Issue 42: Help With Sight-Reading – Keeping the Pulse and Rhythm

I discovered early on – probably at about Grade 2 – that I couldn’t actually cope with counting numbers out loud “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and ” while trying to read and play handfuls of notes. I intuitively developed a method of going “der der der der” in my head as I played, with the “der” sounds being at the smallest notes value that I needed to deal with, usually quavers. Now that I am a grown-up, I realise that what I was doing was “sub-dividing the beat”. A good example of this technique at its most extreme is when I used it for getting the rhythm EXACTLY correct in the first movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata;

Thinking in demi-semiquavers (8 x “der” to one crotchet), and starting each new crotchet beat on a new line to try and make it nearly possible to see what I am on about, the first bar, in my head, would go something like this, playing the actual notes on the bold syllables;





I’m not teaching at the level when it is likely or reasonable that my students should be faced with sight-reading at this level. So here is something rather simpler;

You may prefer to use French ta- and ta-fa times, or the usual “1-e-and-a- 2-e-and-a-“. Because I can’t count, and don’t have much brain-space left for complicated thinking when I am sight-reading, I would designate “DER” to be semiquavers, and go;

DER der der der DER DER DER DER

DER der der der DER DER DER DER

DER DER DER der DER der DER der

DER der DER der DER der DER der

It works for me – and it may work for your pupils. Dotted and syncopated rhythms become easy to play – just allow the right number of “ders” for the note value you are wrestling with.

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