Does Numeric Rhythm Counting Work?

Rhythm Counting - so many ways to do it, what's a student to do? | composecreate.com

I grew up with a teacher who used numeric rhythm counting. And as you know, we are mostly likely to teach the same way we were taught and/or the same way we learn, so I have always insisted that my students count 1-2-3-4 or 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & religiously.

But if you have taught many beginners, you know that numeric rhythm counting doesn’t make much sense to young students. You can see their bewilderment when you try to get them to transition from this way of counting:

rhythm counting

to this way of counting:

rhythm numeric counting

If you are lucky enough to have an articulate student, they may have even asked, “Why do I say 2 or 3 or 4 under these quarter notes when they only get 1 beat?”

My explanations for this never seem to help!

Fingering Further Complicates Rhythm Counting

To make matters worse, students not only have to worry about the numbers of the beats, but also the numbers of their fingers! “This is beat 1, but you need to play it with your 3rd finger!”

rhythm counting finger

Clear as mud.

Some of the methods are clever and try to teach quarters as “walk, walk, walk, walk” and then “run-ning, run-ning” for eighth notes. This is a good idea until you get a student who thinks that running just means to go as fast as possible!

Syllabic Counting Might Work for a While

Recently, I’ve tried the syllabic way of counting:

syllabic way of counting

and I love the way it’s working! It seems a lot less confusing because:

  • Syllabic counting doesn’t use numbers at all so there is no confusion with counting numbers.
  • The syllables don’t have any innate meaning themselves (such as walk or run).
  • It can be used for a long time before switching to numeric counting.
  • You can introduce much harder rhythms and help students master these long before they play them.
  • The syllables have their own rhythm. For example, say “ta-ti” and you notice that the “ta” gets a heavier emphasis than the “ti” which is helpful when you are teaching eighth notes.

Here is it with more variety of rhythms:

rhythm counting syllables

I’m only using this way of counting until students are old enough to understand beats and such things. When that happens will be different for each child. But I like how the transition from syllabic counting to numeric (1 2 3 4) counting works much better!

The great thing is that I can choose whatever counting method I want when I’m using Rhythm Menagerie and Rhythm Manipulations! Only the introductory pages of each unit use any kind of numeric counting, so I can just skip these pages or write in my own counting. The majority of the pages are designed so that I can use what ever counting method I want with my kiddos.

And since Rhythm Menagerie and Rhythm Manipulations are designed to produce students who are excited about practicing rhythm and rhythm counting no matter what the counting method, I’m so excited that my new way of teaching kids to count will dovetail nicely with this reproducible curriculum.

Here’s some students of Diane Hidy’s using her own way of counting and having a blast:

And here’s a chart in case you want to mix and match counting systems (note: not all the possibilities of counting with a system are listed here):

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 3.50.06 PM

What are your thoughts about teaching kids about rhythm counting? How do you do it?

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