Reasons to Teach Your Students to Keep a Steady External Beat

External Beat

The key to a young musician getting a feel for and developing a passion for the music they’re learning, is when they discover the beat. It’s important for a music student to understand why they need to keep the beat externally, instead of in their head. Going even further, they should keep that external beat with their heel, rather than with their toe. Here are some reasons to keep an external beat (with your heel) when playing music.

1. To develop a steady tempo.
A student’s ability to keep a steady beat often depends on their natural ability, and the amount of time they’ve put in. But in order to give a student the best shot in developing a steady tempo early on, they need to hear it and feel it within their body. Even if they think they have the internal beat mastered, it’s never worth trusting just that to develop a steady beat. The tempo is the basis of the song, it needs to be carried out properly every time.

2. To count time values of trills and long notes.
Try to count 16 beats in your head while holding a note. It’s pretty difficult, not matter how good you are at playing your instrument. If you have the beat externally from the beginning of the song, when these long notes come up, you’ll be covered.

3. Enables you to subdivide the beats.
It’s much easier to count a half beat if you can assign one half to the “down” and one half to the “up” of your heel. If the beat isn’t physical, it’s harder to split them up into half and especially quarter beats.

4. Necessary for eventual marching.
This is where I talk about why it’s better to keep the external beat with your heel rather than your toe. If a student will be eventually learning to march, and they’re used to keeping a beat with their heel, it’s much easier for them to get the movement that comes with marching.

5. The heel is quieter.
Ever hear a bunch of slapping toes on a big hollow stage when a band is playing? It’s distracting for the player and the audience. Teaching a student to use their heel means that that slap noise won’t interfere with the song when it’s performed.

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