Why teach rhythm? There is no reason! What exactly does rhythm teach? Absolutely nothing!
Many argue that rhythm is in fact is very useful: it teaches to move to music, and to do it in a rhythmic way. I understand kids need more opportunities to move around. And it’s great if it can be done to music – there’s more pleasure in that. But what exactly does general movement to music teach? Many people think that these lessons help to develop one’s ‘music ear.’ This isn’t so. An ear for music is the ability to hear and comprehend sounds. If this ability isn’t present from birth, it is developed specifically with the help of one’s voice, and by reading notes and writing in music notation. As for the movement of one’s hands and legs, these are skills of general coordination, specifically of dancing. They have absolutely no relationship to the understanding of the language of music.
There lies a channel of perception behind every type of activity, tied to the neurons of the brain. If a child learns to march to music, this barely gets him any closer to understanding the language of the music of this same march. Clapping hands might improve some necessary muscle skills for playing a select few instruments, such as percussion, xylophones, and rhythm guitar.
With keyed instruments, it doesn’t help at all. The muscles and neuron paths that are responsible for clapping in rhythm don’t have any control over the work of the individual fingers of the hands! To play a song on the piano that has just been clapped out in rhythm involves a completely different process. Rhythm is much more simple for hands, and in order to play the full melody, it takes an incomparably more complicated amount of coordination. As a rule, often music lessons start with rhythm, as it is easiest. This is the same as hoping to learn to drive by playing car-racing videogames, since it is much easier and less risky than actually driving a car.
When using rhythm during lessons, we try to rely on the music memory of the student. Yet, in essence, he doesn’t have one yet. For most beginners, it’s only started to form! Only a person with a developed music perception can play a clapped-out rhythm on the piano, or write down the notation of a stamped-out march. Few people have this talent!
If a person wants to learn to swim, he should swim, not wave his arms while he stands next to the pool! In order to learn to properly use utensils, one must use them constantly. Going the roundabout way when it comes to the development of skills is useless, and takes a long time.
Clapping in rhythm, singing songs, hitting drums, marching to music – all exclusively teach to clap rhythm, to sing songs, to hit drums and to march to music. These activities have little to do with a real music education. When school is over, these skills are absolutely useless. Have you ever heard someone brag about how well he can march to music and clap in rhythm? Yet even now, teachers waste a lot of energy on this. And we all pay millions of dollars for these lessons and think that this money is being spent to save the art of music.