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Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
#2283239 05/30/14 09:22 AM
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When I have a young student who is 5 or 6, I teach them to count as they play new rhythms...this seems easy(ish) for quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes, but when it comes to eighth-notes, it is hard for my young students to understand why I have them count "one - and - two - and" .... I try to draw pictures or explain why we say "and", but usually I just give up since they do not seem to understand what subdivision is (I do not use that word with them!). They learn how to play and count 1 + 2 + but I am sure that in their mind they aren't sure why they have to say "and", except that their piano teacher told them to count that way! I have them count 1+2+ out loud as they play, otherwise their 8th notes will not be even.

My 2 questions:
1- When my students count out loud 1+2+, their rhythm is very good (though they are playing slower b/c they are articulating more words..)...is it better for them to play evenly even though they are probably not sure what "subdividing" means even when I try to explain it in simple terms? How do you explain why we say "and", or how do you explain what sub-diving is? Should I just not explain it and realize that they will slowly understand as they get older?...Just have them count and play correctly and worry about the theory later?

2- Some of my students who began at 5 and are now 7 still need to count 1+2+ in order to play 8th notes evenly...I would like them to be able to see 8th notes and play them as evenly without having to think too hard about it (i.e. having them be able to play 8th notes without counting 1+2+ all of the time). Would clapping exercises help? - If I write various rhythms in their assignment books and ask them to clap it back to me, would they learn to associate 8th notes with "quick" notes? I find that they play the rhythms very well when they count, but then the piece/song will be slow in general, and I want them to play the pieces faster, but with EVEN 8th notes...

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Re: Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
Mich17mak #2283287 05/30/14 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Mich17mak
When I have a young student who is 5 or 6, I teach them to count as they play new rhythms...this seems easy(ish) for quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes, but when it comes to eighth-notes, it is hard for my young students to understand why I have them count "one - and - two - and" .... I try to draw pictures or explain why we say "and", but usually I just give up since they do not seem to understand what subdivision is (I do not use that word with them!). They learn how to play and count 1 + 2 + but I am sure that in their mind they aren't sure why they have to say "and", except that their piano teacher told them to count that way! I have them count 1+2+ out loud as they play, otherwise their 8th notes will not be even.

My 2 questions:
1- When my students count out loud 1+2+, their rhythm is very good (though they are playing slower b/c they are articulating more words..)...is it better for them to play evenly even though they are probably not sure what "subdividing" means even when I try to explain it in simple terms? How do you explain why we say "and", or how do you explain what sub-diving is? Should I just not explain it and realize that they will slowly understand as they get older?...Just have them count and play correctly and worry about the theory later?


This is a good question. You can start them out with tas and titis - in fact, many will have been exposed to them in school if they have a music program there.This seems to help them understand the sound of 8th notes. If you expose them to the sound, then there's no need to understand subdivisions.

However, sometimes I explain to them in terms of pie, because everything is better with pies. wink One pie represents one beat. I ask them if they have a pie and they give me half of it, how much do they have left? Half. Maybe even something with a picture of half a pie under which you write "1" and the other half under which you write "+", then you can string together a series of half pies to complete a 4/4 measure.

On a side note, one of the benefits of counting out loud is that they play slower, and slow practice is a very good thing.

Quote
2- Some of my students who began at 5 and are now 7 still need to count 1+2+ in order to play 8th notes evenly...I would like them to be able to see 8th notes and play them as evenly without having to think too hard about it (i.e. having them be able to play 8th notes without counting 1+2+ all of the time). Would clapping exercises help? - If I write various rhythms in their assignment books and ask them to clap it back to me, would they learn to associate 8th notes with "quick" notes? I find that they play the rhythms very well when they count, but then the piece/song will be slow in general, and I want them to play the pieces faster, but with EVEN 8th notes...
Counting out loud is something that they will have to do for a long time, generally until they get to late intermediate levels of playing.

Rhythm exercises are great, also sight reading is excellent to help with this, but again, they should be counting for a long time. I usually tell my students that they need to count in the first stage of learning each piece. Once the pieces is sort of memorized then they don't have to count. Not counting when first learning the piece will pretty much guarantee they will learn mistakes that are very tricky to unlearn, so it's very important.


