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#2134756 - 08/18/13 10:21 AM I can't count!  
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Ok, so maybe I can, but it's extremely unnatural for me. I don't really have an internal dialogue as I understand most people to. My internal thought process is almost entirely visual, and this has caused developmental delays in the past. For example, i didn't begin speaking until I was 7, and didn't use entire sentences until I was around 10.

So, this seems to be causing problems with my musical learning. My piano teacher insists that I count everything as I'm playing, but so far I've gotten by just memorizing how my pieces should sound and imitating the rhythm. I think she's starting to catch on that I'm not counting though, as she remarked several times during my last lesson how much more even my playing is when she's counting for me.

The only solution I can think of is to count aloud, but this seems less than ideal, especially if I want to play for others.

So based on these things, I'm wondering is it possible to become a good pianist without constantly counting beats in your head? Should I come clean and tell my teacher I can't count in my head, so perhaps she can work with me on the problem? Is this a common problem?

Thanks for taking the time to read, and I appreciate any thoughts or advice!

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#2134768 - 08/18/13 10:40 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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I don't understand why it's necessary to "count in your head" while playing - I certainly don't. I have an internal sense of rhythm, certainly, but it's not a conscious effort.


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2134785 - 08/18/13 11:02 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Was your strong internal sense of rhythm natural or something you developed after a while playing?

#2134787 - 08/18/13 11:09 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
I don't understand why it's necessary to "count in your head" while playing - I certainly don't. I have an internal sense of rhythm, certainly, but it's not a conscious effort.

And you have been playing music for a very long time. If, as in another thread, you knew what an interval was at age 5, then you were very young when you started music. What an advanced, experienced player can does does not tell us what someone starting out can do, no more than advising an illiterate person learning to form his first letters that writing is "natural".

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#2134788 - 08/18/13 11:11 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Polyphonist]  
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I think counting out loud will help you internalize the rhythm, and eventually you will unconsciously count in your head. Polyphonist is right, eventually you will just feel the rhythm, but that takes a little time to develop. When I am learning a new piece with complex rhythm, I always count it out loud, often with a metronome going to keep me honest. It helps to get the rhythm internalized correctly more quickly.

Certainly talk to your teacher about the problem. I don't think it is at all unusual for beginners to have difficulty counting in there head or out loud. It just takes practice.

#2134789 - 08/18/13 11:12 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Polyphonist, for some people it takes time and practice to get that internal sense of rhythm to be fully coordinated and effective.

Bamberg, I advise counting out loud as you're learning. Eventually you will find that you don't need to count, but when starting out (whether starting at piano, or on any particular piece), counting out loud can help. When you perform a piece, you don't count out loud. Try it for your teacher in your lesson: you counting out loud vs. no counting out loud (yours or your teacher's). See if there's a difference. You can also record yourself both counting out loud and not counting, and see if you can hear a difference. I advise doing the two ways at your lesson to so you can get feedback.

I have a good sense of rhythm but a period of counting out loud still helped me.

Try singing your counts to the melody of the music as you play. Does this help? I find that it can help me make the piece flow musically, but it depends on being able to still adhere to the regular beat even when adding in the melodic expression.


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#2134791 - 08/18/13 11:15 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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I'm stuck on two sentences:

Quote
My internal thought process is almost entirely visual, and this has caused developmental delays in the past. ...so far I've gotten by just memorizing how my pieces should sound and imitating the rhythm.

That is actually an auditory process, not a visual process. So, I'm not sure I follow how, exactly, you're learning these pieces. With the developmental delays you described, I'm sensing some potential underlying issues that may be impacting you that don't necessarily impact others (though what, precisely, is going on, I wouldn't even want to venture a guess without more info).


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
#2134794 - 08/18/13 11:18 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Originally Posted by Bamburg

The only solution I can think of is to count aloud, but this seems less than ideal, especially if I want to play for others.

In fact, counting out loud while practising is a common device advised by teachers. I am not a beginner, and I use it in places. When you verbalize things you reinforce them through another one of your senses, and for many of us, the count stays even when we stop doing so.

Also check if you understand your note values completely, and where there might be holes. I began my first music lessons (violin) as an adult who had been playing things for years. I discovered that for me any note that had more than one flag (16th etc.) for me had a count of "as-fast-as-possible" grin otherwise known as "scary-fast". Sometimes you have to work them out.

You can also chant or tap the counts without playing, like "daa daa dada" without melody.

Quote
Should I come clean and tell my teacher I can't count in my head, so perhaps she can work with me on the problem? Is this a common problem?

