In the beginning, there was rhythm.
Students -- adults and kids -- tend to focus on playing the correct keys when starting lessons, generally paying far less attention to the time values of the notes. It should be the other way around! Developing a good sense of timing and the ability to read rhythm patterns --along with developing healthy fingering habits and learning to read notes “intervallically” --is the real key to success.
Let’s talk about how you might go about learning to read rhythm patterns early on.
1. Use Technology: If you have an iPad, I highly suggest an app such as ReadRhythm or RhythmLab. These apps allow you to tap out the exercises onto the iPad screen and provide immediate feedback as to accuracy. Alternatively, you can search for computer software or books with CD’s.
2. It’s beyond the scope of a written blog -- or even a video lesson -- for me to try and teach rhythm. Learn the basics. Learn notes in relation to one another -- two quarter notes vs half note, eighth note pairs vs quarter, two half notes vs one whole, etc.
3. Learn Kodaly Rhythm Syllables. Oftentimes trying to “count” while looking at fingering is confusing to beginning pianists. Look on YouTube for “Kodaly Rhythm Solfege” exercises where the presenter demonstrates various patterns. Here you will discover a quarter note is Ta (one syllable), a half note is Ta-Ah (two syllables), etc. I find this approach far more effective with adult beginners than counting.
4. Make timing practice a regular part of your daily routine. Five to ten minutes daily is a good rule of thumb. This work can be done away from the piano, apart from regular practice.
5. When learning anything new, or when sight reading, begin by examining the rhythm, tapping it out with separate hands. You might try tapping the rhythm with the proper fingering, hands together, next. Be absolutely clear on the timing before attempting to play the music. Otherwise, you will have “learned” something that’s not valid that will be firmly embedded in your subconscious mind and rather difficult to unlearn later on, especially if you make a habit of playing in a haphazard manner.
6. Ideally, you will want to develop your ability to read rhythm patterns in a progressive manner. If you find yourself frequently “deciphering” music, you will want to consider why this is so and “go back” to an easier level until you are secure enough to move on.