There’s no question that we all want our elementary students to have a solid foundation in rhythm. Igor Stravinsky said, “There is music wherever there is rhythm, as there is life wherever there is a pulse.” In terms of rhythm, whether it’s playing eighth notes, triplets, rests, or the pesky dotted quarter note & eighth, I believe that adequately preparing students for a new rhythm and its notation is critical to developing that strong foundation. The following is a description of what I do when a student is going to have an eighth rest(s) in a piece for the very first time.
My goal is for the student to respond to any new rhythmic notation securely before I ever assign it in a piece. Using the “sound, feel, sign, name” philosophy, I do short drills at each lesson which take just a few minutes.
Here are four samples of a first measure for RH alone (or LH alone one octave lower). You should play @ three additional measures, putting the eighth rest on a different beat each time. I suggest giving equal treatment to each hand separately, as well as examples in a variety of meters. Choose a slow tempo at first.
At this point, if I feel the student needs more time and/or experience to gain security, I include the use of a poem with an eighth rest in it. Students may walk the beat as they say the words or walk the rhythm as they feel a steady beat (harder). Younger students thoroughly enjoy this activity and engaging the whole body like this is an optimal way to lead to a strong rhythmic foundation.
In closing I want to stress that if you decide to try these activities, it’s critical that the student demonstrates 100% security with each before moving on to the next step. Just how long you take to prepare a student for a new rhythm and its notation depends on the age and strength of the individual student. For some it takes a few weeks, and for others it takes several, but I believe you’ll find it’s time well spent!
You will find the Music Tree Activities books by Frances Clark to be chock full of rhythm patterns to be tapped, poems to chant and walk, and short melodic passages to be played. All lend themselves beautifully to these drills.
I’m just as eager as everyone else to move my students ahead rapidly, but I’ve learned that this kind of preparation actually saves time by preventing wasted lesson time fixing mistakes. Preventing rhythmic errors by preparing ahead develops students with the rhythmic security to play musically!