How To Teach Rhythm Lessons

by Carol Hodge and Tracy Rose

As a budding musician, it’s important that what is seen as a set of incomprehensible signs and symbols on a page is connected to what is felt as rhythm.


How to teach rhythm lessons - Music Lessons Anywhere

There is no definitive method to teach rhythm lessons, the best approach is to introduce different activities.
Simple rhythmic exercises coordinate different parts of the brain which can develop a sense of rhythm:

Rhythmic dictation


Musical practise listening to rhythms helps students identify what students hear and can improve music literacy skills.
Dictation skills can begin with easy simple rhythms and progress to complex rhythms which include syncopation and triplets which can be used in many time signatures.
More measures and bars can be added to improve musical memory. There are many free rhythm apps available such as Music Rhythm Master and other online resources such as


Using flashcards to teach rhythm lessons


Flashcards are another fun way to help students develop their rhythm skills.
Flash cards can be used in many ways from note names, keys and of course, rhythms.


Clapping different rhythmic clips or along with phrases


There are many ways to run this activity.
Basically it simply involves students repeating by clapping the rhythm they have heard or participating in the rhythm, played to them in a short clip or phrase.
Students can be presented a backing track, a song or the metronome to clap a variety of rhythms along to the beats.


Encourage students to record themselves


Playing back recordings of students playing rhythms will improve their memory of rhythms.
Clapping along to recordings evenly will also improve the sense of rhythm.


Speaking rhythm


Words match rhythms for example:

  • ‘Apple pie’ is quaver-quaver-crotchet (8th-8th-16th note).
  • ‘Fish and chips’ is dotted crotchet-quaver-crotchet (dotted 8th-16th -8th note).
  • Kodály rhythmic syllabaries work just as well. When counting a quarter note, the word “ta” would be used or when speaking a series of 16th notes, “tika-tika” would be used.


Exploring what ways smart phones or tablets can be used


Apps are increasingly more available to help music and rhythm skills.
They can make learning fun.


Practice with the metronome


Practise with a metronome it can be challenging to students if they haven’t used one before.
However, marking music beats with ticks will provide a visual line up of where beats fall.
Practising with a metronome will develop rhythmic and technical skills quickly and very efficiently.


Slow practice


Slow practice is the key to fast playing.
Working through challenging passages without making mistakes, will gradually increase speed and improve fluency.
Students should be discouraged to play pieces fast which they’re unable to play slow.


Counting while playing


For some students, this can take multitasking too far.
However, some simple exercises can help to master counting while playing. Students can:

  • Start to write the beats on their music scores.
  • Count out loud to music recordings.
  • Try counting and playing at the same time to music which they find easy to play.
  • Progress to playing simple music and build their ability to count and play simultaneously gradually.


Work in small sections


By counting one bar, then playing it, count the next and then playing it again will provide a head start before the piece is played in its entirety.
Working in small sections can be less daunting than playing a whole phrase or the whole piece.


Develop a natural sense of rhythm


A natural sense of rhythm can be developed by playing notes to the beat of favourite songs.
A good method is to start with the bass then trying chords and adding accompaniment rhythm.
If a solo instrument is used, single notes can be played or chord notes.


Practise in stages


Pulse-beat: Can the beat or pulse of a song be felt? If so, tapping that beat or pulse will instil the rhythm.
Adding rhythmic elements such as accents, accents on the on-beat and off-beats and clapping on them will further develop the sense of rhythm.
Subdivisions, dotted rhythms, syncopation and triplets are great rhythm devices to use.


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