Teachers Guide for Rhythm Instruction (Grades 5-12)
Introduction and Background
In rhythm instruction, music educators often engage in "drive-by teaching."
That is . . . We teach toward our class without serious monitoring of success, move on to something else, and casually look back over our shoulder to see if someone got it. When we do this, we know that everyone won't get it. To our shame, we don't expect them to - nor do we monitor closely enough to adjust our teaching so that everyone has a chance of learning accurate rhythm performance. The result is that we only teach those who get it quickly, and we assume that the rest can't get it at all.
If we approach rhythm instruction as training rather than instruction, we just might do a better job.
Muscle memory is common to all humans.
Whether it is tying our shoes, signing our names, walking, chewing, or driving a car, we use muscle memory every day. That is the case for almost everyone. Only the most profoundly disabled do not develop actions into an autonomic response to minimal mental activity. That installment of actions into muscle memory requires a different amount of repetition for each of us, but muscle memory is possible for everyone. Because of the physical nature of rhythm performance, it is the most accessible of the many skills required of musicians.
With persistence and determination on the part of a teacher who takes full responsibility for instructing AND inspiring every student, rhythm is the skill that opens the door to music literacy. Without the ability to read and perform printed rhythms, music remains mysterious and printed music is gibberish - however sharp the ear or agile the instrument. But with mastery of rhythm reading and rhythm performance, almost all printed music is immediately familiar at the most important level.
Rhythm fluency lets students tackle the other elements of music notation as intriguing puzzle parts that fit within an already established frame. With strong rhythm skills developed before - or during - the first year of ensemble instruction, students have confidence that the demands of music reading can be met with the same diligence and work ethic that allowed them to become rhythmically proficient. Rhythm fluency instills a belief in one's musical abilities and a willingness to work toward the worthy goal of music performance. When they reach this point, music literacy is within the grasp of every student.
Successful student musicians stay in successful music programs!!
Visual vs. Aural Tempo Cues
We recommend thorough practice with the sound muted. This absence of sound is the result of hard-learned lessons from great teachers. Dr. Green, the developer of this program, used a metronome throughout his career as a band and orchestra director and consistently encouraged teachers to do so. Let's review the results of that practice.
Following those early days of beginning classes, many teachers find it difficult to transition the instructional energy into ensemble performance. Most of us recall the first time that we put all of our beginner classes together each year. That can be a torturous experience for everyone. The teacher may approach panic as (s)he realizes that the students have no basis for understanding the imperative of watching for tempo. Sometimes, the only effective emergency measure is to make the metronome (or the percussion section) louder, which often solves the short-term problem but only compounds the mis-teaching that has already occurred.
In the early days of RhythmBee's development, every instructional unit had a subdivided click track. That is - there was one click for the down beat and other distinctive sounds for each subdivision. One of the program's first advocates began to turn her computer sound off. The master teacher simply said, "They pay better attention when there is silence." That master teacher was the late Marcy Zoffuto, former director of the award-winning Coyle Middle School Band in the Garland, Tx school district.
That simple statement began a research project to discover the best way to use the program. As you can guess by now, "Mrs. Z" was right, and the benefits of using a visual tempo cue from the very beginning surprised everyone involved. So all of the months of adding those sounds was corrected in just a couple of evenings as Dr. Green purged every unit of sound files. With the benefit of several years experience, we have decided to make that the teacher’s choice, though we recommend that muted sound should be the default choice. That practice will require that students rely on visual tempo cues.
Conclusion: Of course an audible tempo cue teaches immediate metric consistency. But it also teaches other things by implication. Here are some of the undesirable assumptions that our students make when we use a metronome for tempo cues while training them for ensemble participation.
- We need only listen for accurate tempo.
- Listening to other ensemble members for precision and tuning is less important than listening for tempo.
- We should keep our eyes on the music.
- Watching the conductor (the visual tempo cue) is of secondary importance.
Riding a horse will get us from place to place, but we elect to use more advanced means of transportation because we can. Similarly, since we have the ability to project an animated visual tempo cue in every classroom, the metronome is best used in the practice room for individual "wood-shedding." In the 21st Century, we can use more advanced methods in the band, orchestra, and choir room. Though almost all of our rhythm instruction files will have the metronome option, we recommend visual cues only as the normal method of using this product.
We all reach many crossroads in our profession. We often face one or more opportunities to change directions. That common experience among music educators accounts for the development of RhythmBee. Searching for any means of teaching all students rather than sorting for musical talent, Dr.Green began with a teachers tutorial that would ensure consistency across an entire secondary music cluster. At the same time, he was using a rhythm system to link elementary, middle, and high school music instruction. So, two instructional priorities joined forces, and RhythmBee was born.
Along the way, several surprising benefits became apparent.
- Students pay better attention when they must watch for the tempo. So we encourage that the sound be muted when using RhythmBee Units.
- Because of the multi-sensory nature and laser focus of RhythmBee instruction, a student can join a successful RhythmBee class anytime during the school year and quickly catch up to the class.
- Even mentally challenged students are learning to count accurately with the RhythmBee Program because it is impossible for them to get lost. They have hundreds of opportunities to feel every rhythmic sensation and relate that to the appropriate notation.
- Because the teacher does not have to remain front and center for the entire class, teachers are free to develop positive relationships with non-compliant students that are often counseled out of secondary music ensemble classes.
- Students enjoy the program because of the visual media and the light-hearted nature of each RhythmBee unit.
- The BellRinger is a more powerful idea than we ever expected it to be.
- The regimen of the program keeps teachers and students on task. So don't try to reinvent the wheel.
RhythmBee has incorporated tried and true methods and techniques which deserve your consideration. Best wishes for a successful experience with RhythmBee - the leader in automated rhythm instruction.