Absolutely! Your teacher's job is not to help you play pieces, but to help you play music on the piano. As such, she is charged with giving you the skills, and counting is one of them. Understanding music, which includes things like note values, is also part of it. Most teachers are delighted with such questions and find them helpful in guiding their students.

#2134802 - 08/18/13 11:42 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Can't count.
Can't concentrate
Can't follow directions
Never on time for anything
Can't sight read
No rythm
Procrastinate everything.
Daydream incessantly
Can't hold a job
Don't sing.
Flunked out of everything
Piano teachers get rid of me
Never stopped playing..

#2134805 - 08/18/13 11:56 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Bamberg, you may find that you need to work with much easier pieces for a while as you learn to count out loud while playing. This is fine. Talk to your teacher about this so she can tailor your lessons and assignments appropriately.

Some steps to practice with each piece can include:

Just count the piece -- no playing.

Count while tapping the RH rhythm.

Count while tapping the LH rhythm.

Count while tapping the rhythm HT.

Count while playing RH.

Count while playing LH.

Count while playing HT.

Go as slow as you need to during each step while maintaining a regular beat. You may find you can slowly bring up the speed as you practice. Start slow again the next day.


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#2134816 - 08/18/13 12:24 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Derulux]  
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Originally Posted by Derulux
I'm stuck on two sentences:

Quote
My internal thought process is almost entirely visual, and this has caused developmental delays in the past. ...so far I've gotten by just memorizing how my pieces should sound and imitating the rhythm.

That is actually an auditory process, not a visual process.


The trick I use is to associate the sounds with something visual, usually I'll watch a youtube video of the piece being played, watch the motion of the hands, and use that visual association to remember the sound as well.

Trying to use the same trick with counting in my head is like making a thought association and using it at the same time, which is quite a headache.

As far as playing easier pieces, I'm working on Alfred's book 1, so I don't think it gets too much easier than that. I've been doing 3-4 a week so far, so it's not as if I'm learning slowly or not making progress, I just worry I'm going to get to a point where my inability to count is going to make me unable to progress.

#2134830 - 08/18/13 12:57 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Please allow me to take a somewhat off beat (pun intended) approach to this problem. As has been alluded in some responses, we have different sensory responses to this thing called rhythm. I have used a phrase shaped as a commandment to summarize my thoughts on this issue: Thou Shalt Know and Love thy Beat. There are two components to playing the proper rhythm, keeping a steady pulse and properly understanding where that pulse falls within the score.

The pulse needs to have kinetic energy which is why "counting" out loud can be helpful. At the very least you have a verbalization which is outside your brain and fingers to indicate the pulse. The pulse's value can be any note value which is convenient for you to work with. It doesn't have to be the quarter note in 4/4 time. If you have a lot of eighths, just use those. And you don't need to assign a number or syllable to anything you just need to feel a steady pulse so tap your foot, jump up and down, scream, shout, or click your tongue, I don't care, just keep it steady. This is the "loving" part of the commandment... you have to feel it!

To know the beat you must know where in the score each pulse falls. To do this you must have a clear understanding of the relative values of each note. ie. two of these equal one of those, or three of these equal one of those.

Now, this is hardly all there is to rhythmic playing but it will at least allow you to get past playing the notes in proper relative length to each other.

The next step is understanding the meter signature and how that begins to organize larger rhythmic pulses. But that is another story all together. Good Luck.


Andrew Remillard
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#2134853 - 08/18/13 01:54 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Originally Posted by Bamburg
So based on these things, I'm wondering is it possible to become a good pianist without constantly counting beats in your head? Should I come clean and tell my teacher I can't count in my head, so perhaps she can work with me on the problem? Is this a common problem?


To be honest, I never really got the hang of counting while playing, but my rhythm is okay now nevertheless.

Here are some tricks I used.

First, The music arranger is usually your friend. When a note in the left hand is to be played along with the note in the right hand, 99.99% of the time, these will line up visually.

Next, Counting is often about finding the most common shortest duration note in the piece. For example, ragtime is written in bars that consist of two quarter notes worth of duration. The left hand is usually explicitly divided into two pairs of eighth notes--some variant of boom/chuck. The right hand contains a mixture of eighth and sixteenth notes. These are intricately interweaved with the regular beat of the left hand.

So, given that the sixteenth note is the note with the shortest duration that occurs most often in ragtime pieces, you can subdivide your measures into ... 2 sixteenth notes per eighth note, 2 eighth notes per quarter note, 2 quarter notes per measure ... = 2 * 2 * 2 = 8 'pulses' per measure.

