Student counting notes

Barb said: Jun 2, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
685 posts

Hi all,

I have a 7 yo student in his third year of lessons, playing at Happy Farmer level in the Suzuki repertoire. He is starting to read music to a degree and likes to watch the music as he plays, but he also is playing by ear. Early on I caught him counting the repeated notes in Lightly Row (not reading then, of course) and thought I had stopped it. I am continually encouraging the family to do more listening to clear up problems. He tends to make mistakes and get them ingrained between lessons (not enough help from mom? as well as not enough listening?), especially when there are repeated notes. Maybe the mother or a sibling is trying to help him by counting the notes, or it’s his own device, I don’t know. Mom is aware enough to let me know where he’s making the same mistakes repeatedly when they get to the lesson, but she has trouble being present at all practice times due to having and homeschooling a large family. He is usually not aware of leaving out notes or skipping entire sections, and I spend part of the lesson doing corrections and telling him and his mother that he has his own version playing in his brain, getting reinforced every time he plays it, and he needs to replace that with the recorded version. There have been times I had to tell him to STOP practicing something and only LISTEN. I do usually have him sing a piece for me so that I know he has listened enough to start playing it, but then after he starts to play it somewhere something goes wrong. Do they stop listening once he starts to learn a piece?

Anyway, last week he learned a Cello Time Runners piece (Pick a Bale of Cotton)—he was supposed to be part of his listening every day of course for the last three weeks…and I didn’t test him by having him sing it this time because we had a week off from lessons… but he came in with some trouble and told me the reason he had trouble in one spot is because he had trouble counting four notes instead of five. !! (They are 16ths, and the first 16th of the next bar is the same note as the last four of the previous bar sometimes, but sometimes it’s different.) I watched his lips and sure enough, he was counting repeated notes.

I told them again we should never count notes that way, and decided it was time to introduce counting 16ths: 1 & 2e&a 1e&a 2e&a… Though at that point we didn’t have time for a full lesson on counting… Mom does know how to count that way though. He told me that was weird. :-) I really didn’t think he would need to count these notes in ANY way as it should be easy to learn with enough listening!

Have any of you experienced anything like this?

What do you do to prevent students from counting repeated notes?

What do you do to correct it if it happens? (Before they are reading? After they start reading?)

How can I help the mother help the student in catching mistakes before they become engrained?

Thanks for your thoughts and advice.

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Carrie said: Jun 3, 2012
 60 posts

For the listening end of things, my teacher trainer taught me, and I have done it now, to use lesson time to listen. I explain that I hate to use time that they are paying me to teach for listening, but it is just that important. Then we walk to the CD, sing with it, clap with it, march to it, dance to it… Anything to get it into the body.

I also use words for rhythm. Pepperoni works well for four even notes, but when it’s 16ths, you have to say it a lot slower than you can play it. Usually for a week or two I will find the student relying on the word. Then the rhythm becomes a part of him and he doesn’t need it any more.



Lori Bolt said: Jun 3, 2012
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

If the repeated notes can be tied together rhythmically (sixteenths, eighths), I think Barb’s idea would work well for a student ready to count that way. It seems it would discourage counting of individual notes and place the focus on the rhythm.

I have had issues with counting how many notes in the third phrase of Lightly Row…counting 5 Ds, then 5 Es. To break this, I have the student listen to me play the first 4 Ds and then imitate. We do this several times, keeping attention on matching my sound, not how many I play. I then have them follow me on the next 3 notes, which start on that next D. Third, we begin with the first 4 Ds, pause—I give the Go signal—then play the next 3 notes. This is their assignment for the week, always pausing. I think this helps the student hear the groupings of notes instead of counting so many in a row.
I sometimes need to do this on Allegretto 2 also.

Lori Bolt

Laurie Maetche said: Jun 4, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Guitar, Piano, Cello, Viola
Lacombe, AB
14 posts

I teach both the traditional method and Suzuki method depending on the student, because of this I find I get into note reading sooner than some other teachers. Over the years I have found that subdividing the beat into 1e and a slows the student down and they begin to look at each note individually instead of with the overall flow and musicality in mind, also some students just don’t understand the concept as it’s fractions which they have not studied in school yet.
Many years ago I purchased a book “Fiddle Rhythms” by Sally O’Reilly. It has now been reprinted and is called “Violin Rhythms” I find this book has been a wonderful resource for both styles of teaching.
What is interesting is the 12 rhythms are introduced using Twinkle Twinkle finger patterns but with the rhythm, for example: “I like huckleberry pie” (1/4, 1/4, 4 sixteenths, 1/4) then she gives other examples of well known repertoire with the new rhythm. With this format a student understands the relationship between quarter notes and the combination of notes that equal a quarter note (fractions). Some of the rhythms are even used in compound time, so they are compared to the dotted quarter note.
I find that generally a note reading student now understands how their eyes must be moving forward constantly to help with correct timing, repetition of notes, and musicality.
Putting words to groups of notes (Just like the variations of Twinkle) helps a student with just a glance be able to more quickly achieve positive results, without resorting to counting notes.

Barb said: Jun 4, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
685 posts

Some good ideas, thanks!

I definitely need to use lesson time for listening for some students., and showing them some active listening like clapping etc. is a great idea.

Carrie has a good point that once it is internalized no counting should be necessary—I think it’s true no matter the method used to get there. When I read (ahead, as you say, Laurie), I don’t think 1e&a, I see the group of notes and know how they go.

I compare learning to read rhythms with 1e&a something like learning reading words with phonics. I think we start with a combination of site words and sounding out with phonics, and eventually we end up reading by sight—though we may occasionally run into new words we need to slow down and sort out.

I learned with the 1e&a counting—I was older though. Using a word like Huckleberry can work as a stage for some—we all do it with Twinkles. I find it useful now to know 1e&a when having to sort out complicated syncopations—but don’t use it continually as I play, just a tool to sort out something that I can’t read quickly. If I used a word like Huckleberry it wouldn’t help me to line up beats. (I had that Fiddle Rhythms book for a short time—it passed through a few families as our kids took violin lessons—good stuff as I recall—maybe I should ask for it back.)

Lori, breaking things up like that is a great idea.

Thanks again, everyone.

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