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How to Help Your Child Improve Their Sense of Rhythm

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Hey everybody! I'm so excited to release my first tutorial video! It's the first in a series of videos I'm planning on how to help improve students sense of time and pulse.

In my teaching I've found that one of the biggest barriers to progress is not being able to maintain a steady pulse when playing. Often times a student will have a great sense of pitch or excellent coordination, but will struggle to get going with playing music in time. I've heard people say that you can't teach rhythm - they say you've either got it or you dont! In my teaching I have not found this to be the case!

They key to resolving the issue is strengthening the feeling of the beat so it becomes more natural and almost automatic. That way the student can concentrate less on 'counting' and more on the business of playing - as creatively and expressively as possible!

I've always seen dancing and playing music as being one and the same thing, of course there are many great musicians who don't dance, and vice versa, but for me and in my teaching I have always found dancing the best way to practise time and rhythm!

This really simple exercise is a great introduction to moving with the music, and it's really fun for children! Just a few minutes practise every day will make a huge difference.


Having a strong internal sense of pulse is the most important foundational skill when learning an instrument. People have varying levels of natural rhythmic ability which, along with coordination, directly affects the pace of a student's progress at an instrument.

For students with a less-developed sense of rhythm, it is really important to develop and internalise the sense of pulse. This has to be done away from the instrument, as the more immediate mental demands of reading music and the physical demands of playing mean that it's impossible to concentrate on developing this foundational skill.

Feeling the Beat

Having a strong sense of pulse is otherwise known as feeling the beat. At it's strongest, It's literally a physical sensation inside the body while playing an instrument, listening to music or imagining music in your head. This sensation is different for everybody as we all have our own intuitive path to developing our sense of time.

For me, each beat of the bar has it's own individual feeling which means I (almost!) always know instinctively which beat I'm playing. This completely removes the need for 'counting' while playing, a common mistake that adds an extra level of mental exertion when practising and hinders progress.

Developing a stronger sense of pulse is known as internalisation.

How to Practise and Internalise the Pulse

I've always found that the best way to internalise a pulse or rhythm is using movements - that's right DANCING! Dancers obviously have a great internal sense of rhythm to make such large and elegant movements perfectly in time, and I have always seen playing an instrument and dancing as one and the same thing.

Of course there are many examples of outstanding musicians with great time who aren't good dancers, but in my teaching and in my own personal practise I have always found it to be a very effective and fun way to improve the sensse of rhythm. Children love these dancing exercises, and it's also a great way to break up practise time. It's also a fun and easy way to help your child practise if you don't play an instrument yourself!

2/4 is the first step I teach. It's the easiest step to dance because it's just a simple march, with one step for each beat. 2/4 isn't the most common time signature, but it's a great place to start practising moving in time as evenly and consistently as possible. It's also very useful later on in more complicated music and faster tempos.

With time and practise, your child will know instintively which beat they are playing. For this reason its really important to concentrate when practising and make sure that your child is stepping the same foot on the same beat each time round the 2-beat cycle. Make sure the steps don't get out of sync with the beat, keep an eye on your child when practising and make sure their steps are correct.

Dance Steps for 2/4

Here is a description of the basic steps. It's really important when practising that your child leads with their dominant side, emphaising Beat 1, the first and most important beat of the bar.

For right-handed people the dance looks like this:

Beat 1: Right leg step center (straight up and down)
Beat 2: Left leg step center (straight up and down)

For left-handed people the dance looks like this:

Beat 1: Left leg step center (straight up and down)
Beat 2: Right leg step center (straight up and down)

Remember that when your child starts the dance, they should always begin with a straight-up and down step on their dominant leg.

How to Practise the Dance

This dance step should be practised for just 3-4 minutes a day. It's really important to dance WITH your child. Dance is a communal activity just like music, and it's a great preparatory exercise for playing music with others in an ensemble. It really won't take more than a couple of weeks for you child to become really comfortable with the step if you practise it with them. It's a really great way to break up practise sessions and have fun! Try to help your child keep the steps as even as possible to help practise a strong and consistent beat.

Don't try to dance to music at first, just keep the steps slow and make sure your child is doing them in the right order. You can also try getting your child to count the beats aloud as they step to help reinforce which beat they are on. You can also help your child to practise clapping on each beat, making sure the clap happens at exactly the same time as the step.

When you're practising, always remember:

- Learn the step yourself first
- Teach it to your child
- Keep the same beat on each step
- Always dance together!
- Have fun!

Round Up

This is a foundational exercise that can be built upon and taken as far as you like. I use more advanced exercises for Grade 8 students, undergraduates and in my own practise. It's a great practise tool, so if your child can learn this early on, they will immediately start to develop their sene of pulse and timing, and they will be at a huge advantage as they progress and advance.

If you've enjoyed this tutorial please Subscribe to the Sax Teacher UK Channel. To learn the step for 4/4, please visit the next tutorial: How to Help Your Child Play Music in Time - Part 2. See you soon!