In this article we’re going to highlight some specific rhythm exercises that all musicians can use to improve their rhythmic understanding. The really great part about these rhythm exercises is that you can practice some of them away from your instrument, meaning that you can work on rhythmic training while you’re at the gym, in the car, at work, waiting in line… anywhere. One excellent app to have on your smart phone is a basic metronome app. There are many free metronome apps available online and we will be using a metronome for these exercises so if you don’t have one already it’s a good idea to get one.
The first challenge for many intermediate students is to become comfortable with moving from the beat (for example, the quarter note in 4/4 time) to the various subdivisions of the beat: eighth notes, triplet eighths, sixteenths — and in any sequence. It is possible that students at this level have not had to deal with such frequent and rapid movements from one note value to the next, or would benefit from solidifying this skill. Surprisingly, of the hundreds of Scarlatti sonatas I have surveyed in the recent past, only a few did not use all the note values mentioned above. Therefore, a good way to start is to create rhythm exercises that correct any weaknesses before the sonatas are studied.
Counting aloud is preferred, but not mandatory. However, if the student cannot perform the examples with accuracy, then I write out the correct counting and count while the student plays. It is acceptable — and in some cases even desirable — for the rhythm exercises to be approached by imitation of the teacher (the student claps or taps by imitation, without necessarily understanding the rhythm first). This can help with the preparation of executing rhythmic changes, but it is not essential for all students.
The following 21 rhythm exercises are designed to develop skills in identifying, notating, and performing rhythmic patterns. These examples are in both audio and notation format, and get progressively more difficult.