Rhythmic Coordination

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Rhythm coordination for a Beginning Level Music Student can be difficult to solve right away. Usually a student wants to work on learning a song, scale, or chord right away, and because I believe in encouraging my students, I usually don’t tackle rhythm coordination until they have some of these other things in progress. It usually becomes pretty obvious fairly quickly if a student needs help with their rhythmic coordination when you see them:

  • Struggle to play and keep time with their foot.
  • Unable to accurately clap along with a metronome.
  • Having problems coordinating their two hands. This most often shows up when a student tries to strum chords in a rhythm on guitar or piano.

Here are some exercises I’ve used to fix these issues:Having a student do something physical with their body that involves tapping time is one of the quickest ways to get them aware of rhythm. Walking and clapping their hands or tapping the hand on the side of their leg in time to their walking does wonders. I then introduce more complicated types of rhythms that they clap or tap as they walk. I usually take these simple rhythms from a book like the Rhythm Primer.


I take a one measure of rhythm and have them clap it over and over as they walk. For students working remotely who can’t read music, the Rhythm Primer includes a complete section that teaches you how to read rhythms from the ground up.

If a Beginning Level Music Student  takes these simple rhythms and applies them as they walk for a week you will usually observe a marked improvement in their rhythmic skill. It will also get them on the path to reading music which can be a great asset, especially when working remotely.

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Coordinating Two Limbs for Better Rhythmic Ability.

Exercises that coordinate two limbs can be great for a Beginning Level Music Student  but this also holds true for more advanced students. It just depends on the difficulty of the rhythms. I often have students start with tapping quarter notes in one hand and eighth notes in the other and then trying that with all combinations of hands and feet. The next step would be 3 taps to every tap of the other limb and then finally 4 taps. You could also start working from a book called Independence which gives you a whole book full of rhythms to do with various combinations of limbs. Below is an example from the book:


I would isolate each measure and work on playing it over and over within every limb combination. The above page would be practiced for a week or two before moving on to the next page. 80% accuracy is fine as a goal for each page. After a few pages of rhythms I would have the student return and try to play the whole page in time to a metronome clicking on every measure if possible. There are midifiles that can be downloaded after purchase that you can play along with, to check your accuracy.


Coordinating Two Hands

String players and guitarists and pianists in particular have the issue of coordinating two hands. For guitarists I usually address this issue by teaching them simple folk or rock songs and slowly introducing more complicated rhythms. Since students have a tendency to forget the rhythms you have taught them in a lesson I wrote a book called 1st Steps for a Beginning Guitarist which comes with videos, mp3s and midifiles that a student can listen to, to reinforce each rhythm. Here’s an example from the first chord progression:


Notice how the chords start out with a simple rhythm in Example A. Then in Example B the rhythm is slightly more complex. Finally in Example C, the rhythm is played as it would sound in the actual music. 1st Steps for a Beginning Guitarist does this with 10 popular songs and students find that after mastering these 10 songs that they can pretty much play any folk or rock tune.


Feeling the Time Before you Start Playing

Probably the first and biggest mistake a Beginning Level Music Student  makes is to start playing before they have a clear idea of the tempo in their mind. All professional musicians, especially when playing with others, count off a tune before playing it. A beginning student should get into the habit of speaking a one to two measure count off using quarter notes before starting to play.

Other Ways to Improve Your Rhythm

As I’ve mentioned, our minds learn things in one “Context” at a time. Each of the recommended exercises I’ve discussed above are just one context in which you could improve your rhythmic ability. Another way that musicians fix this context issue is by transcribing solos and other parts in the music they want to learn. Of course the ultimate context is playing in a band where the style you want to learn is being used. There are many more ways to tackle rhythm problems and here are some:

Rhythm Ear Training

Rhythm Ear Training is a great way for your mind to become more aware of rhythm. I created a series of books called Rhythm Ear Training to help students do this. If you can intellectually understand a rhythm that you hear, then you are a lot more likely to be able to play that rhythm. Rhythm Ear Training is a very large course consisting of 12 levels starting with the simplest of rhythms moving into more and more complex rhythms as you move up in level. This course is unique in that you can either write out the answer after hearing a rhythm, or you can use the mp3s that give you a voice naming the rhythm that you have just heard.

