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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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