Preface: Please remember that the goal is to progress through a sequential rhythm curriculum until the beginning class can count rhythms that are one year more advanced than their performance ability. With that head start, we then continue to develop rhythm skills (counting abilities) that are far beyond what they perform in the course of ensemble participation. The result is that they never encounter music that looks difficult. Sightreading becomes easy and they are able to concentrate on tone and other elements of musical beauty.
RhythmBee stresses one physical or musical element at a time. The first element that we learn is the foot tap (finger tap for strings). When we learn even simple counting before we install an autonomic physical expression of a steady beat, we later find the need to add the foot tap to solve rhythmic problems that arise. That is not as easy and automatic as most of us think it is. So with the RhythmBee method, we DO NOTHING but tap the foot for more units than many think is necessary so that the foot tap is automatic (muscle memory).
However, new skills, animated characters, and new information are constantly introduced from the very beginning so that the mind stays busy. The gentle but persistent purpose is to call the mind away from active control of the foot tap. If there are students who make that muscle memory connection very early, help them stay engaged by conversing with them while they tap. When all seem to have an engrained foot tap, ask the class questions which require a choral response. (What is the name of our school? etc.) Then - while tapping - lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance, or incorporate other activities that will challenge them. It is not unreasonable to insist that they do that in the normal rhythm of speech rather than the rhythm or tempo of the foot tap.
The ultimate is to ask them to read prose DURING the foot tap units while they keep their foot going perfectly in time. To let them show off a bit, you might give them a written or oral quiz on what they have read. There will be students in every class who find the foot tap to be just that easy and automatic. They serve as great models for the rest of the students, as long as we don't allow them to get too proud of that skill.
It is important to keep all students engaged. And it is also important to let those who perform effortlessly understand that it cannot be too automatic. Guard against allowing your sharpest students to use their agile minds to just move from one task to another while they simulate muscle memory. Performance must be a muscle memory response for everyone. Some will resist the necessary practice because it seems so easy and they think they don't need the practice. Just keep giving them new tasks DURING the foot tap units so that they have to depend on practice to the point of "automaticity."
On the other end of the spectrum, there will be students who resist participating. As usual, it is important to encourage them personally and privately so that they learn that this program will not run away from them in favor of the bright and compliant students. Those hesitant souls will appreciate your willingness to sit by them and talk quietly while the rest of the class is moving through the unit. (Remember that the instruction is automated so that the teacher can move around and relate to every student on a personal basis.) As they come to understand that they will not be sorted out of the "good group," and they will not be singled out as unsuccessful, they will join the rest of the class in the fun of learning to read music - a skill that is mastered by less than 2% of Americans. By maintaining the ideal of teaching every student through the RhythmBee Program, teachers and students will experience rewards that print-bound music instruction cannot provide.
There is significant variety that a teacher can employ with any particular methodology. That is also true for RhythmBee. The most unusual non-musical feature of RhythmBee is what we call "The BellRinger." The BellRinger begins every rhythm instruction lesson with a digital clock that the teacher can set for a variety of times so that it counts down to the time that instruction will begin. This visual timer makes each student responsible for being on time for the start of class. No longer do we have to stand at the appointed place in the room to encourage the slow and admonish the noisy. With a large timer that is visible to everyone, no one can claim ignorance of the time. Such a carefully structured beginning seems to quiet the noisy while it expedites the slow movers.
After the BellRinger
So you are in class, the BellRinger has expired, and since you haven't had to be time keeper and "promptness police," you are still in a good mood. What do you do now?
It is very simple:
- The ideal is to get through one unit per day - starting with Unit 1 and proceeding in numeric order. If the material and the tempo are appropriate for the training of your group, the composite choral counting will be correct. A classroom that is counting the RhythmBee material in chorus is a "self-correcting organism." Students who do not get it right away hear the correct counting and see what is causing the other students to count that way. Eventually, every student gets it at surprising levels of proficiency.
- Units 4-11 have two options. One with the animated character and one without. The animation is a purposeful distraction that is designed to encourage the brain to assign the simpler tasks of rhythm performance to the autonomic function (muscle memory). But if the animation makes it impossible for the students to perform consistently, the units without the animation may be for you.
- Insist on ensemble accuracy (perfection) from Day #1, but don't go overboard so that RhythmBee becomes a drag. Remember that every unit reviews what we have been learning in the preceding units. So you can count on every student having many more chances tomorrow.
- Most teachers prefer to use a remote mouse (presentation mouse) to control the computer from anywhere in the room. (Sometimes a wireless mouse can be used for the same purpose.) Other teachers assign a reliable student to be the operator. However it is accomplished, the teacher must be free to circulate among the students and provide assessment and correction each day.
- Don't try to catch every student's learning (cognition) up to the task at hand - let them learn by doing. Just turn it on and ask them to do what the program asks. They will get plenty of review and practice in subsequent units.
- Don't perform with them in any way. They perform - you monitor and adjust - NO CLAPPING OR PROVIDING OTHER AURAL TEMPO CUES!! Make tempo their responsibility. Remember that we music educators are most valuable for our professional ears and our ability to make concise corrections.
- Walk around so you can monitor and adjust for every student.
- The ensemble units (quartets, trios, and duets) provide huge amounts of music, and we encourage assigning parts at the earliest opportunity and reading the ensembles in multiple parts. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you learned that your students can count in parts before Halloween? However, those units can also be used as unison counting exercises by counting each part with the entire class.
RhythmBee is on the cutting edge of music instruction. The direction and quality of our mutual and inevitable growth will depend on all of us being in communication. So please contact us and provide whatever feedback seems helpful. You can rest assured that further adjustments will result from the feedback of RhythmBee subscribers.
Because . . . If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work.