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How to Help Your Child Play Music in Time

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Welcome back to another SaxTeacher UK video tutorial on rhythm! This is Part 2 of our video tutorial series on how to help your child improve their basic rhythmic sense, a vital and fundamental skill that often holds back students from making rapid progress at their instrument.

In the video above you'll learn how to build on the 2/4 step you learned in Part 1 by converting it into a simple dance to outline the 4/4 time signature. If you didn't practise Part 1 with your child yet, i strongly recommend starting on our previous video and tutorial How to Help Your Child Improve Their Sense of Rhythm.


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, listening to, or imagining music. This feeling is different for everybody - it evolves over time as we follow our own intuitive path to develop an individual sense of pulse.

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 sense 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!

4/4 is the most useful and important step to learn as most music is written in 4/4, also known as Common Time. This dance is slightly more complicated than for 2/4 as it has two steps on each foot instead of just one. To develop a strong internal pulse we need to map each step to a specific beat, to build a strong unique feeling for each beat of the bar.

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 the steps don't get out of sync with the beat, and that the correct beat is on the same step every time. Keep an eye on your child when practising and make sure their steps are correct.

Dance Steps for 4/4

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 (start with straight up and down)
Beat 2: Right leg step to-the-side

Beat 3: Left leg step center
Beat 4: Left leg step to-the-side

For left-handed people the dance looks like this:

Beat 1: Left leg step center (start with straight up and down)
Beat 2: Left leg step to-the-side

Beat 3: Right leg step center
Beat 4: Right leg step to-the-side

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 won't take more than a couple of weeks for your 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
- Keep the steps even and consistent
- 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 movement 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 sense 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. Part 3 will be coming soon, which will show you some more advanced techniques! See you soon!