Here is an example from Rhythm Ear Training in which you hear a four beat count off, then a rhythm. See if you can identify the rhythm before my voice states it:

If you guessed a quarter and a dotted half then you are correct! If you don’t understand what a quarter and a dotted half is, there is a whole section in the book written in very simple language to help you understand what rhythmic pulses are called.

Knowing How Rhythm is Organized with Drums

An important thing to understand about rhythm is how it is working when you are listening to or playing with drums. This is crucial if you want to play with an ensemble. Through my years of teaching I’ve come to realize that most Beginning Level Music Students  don’t have this understanding. The example below plays a slow funk groove. You will hear me counting the time as each measure goes by. Working with the Rhythm Ear Training Video Course will really help you to understand how time is flowing when you listen to your favorite music.

There are also videos that come with the course to demonstrate playing simple to complex rhythms to a drum beat. Here is an example:

Many kinds of beats are included in the Rhythm Ear Training Video Course. This is a must-own course if you hope to play with a good band some day, because other musicians will assume that you know this information.

Learning How To Read Music

Learning how to read music is not hard; you just need a course that starts you from the very beginning level and then slowly becomes more complicated. The Sight Reading Solved; Beginning Level course does just this. It includes midifiles so you can hear the notes and rhythms and gives you much more. It’s really the first course of its kind to take a total beginner and give them a step by step process to improve their knowledge and ability with notes and rhythms.

01_C_Maj_Key_of_C_Whole_Notes from Sight Reading Solved by Bruce Arnold for Muse Eek Publishing Inc. Rhythmic Coordination
There is no count off with this audio file it is assumed that you are using a program like Garage Band where you can add a metronome.

More Help as You Progress

So these are some of the courses that I’ve created to help a Beginning Level Music Student improve their rhythm comprehension. As your ability improves there are many other courses you can work with to continue to improve your ability. See the Intermediate Level Music Student and the Advanced Level Music Student  section of this website for more information.

Final Thought

Remember there is nothing like the true experience gained by playing with others, and short of that, transcribing solos and other parts from various styles. When I say transcribing I don’t mean go watch a video of someone playing a lick from a solo. That isn’t enough information to get you rhythmically prepared to play in a band. Learn complete solos (or at least 8 to 16 bars is more what you need) to get yourself into a place where you just feel the groove and the rhythms naturally. You can learn a lot from the various exercises I mentioned above, but playing with another human is a crucial element in making rhythm a natural part of your musicianship.


Rhythm Issues for a Beginning Level Music Student


Arguably the hardest issue to solve with a Beginning Level Music Student is rhythm problems. These problems fall into the following categories:

  • Poor coordination
  • Inability to maintain a consistent pulse.
  • Inability to stay within a groove or “lock in” with other players.
  • No perception of how ones instrument fits into the whole of an ensemble.

A student can have one or more of the issues above, and finding the root cause of the problem usually takes an experienced teacher. Even then, different methods or combinations of methods may be needed to fix these issues. As a rule of thumb usually within six weeks of practice you should see signs that something is changing. If not, and you have been consistent in your practice, then the issue may lie somewhere else and new or additional exercises need to be introduced.

Rhythm Coordination

Coordination is an unusual problem in that it can show up in myriad ways. Beginning Level Music Students  of any instrument that requires using both hands to play are the most noticeably affected. Lack of coordination can be caused by many things. Here are some observations:

