Teaching the Counting of Rhythm

One of the biggest challenges that I have had in my teaching, is the teaching of rhythm. Students are challenged with an abundance of numbers. They have a right hand finger number. They have a left hand finger number. Then they have a rhythmic beat number. They also have a number for how long they must hold notes. All of these numbers overwhelm many students. Dr. Carol Aicher, one of my professors at the Manhattan School of Music, taught me a great way to teach rhythm that she was taught by her teacher, Vera Wills. While doing some research, I found the originator of this rhythm system. Hazel Cobb came out with the book, Rhythm with Rhyme and Reason: Counting Made “Easy as Pie” in 1947. She wrote an article, Rhythm –Easy as Pie, in Clavier magazine in 1963. One of Dr. Aicher’s big sayings was “From known to unknown.” What do children learn as a toddler? Words.

There are many counting systems out there. In college coursework I was introduced to different systems such as metric counting, the McHose counting system, and other Kodály based systems. These systems are addressed in pedagogy textbooks such as The Well Tempered Keyboard Teacher as well as Beth Gigante Klingenstein’s book.

The beauty of Hazel Cobb’s system, is that it uses familiar words that will be remembered by the student. From known to unknown. The purpose of her system is to help students see and feel rhythmic patterns. Each note is represented by a syllable. Using Ap-ple to count eighth notes, and pie to count quarter notes really has resonated with my students.

Any reluctance I have seen with my students is the result of having to learn a new system. I had an adult student in one of my college classes. She was easily thirty years older than many of the students. She had musical experience, mainly as a vocalist. She wanted to take the class for fun to get better at playing the piano. She resisted this counting system that I was teaching the rest of the class. I noticed, but didn’t want to make an issue of it. As the semester went on, I noticed that I eventually won her over without saying anything. At the end of the semester, she came to me and said, “You know I have to tell you I resisted your counting system at the beginning. But I now use it to figure out my counting both for piano and for my vocal music.”

I use the counting system myself when I practice. Here is a list of the words that I use with my students. Some are different than Hazel Cobb’s, and some are the same. Carol Aicher suggested to use words that are evenly syllabic. I hope you find these useful. In a future post, I will show how to use these rhythm words with a rhythm worksheet.



  1. Hi, Brandon. I’m a huge fan of using words to help with rhythm. Thanks for sharing the heritage behind this thinking. I also appreciate the words you use for the big-number subdivisions! I appreciate you listing my blog as a favorite 🙂

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