Now, when you then see a note in, say, the right hand, instead of trying to count it 1-and or 1-e-and or some phrase, think about how many pulses it is: 16th note = 1 pulse, 8th note = 2 pulses, dotted 8th note = 3 pulses, a pair of tied 16th notes = 2 impulses. And then just mentally hold each note down for the correct number of impulses, eventually reaching a total of 8 per measure.

Let's use a left hand habanera rhythm as an example. Habanera usually consists of a dotted 8th, followed by a 16th note, followed by two eighth notes and you could count as...

1. PULSE-pulse-pulse
2. PULSE
3. PULSE-pulse
4. PULSE-pulse

...where you press the note on the first PULSE and then hold it for 1, 2 or 3 pulses accordingly.

If knowing whether you're holding your note long enough for multiple pulses is a problem, then you can easily turn this into a two hand exercise by tapping even 16th notes out with your right hand and only tapping down your left hand on the indicated beat.

Finally, since you are so visual, you could even experiment with dividing the score visually. For example, with 8 pulses per measure, you might be able to draw a vertical bar at the midway point in pencil and then subdivide each half with vertical bars of their own--note this isn't necessarily the exact horizontal midpoint of the measure but is instead the numerical midpoint, the point at which there are an equal number of pulses to the left and right of the line.

I'd definitely mention the challenges you're experiencing with your teacher--but you can learn rhythm just fine without "ands" and "e-and-uhs" because I sure never got the hang of them.


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#2134867 - 08/18/13 02:23 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Quote
. . . I think counting out loud will help you internalize the rhythm, and eventually you will unconsciously count in your head. Polyphonist is right, eventually you will just feel the rhythm, but that takes a little time to develop. When I am learning a new piece with complex rhythm, I always count it out loud, often with a metronome going to keep me honest. It helps to get the rhythm internalized correctly more quickly. . .


FWIW --

That matches how I'd think about it.

If you're _really_ visual, and you're having trouble with a rhythm, try writing it in "box notation". That's used, and explained, in a classic hand-drum book called "Conga Joy" -- probably in your local music store. If not, try a Google of:

"conga joy" notation

If you play smoother -- more evenly -- when your teacher counts, you might benefit from using a metronome. The ticks will give you an even time-base to play against. Software metronomes (including those built into digital pianos) usually have a "downbeat" emphasis (first beat of each measure), as well.

[With advances in technology, there might be some metronome software that actually says "One . two . three . four .", but I haven't seen it.]

It takes time (months and years) to develop a reliable internal clock that goes "tick, tick, tick . ." evenly, without slowing down or speeding up. If that's a really tough problem for you, find a drum circle. It's fun, and you can learn a lot.

. Charles


. Charles
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#2134927 - 08/18/13 04:17 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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I suck at multitasking, and for the first year or so of playing I truly felt that I couldn't count while playing, so I used a metronome instead.

Don't be surprised if you have to slow the music down a bit before you can play accurately with the metronome.

If you enjoy experimenting, once you find that extra slow metronome perfect pace, try counting at that same slooooow pace. It may just be that you needed to slow down to free up some extra brain-space to fit it all in.

I was completely convinced that counting out loud hopelessly messed me up, and that I simply couldn't do it. So I was quite surprised when I started catching myself doing it when trying to sight read tricky rhythms. I noticed it more and more often, and eventually discovered that I could count just fine, and that it was a most useful skill.

So leave space in your mind for this awesomely handy habit's potential to spontaneously arise within you.

One final thing to do to that does wonders for rhythm and counting issues, including making counting aloud get easier, is is to find and play with a fun rhythm practice book.

I always recommend Dan Fox's The Rhythm Bible (amazon link), because it's rhythm practice examples sound much musical than the contents of other rhythm practice books. (I checked out lots of other ones via our (most excellent) public library before discovering this one at Amazon).

And they're also logically sorted and ordered and divvied up. IIRC the Rhythm Bible's learning curve is like Tim Richards Improvising Blues Piano, where each chapter covers one idea in ever deepening detail, and the idea is that when you find you've stopped having fun with that chapter, go on to the next, which starts out easy again on the next big concept. I works through basic rhythms, and then through different kinds of syncopation.

If you're pursuing sight reading, another alternative is the progressively levelled sight reading method called Sight Reading and Rhythm Every Day sheetmusicplus link, in which you get a daily dose of rhythm practice to complement the daily sight reading exercises.

If I ever discovered my personal "magic bullet" or "secret weapon" for piano learning, it was independent rhythm practice.


Please step aside. You're standing in your own way.

