Teaching Rhythm (All Teachers)

  • Teaching Rhythm (All Teachers)

  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    February 10, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Okay, so I am going out of my mind with this problem. To the point where I fear my lack of patience (after one long year!) is starting to show in lessons, which is always a worry. So I really need help now!

    I have a student in her 30’s who is blind and also hard of hearing. She’s been a joy to teach mostly and has definitely improved. But she’s also a MASSIVE challenge to teach as well! She deals with a lot of anxiety which makes things difficult. She’s got a brilliant, loud, diva voice! Loves her 90’s diva songs. She performed at a couple of my showcases and did really well to the backing track! But sometimes she needs me there tapping her on the arm to come in at certain points, as her rhythm isn’t great. But it’s frustrating, because she CAN do it but sometimes loses her way at random points, so you won’t know if/when she’s going to completely go out of sync with the track. Obvious answer here would be to accompany her on piano, which I have done, both in shows and lessons, however, eventually she needs to be able to keep a rhythm without me stopping and waiting for her/catching up with her!

    I always have the music super loud and have tried getting her to clap along with the beat, but then when there’s a silence/pause in the song, she just stops clapping then loses it again! Getting someone to feel a pulse throughout is something I thought was practically impossible NOT to be able to do, but I have had this instance with someone before. It just feels like we cannot move forward until she can manage this and I’m worried she’s starting to feel like she can’t do it as she says things like “I should probably just give up.”

    I’ve got some great new warm up recordings with the metronome to aid her with this (they’re actually for everyone!) where I sing the first 3 warm ups then the beat carries on without my voice for the student to continue on their own (I show her how to count it etc.)

    But this hasn’t worked either… I’m really running out of ideas!

    The other big issue is lyrics. As she is blind, she has to listen and memorise lyrics. But I think she has real issues remembering things and I don’t know why.. (out of my depth with the learning difficulty side of things perhaps!?)

    So not only does she need to hear the artist start off a line so that she’s in time, but also for the first word to trigger her memory for the rest of the lyrics (which she’s also listened to wrong sometimes and it’s then a nightmare getting her to unlearn the wrong lyric!). This is fine for her to practice this way, but we just cannot get to the next stage where she’s managing it all by herself, even if she’s only doing 1 verse and a chorus. I also have to often remind her what a verse and a chorus is… and she doesn’t seem to really understand structure and therefore gets massively confused and flustered (then regresses) if I get her to start half way through a chorus, after sorting out the first half!

    So yeah… good luck with the advice here!!!

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  • Kat Hunter

    February 10, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    A few ideas….
    For the rhythm side of things, I used to be a dancer and do dance competitions, and I remember at competitions, there was this deaf girl who was the most amazing tap dancer! And I asked her how she could hear the music and she said through vibrations in the floor! So maybe you could try something like this…. Get your student to touch the speaker so she can hear vibrations and chose a song with a really defined kick and snare sound – as the kick will often play on the one, and the snare on the other emphasised beat in the bar. Maybe if she can combine touch recognition with some knowledge about how drum beats work it could help? Sometimes people don’t even realise that you can usually count 4 beats per bar, and that usually something will indicate when the new bar has started. I once had a student who was really struggling with rhythm, so I found a song with a really awesome distinctive, repetitive drum beat (I chose Eple by Royksopp – this has a slightly more complicated kick pattern though, so you could choose something even more simple). This has no vocal melody, so we only had to focus on the grove. I just got the student to do a hand movement to every “1” beat. And then I added another hand movement for the snare, and before long she could find the beat in the whole song. Then we talked about noticing how the chords and melody also changed on every “1” beat. Maybe something like this could be cool?

    As for lyrics, I remember learning in highschool psychology that we learn things better by associating the learned thing with other information; that’s why mnemonics work! So you could try to talk about some things to associate the lyrics with so that they stick in her memory better. You could start by talking about what the lyrics are discussing, what they mean, what story they’re telling (semantic memory). How the story changes in verse one to verse two etc. You could use other information too, like noticing if there’s a certain rhyme scheme or alliteration. Talk about how these sounds make the same mouth shape (physical memory). Maybe taking the time to talk about the lyrics could give her more to hold on to?

    I’ve got no idea if either of these things will work but could be worth a try!!

  • Gael Cabado Barreno

    February 11, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Hi Eliza,

    I think this may help her to keep and feel the rhythm and pulse:


    Instead of clapping try her swing her body gently side to side.Is more natural sometimes than clapping.(Stevie Wonder,Ray Charles style).

    Learning jus parts of song,label them as verse or chorus and them put them together will help her to give their own personality to each part of the song and make like a puzzle with it. This may help too with the structure issues.

    Hope this helps.


  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    February 14, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    Thanks both for taking the time to read and giving detailed replies. Appreciate it!

    I love the touching the speaker idea. I will definitely try that next time! I have talked about counting the beats and talked about accents – ie. which syllable falls on the beat etc. but I probably need to go into more detail.