  • One interesting finding was that if one didn’t crawl as a baby, but went directly to walking there is a tendency to be less coordinated. It makes sense though. It certainly takes more coordination to crawl with four limbs than walk with two.
  • Coordination of two hands when playing a stringed instrument is a common problem. One hand is referred to as the pitch hand and the other the rhythm hand. For instance, a right handed guitarist would generate the pitch in their left hand and play the note in the right hand. In the final analysis both hands need to coordinate rhythmically for any note to sound correctly.
  • It is possible to see immediately where there are coordination problems by having a student tap a simple rhythm in one hand and another in the opposite hand. If simple rhythms such as quarters in one hand and eighths in the other can’t be performed fairly quickly then work needs to be done to correct this problem.
  • Many coordination problems are a result of a student not starting with a clear tempo or beat in their mind before attempting musical exercises. Whenever professional musicians perform music that is in time they always establish a reference beat in their mind first.
  • Physical movement exercises can go a long way to fixing coordination issues. Just think how a kit drummer learns rhythm. It is a very physical manifestation of rhythm because it requires using all four limbs.
  • Our minds learn things in a “Context.” Therefore, if a student is stuck and not able to perform a rhythm, try learning the rhythm in other contexts to break the impasse. These contexts can be singing or use of the limbs of the body to express a rhythm.
  • The body has a built-in steady rhythm of its own, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to walk or run. You see this all around you as people maintain a steady pace as they walk. (Discounting tourists in New York City 🙂

If you want to learn about solutions to the problems above follow this link.


Inability to Maintain a Consistent Pulse.

I often see this problem most in Beginning Level Music Students who play rhythm section instruments such as piano, bass, drums and guitar. But this is found in lots of students; it’s just not as obvious when a sax or trumpet player isn’t playing in a consistent pulse — it can just sound like a melodic interpretation. But it becomes very obvious when one of these instruments is within a larger ensemble such as a jazz big band, and should be playing unison or rhythmic lines with other horns. Here are some helpful things that I’ve noticed with students who have this problem:

  • I’ve often found this problem with students who have spent most of their time playing licks, and not playing with live musicians or jam tracks. This is a particularly common problem with drummers who have spent more time learning how to play isolated rudiments or drum solos rather than maintaining a consistent beat.
  • Obviously the inability to maintain a consistent pulse shows up when a student is playing with another musician who is maintaining a consistent pulse. Sometimes this problem can be solved simply by becoming aware and correcting for it. Other times it can be a more deep seated problem.
  • Since most Beginning Level Music Students don’t have access to playing in an ensemble situation, their inability to maintain a consistent pulse will not be obvious to them until their situation changes.

If you want to learn about solutions to the problems above follow this link.


Inability to Play or Stay Within a Groove.

Many musicians -not just a Beginning Level Music Student have groove issues. This can manifest itself while playing chordal rhythms, or “vamps” but even in the melodic lines that any instrument plays. Obviously discrepancies are again more obvious when a musician is playing in an ensemble situation. Here are some things I’ve noticed:

  • Students who have spent a majority of their time just learning licks from YouTube and other sources are commonly found to have this issue.
  • Students that don’t apply what they learn to real music often have groove issues
  • Many times a Beginning Level Music Student doesn’t intellectually understand the groove in which they are playing. This can cause them to play rhythms outside of the normal rhythms associated with the style. A case in point would be playing a 12/8 Blues and never playing a triplet during the solo. Conversely, it is possible to “feel” the rhythm, but have trouble playing along with it. Usually this is from lack of real-time application with either jam tracks or other musicians,

If you want to learn about solutions to the problems above follow this link.

No perception of rhythmic grooves

Frequently a student just lacks the knowledge of how their instrument fits into the whole of an ensemble or musical style. Again this can be exacerbated by learning from sources that don’t explain how a given lick or idea fits into the overall feel and groove of a piece of music. Some observations:

  • Students tend to think more about the linear rather than the rhythmic content of their melodies. This causes a rhythmically haphazard interpretation of a written or improvised melody.
  • Students tend to be ignorant of drum and bass grooves and what they can play on their own instrument to push the feel appropriately, thus making it hard for them to “lock in” with the rhythm section
  • Your melodies should “groove” whether you are playing with someone else or by yourself. Many students totally disregard feel or thinking in time when they play music.

If you want to learn about solutions to the problems above follow this link.