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.

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