    I have already tried association with lyrics and it just doesn’t seem to help. Actually everything you’ve said with lyric help I’ve tried!! I’ll keep at it though. It can’t be happening enough.

    Thanks for this, will download and try it out!

  • Wes Bond

    February 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Hi Eliza

    I only have a couple of ideas with this but again it will be trial and error.
    When it comes to the rhythm repetition is sometimes the only way to go. I have sat with a song that the student has picked and got them to count all the way through the song. This gave them an understanding of 1….2….3….4…. and I explained to them that this is a bar etc and they managed to link that to the song itself. I also got them to tap their own different 4/4 beats on the laps as this is slightly more fun. Both of these combined gave slightly better results. I know that it sounds like I’m teaching them drums but it really did help.

    When it comes to lyrics would it help if you recorded yourself reading out the lyrics to make sure that she gets the right lyrics. I this may be easier said than done but does she read Brail and is there somewhere you could get lyrics written in brail from? It’s possible that being able to physically touch the lyrics might help her to remember them better as when she gets to that section of the song she will remember what it felt like? The more senses used the better you remember things apparently.

    Don’t know if either of these help in any way.

  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    February 15, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Thanks – have just asked her about Brail so will see what she says. And she did actually ask if I could read the lyrics out and clap the rhythm, so I’ll do that!

  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    February 20, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    OK – update on the above.

    So she doesn’t read Braille, never got on with it apparently. She seems to find a lot of things quite challenging in general!!

    So I got her to touch the speakers as the music was playing which she said she found helpful, although to be honest, I have now discovered the real issue. So, she can actually completely tap and count in time to a song and even hum the melody over it in time! Lyrics is actually what I’ve whittled the problem down to! If she forgets, she can’t pick it up again. She’ll throw herself off by adding a word, and therefore a beat, and then not even notice, until a few seconds later when she’s realised she’s totally lost. I had a “head-in-my-hands-in-dismay” moment yesterday when she asked, “why does it matter if I add a beat if it’s just me?” Then I had to explain to her for the millionth time that the point in doing it on her own is that she can keep to the timing when she goes back to the music..! (I am trying my hardest not to show my frustration!)

    Anyway, she now has an mp3 of me speaking the words really clearly and slowly against a beat. But she still can’t seem to get her head round the words. We’re doing “I Will Survive” (understand that it’s a wordy song!) but she can’t even get to “kept thinking I could never live without you by my side” without her adding “kept thinking HOW I could never live without you by my side” and we were stuck on this for about 15 minutes because she just couldn’t stop adding the “how” or regressing and forgetting the entire thing because she would get flustered. And now and then she’ll not really understand why we’re doing any of this, so I spend a lot of time explaining things over and over. And thus it just takes the enjoyment out of it for both of us..

    It’s a shame, but I’m persevering and trying to get her to learn bit by bit (tricky when she can’t pause the track and go back to where she was as she can’t see and this would definitely confuse her more!) so I’ve asked her to get her helper to find a way to help her learn the lyrics which I think she’s already doing. She basically just wants to get there straight away though, and will regularly interrupt the slow learning process, asking if she’ll ever be able to do the whole thing on stage or if she’s even any good.

    It’s like she’s regressing as she did perform a song on stage with a backing track before, but I think she just happened to know that song really well!

    Thinking I should give her an easier song… any further thoughts?

  • Kat Hunter

    February 21, 2016 at 12:13 am

    Wow! The plot thickens! Keep persevering!
    Yep, getting her helper on board with trying to learn the lyrics is a great idea.
    It’s kind of difficult to explain why someone shouldn’t add a beat if there’s a real lack of musical understanding in the student. This is of course not the real reason, but the most simplistic I could make it would be that if you add in an extra beat then you’ll end a beat late and it’s important that you “finish with the backing track”. This avoids having to explain chords progressions and bar lengths for the millionth time, even if it is a little misleading haha 😉

    I was trying to think of songs with easier lyrics and the first thing that came to mind was Let it Be by the beatles. Don’t know if that helps!

  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    February 22, 2016 at 10:32 am

    OK thanks I’ll try it! She only seems to like big diva songs sung by females though!

  • Phil Schneider

    February 25, 2016 at 9:41 am

    I think some songs don’t have very rhythmic melodies especially true of the over articulation of 90s divas (what about singing the tune). If she could sing a bacharach song accurately I suspect the material could be the problem. It takes a long time to develop highly accurate timing. Sometimes you have to accept a student may not be so able but as long as they enjoy learning and you do your best for them accept it and them.

  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    February 26, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Phil – this is the thing. Do I get her to just enjoy what she loves without progress (not my preferred option!) and sing a cappella which she loves, or pick something to actually develop her but she may have to deal with a song she wouldn’t normally choose. Obviously I want to go with the latter, and have done before. Tainted Love worked quite well for example. She rocked the Marilyn Manson version at a showcase to be fair! It’s just she’s not like any other student who is happy to just go with whatever all the time! It’s a lot harder for her.. and it’s like dealing with a small child sometimes.

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