Rhythm Allergy

Beyond regular challenges of learning rhythms, some students do struggle much more than others. I call these students rhythm allergic not because they can’t be cured, but to describe how deep this problem goes.

Rhythm Allergy: Rhythm 101

What is really causing your student’s Rhythm Allergy? Which rhythm skill is she lacking? Get to the root cause of her troubles with rhythm by following this step-by-step procedure.


  • Do each of these steps at several lessons to determine the root of the issue:
    1. Tap the rhythm of a short section with no reference to the written music.
    2. Vocalise the rhythm (counting or using syllables) and point to the notes as you say them.
    3. Play the rhythm of a section on any one note.
    4. Play a section one hand at a time, as written, while vocalising the rhythm.
    5. Tap the rhythm of a section using both hands, and coordinating them as they would be played.
    6. Play a section hands together while vocalising the rhythm.
  • When you find the heart of the issue, you can design exercises and assignments to conquer it once and for all.

Rhythm Allergy: Unison Immersion

Much like learning a language, sometimes total immersion is the best strategy when it comes to rhythm. We can count and vocalise ’til the cows come home, but some students just need to feel and experience the note values in action.


  • In a different octave on the same piano – or on a second piano if you have one – play all your student’s music in unison with her.
  • Don’t allow yourself to get swayed by her rhythms. If she cannot stay with you at all, slow down until she is less lost.
  • Persist with this in short spurts or for entire lessons, depending on how frustrating your student finds the process.
  • To add some fun to this exercise and spark her imagination, tell her that there are dancers practicing in the next room. Anytime she gets out of sync with you, the dancers loose their footing and have to start the routine all over again (so you need to start the section/piece again).
  • Record your student’s pieces so that she has the Unison Immersion option for at home practice too.