Steady beat, Rhythm and Tempo
ABRSM Grade exams are very well known in United Kingdom. They cover different aspects of music learning such as pieces, technical requirements (scales, arpeggios and broken chords), sight-reading and aural. As students I think all of us have experienced some difficulties on aural learning when trying to find the steady beat, usually misunderstanding it with rhythm. I often find this on my students.
My general advice as a teacher and musician is to explain these very clearly as many times as you need from almost the beginning.
The difference between beat, rhythm and tempo is:
- Beat: unit of measurement of pulse of music and it is indicated in the time signature. The accents on the music are intrinsically related to the time signature.
Steady beat is a continuous pulse during a piece of music.
- Rhythm: Combination of different note values in length. You can have a rhythm made of short values or you can have a rhythm made of long and short values, et cetera.
- Tempo: speed of the beat. How fast or slow the beat or pulse is.
How to show your students the difference between them.
- Beat: I often tell my students that to feel a steady beat you have to imagine that you are listening to a piece of music on the radio or in a concert. In a natural way we feel the steady beat or pulse when we move the foot or the head along with the music. It is incredible how my students are immediately able to clap the steady beat as I play just keeping that thought in mind.
- Rhythm: play a well known piece or song (Happy birthday, Jingle Bells, Fur Elise…) and use first the original rhythm. Then change some of the values: make the long notes shorter and vice versa. Ask the student what the difference was.
Tempo: this one is quite straight forward. Choose another well known piece (we always choose famous pieces or songs as the student can easily identify any changes) and play it at original tempo, change to slow and one more time much faster. Make them also clap the steady beat along so they can notice how it has changed.
Reinforce all these elements during different lessons and in different situations such as during scales, improvisation or the pieces they are performing. Change tempo and rhythm and ask them to identify what it has changed.
I believe that as teachers we need to use an approach based on experience but also on knowledge. How to combine these two learning methods perfectly is our goal and we work hard to offer the best education to all our students!