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#2134940 - 08/18/13 04:40 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Originally Posted by Bamburg
Should I come clean


Hi Bamberg. I suppose that you say "come clean" with a touch of irony. But just in case and because this formulation is used in cases of criminal or shameful behavior I'd like to say that there is nothing criminal about not being able to count in your head. Nothing shameful, either. What's more, your teacher already knows! I mean, that's why she tells you to count in your head, and that's why she counts out loud to try to help you along.

And yes, it is a common "problem", pretty much everybody has this difficulty when starting out. No need to try to explain it as the result of a particular deficiency of yours; to the contrary we're all in the same boat! That said, it's also a longterm project, learning to count in music, as is everything in music. It isn't difficult but then again neither is walking and it probably took you a while to get the hang of that.

You might find it helpful to study the score rhythmically away from the piano. Read through the piece outloud, without worrying about the tones of the notes. You can say the names of the notes, or just say "ta ta ta". Try the f-clef first, and then the g-clef. You might even try to do the two together, for example beating the f-clef on your thigh while using your voice for the g-clef, or vice-versa. Take your time, this too is a skill that you will learn little by little, step by step. But it will be a big help, when you sit at the piano to try to play from the score, to know where you are going rhytmically.


#2134945 - 08/18/13 04:46 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: landorrano]  
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I just saw Tangleweed's post, which goes much in the same direction as mine. As he says

Originally Posted by tangleweeds
independent rhythm practice.


You can't over-estimate the importance of rhythm in music. Rhythm is the most basic element. Music is rhythm, above all.

#2134950 - 08/18/13 04:53 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Just to answer some of the things in this thread, I never practiced by counting out loud. I always attempted to keep a steady pulse without having to actually think "ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three" or something similar. Saying syllables out loud is a crutch that must be avoided, even for beginners to music.


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2134969 - 08/18/13 05:17 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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I have trouble counting as well. I have no excuse. And yet talking saying anything, while I play is very difficult for me. Whether it's doing two things at the same time I can't do or what? I'm not sure. I flub what number comes when because my concentration is split between two activities. Teachers are shocked because "How can you play if you can't count?" I mimic well. So, YouTube has become my friend! I used to rely on my older sister to play my pieces so could hear them when I was a child.

The metronome can help, but you have to have some idea of what setting to use. Do you have the metronome beat on the shortest note length interval? Or do you beat out the lower number in the key signature? In other words, Large beats or smaller beats.

Have your teacher help you decide what setting to use on the metronome. It's best to be honest about your weaknesses with your teacher. As people suspect, she already knows much about you.

Remember that lessons are to learn. They are not about giving a performance in you lesson. If you could do better than you are doing, you would!! So, let your teacher help you. That's what she is there for!! Learning isn't about how much you produce or how fast you complete pieces. We are each different. Learning is a process and a journey. We have to take each step in our own time. Don't compare yourself to anyone else!!!!!


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#2134970 - 08/18/13 05:22 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Count OUT LOUD. It doesn't matter how dorky or dumb you feel. It's something you must do. When you count in your head you cheat. You count to your playing rather than the other way round. By the time you've gotten the piece to performance level you won't need it so don't let that hold you back.


Slow down and do it right.
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#2134971 - 08/18/13 05:23 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Saying syllables out loud is a crutch that must be avoided, even for beginners to music.
This is wrong. smile

Andrew Remillard has it right. The beat needs to be kept with physical action such as tapping or counting. Keeping time in the head can lead to slowing down under overload and stretching time or contracting time as the music changes.

Many professionals resort to discrete muscular actions such as tongue clicking or flexing a muscle.



Richard
#2134978 - 08/18/13 05:38 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
I don't understand why it's necessary to "count in your head" while playing - I certainly don't. I have an internal sense of rhythm, certainly, but it's not a conscious effort.

You, Sir, are very, very lucky. The less gifted among us just have to fake it and hope we make it.


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#2134979 - 08/18/13 05:38 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Just to answer some of the things in this thread, I never practiced by counting out loud. I always attempted to keep a steady pulse without having to actually think "ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three" or something similar. Saying syllables out loud is a crutch that must be avoided, even for beginners to music.

Polyphonist, could you share some of your success stories teaching beginners to develop a sense of pulse and rhythm in their playing?


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#2135003 - 08/18/13 06:51 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Chicago
I actually wrote 10 commandments regarding piano practice. The commandment regarding the beat is the second, right after: "Thou Shalt Not Kid Thyself". There is a corollary set of questions: 1) What is the most important thing in music? Rhythm. 2) What is the most important thing to Rhythm? The beat. 3) What is the most important thing to the beat? It is STEADY.