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Re: Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
Mich17mak #2283292 05/30/14 11:24 AM
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Thanks - I do use the picture idea, but with apples..maybe I will try it with pies (they taste better anyway, right? haha). I will try the sounds, that will be helpful too.

Re: Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
Mich17mak #2283351 05/30/14 01:27 PM
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With young children it's best to have them 'feel' the beat before they play a particular passage. Counting is not rhythm. Making them say '1and 2and, etc...' is more likely to confuse them at the beginning levels.

I have my young students move in rhythm to music. We use rhythm sticks, castanets, tambourines etc... to tap in rhythm. I also have them clap out rhythm patterns, first by copying what I've clapped. We say 'tahn' for quarter notes, 'tah-ahn' for halfs, and 'tuh-tuh' for eighth notes. Using neutral syllables instead of numbers works easily for them. Then we do rhythm counting with various patterns I put on the board, using either rhythm instruments or clapping. When we come across a trouble spot in piano music we stop and clap/count it out using the syllables.

I don't use 1-2-3-4 counting until much later.


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Re: Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
Mich17mak #2283494 05/30/14 07:55 PM
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Mine (Suzuki students) learn rhythm by ear, imitation, stepping in rhythm, clapping. They learn the rhythms of their pieces first before getting any terminology beyond note names and finger numbers: we say Mississippi Hot Dog, we don't discuss, or even look at, the 16th and 8th notes.

At some point during the early reading stages we refer to the book to understand how two independent parts with notes of different lengths fit together. Depending on what piece it is, we may learn to identify quarter and half notes, or quarter and eighth notes, and talk about how the LH can play two eighth notes in the same amount of time as one quarter note in the RH, but we're still not relying on note identification to produce the rhythm of the independent parts, that's still being done by ear.

As they gain sight-reading skill we clap the rhythms of the sight-reading piece before the student is asked to play. I make a beat with my feet that corresponds to the meter (quarter note beat if in 3/4 time). Staying on the beat, we clap wherever there is a note, hands stay together during the note, hands spring apart during a rest. For eighth notes all I usually need to do is demonstrate putting the second clap in between the foot beats and they get it. Dotted rhythms take longer to understand in my experience than eighth notes do, although equally easy to reproduce by ear, hello London Bridge.

I wait to introduce counting out loud until the first piece that has very long held notes that really do need to be counted with numbers -- usually the Bartok quasi adagio from For Children that's midway through Book 2. The crucial counting is half notes with ties so we count 1 2 1 2 first. Once that's established we go back and look at the eighth notes and count 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 +, but they already know how the rhythm sounds and can play it correctly, so they are learning to fit the numerical concept to the music they already know, not vice versa.


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Re: Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
Mich17mak #2285949 06/05/14 04:01 AM
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Rhythm is an area that can't be rushed. Some kids are slow to develop their internal sense of pulse and/or the subdivision of beats. Some kids never develop that sense (Haven't you met adults with ZERO sense of rhythm?). You just have to roll with it. Pick your battles.


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Re: Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
Mich17mak #2286199 06/05/14 03:05 PM
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The whole problem with 8th notes is that they are treated differently, mathematically, by teachers. They don't have to be.

1 2 3 and 4 are counts.

But so is + (and). So in 4/4 time when there are 8ths there are 8 counts per measure.

Little kids don't really care what they say. They just mimic what they are told to do, and if it works they don't care.

The only time I have trouble teaching 8ths is when they are not steady.

It makes my young students crazy when there are only a couple 8ths on the page, because then they have to go so slow the rest of the time, and it makes it all miserably boring.

But it's boring for me too.

So I teach a lot of things with steady 8ths, then MOSTLY 8ths, and there is no problem. Later I do more things with mixed halves, quarters and eighths.

The problem is the mixing...

Re: Teaching eighth notes to young beginners
Mich17mak #2287502 06/08/14 08:16 PM
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Gary, are you saying that you have them count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8? or 1 & 2& 3& 4&?


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