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Timing Matters - Rhythm Syllables for Beginners

Rhythm is a weak link, for many students.

Most adult method books are filled with familiar tunes, making it easy for students to focus on notes to the exclusion of rhythm. In all fairness, the way the music is presented at the beginning stages of learning, with long note values, it’s no wonder students don’t want to count. The song itself is hard to hear when it’s counted at a snail’s pace.

In the beginning, practice rhythm away from the piano. Begin with shorter note values, which are more natural for us to feel. In the early stages, "rhythmic solfege" is preferable to counting. Of course, as you advance and your music gets more complex, you'll transition to counting.

The unit beat is the quarter note (1 beat) and the subdivision of this unit into two parts is the 8th note pair (titi). Think of quarter notes as “walking” notes and 8th note pairs as “running notes.” Imagine walking slowly on a treadmill…. Ta... Ta ….Ta ….Ta…. Now, double the pace and you’ll find 8th notes …. titi….titi….titi….titi….

Take a look at these familiar songs which use 8th note pairs and quarter notes.

🎵 ♩ ♩

Hap-py Birthday

ti ti Ta Ta

🎵 🎵 ♩

Fa la la la La

titi titi Ta

♩ 🎵 ♩

Skip to my Lou

Ta titi Ta

Here’s a video where you can hear these syllables being played at middle C. Even if you only watch this once, likely you’ll remember the patterns. It’s really not necessary to play them. Just clap along, internalizing the feel of each note value.

When you’re ready, practice the Half Note (Ta-Ah, two beats) and the Dotted Half Note (Ta-Ah-Ah, 3 beats). You're likely familiar with these note values, even if you've only just started your piano journey. Try "counting" these notes with rhythm syllables when learning new music.

Until I see you again, I wish you happy -- and productive -- practicing!

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