By Dr. Julie Knerr

Since we created Piano Safari over ten years ago, we have gradually refined our teaching strategies and added new ideas in our own teaching. One of these “add-on” ideas relates to rhythm.

We have discovered that students read music better when they see the patterns and contours of notes in groups rather than reading one note at a time (See the Super Awesome Sight Reading Series for an in depth look at reading). In a similar way, students gain a better sense of rhythm when they see groups of notes as rhythm patterns as well, rather than counting note by note.

Here are the Animal Rhythm Patterns we use in Piano Safari Level 1:

We begin teaching these Animal Rhythm Patterns from the very first lesson. We have integrated these patterns clearly in the Sight Reading Cards for Book 1, Levels A and B (very first levels) Cards.  In the Rhythm Tapping Exercises at the bottom of each card, we have the students tap and count using both the Animal Rhythm Patterns and the Syllabic Counting System. The patterns continue to be used throughout the three sets of Sight Reading Cards and combined with other rhythms.

Here is an example from the first unit of Sight Reading Cards, Level A. At the bottom of this card is a Rhythm Tapping Exercise. The animal counting and syllabic counting have been written in. It is amazing how fast even the youngest children can absorb these rhythms when they count using the animal names.

Internalizing rhythm proceeds in four phrases:

  1. Animal Rhythm Counting (Beginning through Level 2)
  2. Animal Rhythms Combined with Syllabic Counting (Beginning through Level 3)
  3. When students begin Piano Safari Level 2, we introduce Metric Counting. We keep using the other types of counting simultaneously as we make the transition to Metric Counting.
  4. Students gradually use only Metric Counting (although truth be told, I think I’ll always think of the four eighths, two quarter rhythm as “Zechariah Zebra!”)