Mozart Minuet K. 5, piano lessons by Skype, teaching rhythm

Piano Study: Does counting out beats have to be robotic? (Videos)

I’m open to a panoply of ideas about teaching piano, and I’ve often integrated a variety of mentoring approaches based on feedback from colleagues.

The latest discussion that caught my attention, centered on “counting beats” in the early learning stages of a new composition. For some the notion of oral “counting” at all in the baby step advance of a piece, (or beyond) was viewed as “metronomic,” “robotic” and devoid of “musicality.”

One poster introduced the topic as one that made her want to “scream.”

(I can think of worse things to scream about–like students not practicing or COUNTING when they need to)

In my expansive archive of Lesson-in-Progress videos, I dare to COUNT as I clap, tap, syl-la–ble–ize, conduct, and sing all at once in my not so perfect soprano.

Case in point: One of my adult pupils is working on a very challenging Mozart Minuet in F–K.5 where opening treble triplet 8ths precede a second measure of quarters, followed by a third one, with a 16th note thread followed two quarters. (In the first measure, the triplet has a quarter underlying in the bass, while the ensuing two measures divide the melodic quarter into 8ths, then 16ths)

Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5

So how does a teacher go about helping the student unravel this complex rhythmic transition in an early, impressionable learning stage.


In Mozart’s Minuet, the first measure, must be felt as a rolling triplet outflow, so that COUNTING must blend in character with slurred groupings of these figures framed in 3/4 time.

In the spirit of three fluid groupings, I could intone, One-a-lee, Two-da-lee, Three-da-lee, or as the student did, “trip-l-et, trip-l-et, trip-l-et…(syllables are a wonderful adjunct to counting)

For the second measure, where the treble quarters would be subdivided by 8ths, (in my opinion) I enlisted, the verboten COUNTING model. This time, singing, “One and Two and Three and” through the melodic strand.

(The “SINGING PULSE,” as Murray Perahia, poet of the piano, terms it, is WHAT COUNTS, not the NUMERICS)

In the third measure, where 16ths permeate the first “BEAT,” I used DOUBLE-LEED-LE, two and three and….(i.e. four 16ths are followed by two quarter notes) –-Singing, conducting, and phrasing the beats defeated ROBOTIC counting…

Making a transition from triplets to quarters that are subdivided by 8ths (or 16ths) and in reverse, (back to triplets) requires an exposure to BEATS, in a eurhythmic frame right from the start.

(Eurhythmics is a motion, “feel,” body experienced, internal sense of the “BEAT,” its groupings, and PHRASING that’s acquired through repeated exposure)

So COUNT-LESS times I’ve COUNTED, without a thread of guilt, using syllabic variations, but never in a dry, pedantic manner. It’s always been within a “musical” framing.

Finally, it’s our job as teachers to seed a student’s learning process so that he GROWS and thrives to independence.

Counting, therefore, is not an end all at lessons, it’s the beginning of a music-loving journey that draws on creative infusions of energies in an ever-expanding eurhythmical universe.

Lesson in Progress (UK student by SKYPE) (EARLY stage learning, Mozart Minuet K. 5)

My Play Through

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