You can call your beats anything. OOM PAA PAA for all I care. You can call the fractional parts anything also. The reason we use numbers and syllables is for communication between other people. So find something which gives you a clear physical presence to the beat, understand where in the music that beat must land, and then be there! I would suggest you not put too many notes into a pulse and this will keep it simple for you.


Andrew Remillard
http://www.ANRPiano.com
http://www.AndrewRemillard.com
Downers Grove, IL 60515
#2135032 - 08/18/13 08:53 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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Andrew Remillard's (anrpiano) comments are excellent. If you still think the visual cues are what you need, there are several options.

Traditional mechanical metronomes have an arm that swings back and forth. The "tick" sound is in the center so it gives you a visual of when the next beat needs to fall. You still have to work with the different note values, but it will keep a steady pulse.

Digital metronomes come with several different options for visual cues: a single blinking light, a row of of blinking lights, a bouncing ball, and a gray/black low-grade picture of that swinging arm. You could try out a few of these in a music store (You may want to bring your own batteries. I was surprised in searching out a metronome for a student that many did not have any so I couldn't test them.)

This web metronome: http://www.webmetronome.com/ shows you the beat in a colored block and keeps track of which beat you're on in the measure. You set the number of pulses to match your time signature.

These are all tools. Nothing will replace feeling the rhythm, but you must be able to make some kind of connection between what is familiar and easy to you and this new/difficult concept.

You can also choose syllabic counting. Almost anything will work, but I use Ta-ah-ka-ah with my little students. Ta - one beat or quarter note. Ta-ah half note, etc. I always make my students clap or tap and count the rhythm of their songs 3-5 times perfectly before putting their fingers on the keys. But if you need a visual coordination, by all means find one that works for you.

You can also do the "full arm swing". Its a little like conducting. Or tap your foot on a steady beat.

The rule of learning is that the more senses you involve, the more you remember and the better it works.

I hope that helps.

#2135035 - 08/18/13 08:58 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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One more thing: I know you weren't asking about the you-tube video and sound association, but you may be using this as a tool to learn by rote. If so, when you run out of you-tube videos, you will be stuck.

Try looking at your notes, if it goes up a 2nd or step, visualize moving the next finger higher, if a 3rd or skip, skipping a finger in between. Or picture the keys on the piano being depressed one after another. Again, you need to find the link between the familiar and unfamiliar. You can "air play" with you fingers doing this too. Then you'll be concentrating on the visual cue of notes on a page, and the feel of the coordinating fingers. You can also hold your fingers close enough to the page to use eye-hand coordination.

#2135108 - 08/18/13 11:27 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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I'm amazed at how helpful everyone has been. Thank you for all of the wonderful replies and advice, I think a mechanical metronome sounds like exactly what I need! Hopefully between that and talking to my teacher I'll be able to solve my problem. I'll definitely bring up the rhythm training book as well, so thank you for that recommendation tangleweeds.

#2135171 - 08/19/13 03:05 AM Re: I can't count! [Re: Bamburg]  
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It might help if you study/practice/ get the rhythm of the peice down before you even start to play it. You can even write in pencil how you would count it.
Also, maybe you can use words instead of numbers for the beats - might make it a little more enjoyable - you could even visualize the words if you wanted.
For example:
Grape = 1 beat
Apple = 2 beats
Strawberry = 3 beats
Etc.

Just a thought smile

Last edited by Kymber; 08/19/13 03:07 AM.

“The doubters said, "Man cannot fly," The doers said, "Maybe, but we'll try,"
And finally soared in the morning glow while non-believers watched from below.”
― Bruce Lee
#2136276 - 08/20/13 09:56 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: PianoStudent88]  
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Originally Posted by PianoStudent88
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Just to answer some of the things in this thread, I never practiced by counting out loud. I always attempted to keep a steady pulse without having to actually think "ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three" or something similar. Saying syllables out loud is a crutch that must be avoided, even for beginners to music.

Polyphonist, could you share some of your success stories teaching beginners to develop a sense of pulse and rhythm in their playing?

I repeat that I don't teach beginners. smile I would not take a student who has not already developed these fundamentals.


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2136277 - 08/20/13 09:57 PM Re: I can't count! [Re: zrtf90]  
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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Saying syllables out loud is a crutch that must be avoided, even for beginners to music.
This is wrong. smile

Andrew Remillard has it right. The beat needs to be kept with physical action such as tapping or counting.

Then I disagree with Andrew Remillard. wink


Regards,

Polyphonist
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