floor sounds just like a metronome? Draw your student’s attention to the sound as you dribble a few times, then it’s easy to transition to using the metronome when you’re back at the piano (and not quite so scary or frustrating!).
If your student struggles to maintain a steady dribble on their own, you can bounce the ball back and forth while you chant the words of a piece. It’s handy to have a recording of the piece (like a CD that’s included in their method book, or a quick recording you make on the spot), so that you can play the music while you bounce together for aural reinforcement.
Once you’re done, head back to the piano and enjoy the improvement in your student’s rhythmic performance and the smile on their face!