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When beginners start on the piano, they have to learn how to make their hands do different things, position their hands correctly, move their hands gracefully across the keys, read notes, and more - it’s a significant undertaking.

In addition to all the notes they learn, they need to know how to count and play rhythms. The right notes at the wrong time are, in fact, wrong notes!

When a child or adult signs up for piano lessons in Greenville, our skilled faculty members will instill a strong sense of rhythm, teach the student how to read time signatures and count accurately, and more.

How To Teach Rhythm to Pianists

Strategy 1 – Break Down What the Rhythms Are

We spend a lot of time talking to students about what rhythms are called, how many beats they last, how to match that with the tempo, and how those rhythms appear on the staff. We do this with the greatest intentions, but we never explain what these rhythms are.

Write down the rhythms for your kids on a piece of paper. At the top is a whole note. It—traditionally—lasts four counts (let’s not get caught up with other time signatures and all that—you know just as well as I that most music is in 4/4.)

If the whole note is worth four beats, a half note is two beats. That’s HALF of a whole note. A quarter note is one count—that’s ONE QUARTER of a whole note. Eighth notes are half a count or an EIGHTH of a whole note, and sixteenth notes are a fourth of a count or—you guessed it—a sixteenth of a whole note.

This does not solve all your problems, but defining these notes as if they were in the dictionary will help a lot of kids who feel that random dots and lines on a page are abstract.

Strategy 2 – Play Along

Yes, you want your kids to learn how to play rhythms and respond to music, but they often need some help. Start as simple as possible. An old pedagogical favorite will always be Hot Cross Buns because the song is easy and has only three different notes in it. Put the student on one side of the bench and you on the other side.

Play along with your student, hum along, sing the words, and give them the support they need. (You might be surprised to learn that most band, orchestra, and chorus kids learn to play like this because the whole group plays a rhythm, they hear how it’s supposed to go, and they catch on.) Pianists do not have that benefit.

Play the song with one hand, hum along, and point to the rhythms as you play so that the student can line up what they are doing with what they see. Combine as many sensory experiences as you can to help each student learn in their own way.

Strategy 3 – Count with Your Kids

Counting is a massive part of any music education curriculum. However, it’s boring if it’s the first thing you do. Let your student get their feet wet with an explanation or definition of the rhythms, play along with them, point to the page, sing along, and help them understand what they see.

When they better understand what is on the page, teach them to count properly. Why? It’s an easy warmup for a new song. If your student knows how to play Hot Cross Buns in four, they would count (and clap—it helps!): 1-2-3 (rest) 1-2-3 (rest) 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1-2-3 (rest)

Yes, those ampersands are “and”. This is not only the “traditional” way to count rhythms (as in, these kids might go to band, orchestra, or chorus and know how to count rhythms with the class,) but it is easy to do.

When you move up to Mary Had a Little Lamb, you can clap and count the song like: 1-2-3-4-1-2-3 (rest) 1-2-3 (rest) 1-2-3 (rest) 1-2-3-4-1-2-3 (rest) 1-2-3-4-1… The student gets an idea of how it goes before their fingers ever touch the keyboard.

Should You Practice Piano With a Metronome?

Yes. That’s all. Yes, you absolutely must practice with a metronome. You have no conductor to lead you when you are by yourself. Plus, a metronome helps you learn to remain in-time. The more accustomed you become to the metronome, the more likely you are to play in-time.

What Is The Importance Of Rhythm for a Pianist?

A pianist is often playing alone, and they have no one to keep time. You might get away with playing out of time on your own, but it becomes quite clear to the trained ear. Plus, if you ever accompany someone—you need to play in-time. Want to play a concerto? You need to be able to play in-time with the orchestra. Rhythm is often overlooked because there is so much to do, but the song doesn’t end in the right place if you play the wrong rhythms.


Learning to play rhythms properly is a massive part of your musicianship when you sign up for piano lessons in Greenville. What if you want to take drum lessons or learn band instruments? You need to be even more rhythmically sound. Give these tips a try today.