The Additive Rhythm Technique

Rhythm can be easy to understand and read. Most students have trouble remembering how to count all the different Rhythms they have been taught. Maybe it's that the focus is on the wrong idea or maybe just it needs a shift in perspective....


Traditional approaches to teaching Rhythm has been a divisional process for a very long time. ART is different - instead of dividing (separating), think adding (combining)

ART is the answer to "How does it go?"

Time is wasted with explaining Rhythm each time every student has a question - the ART Approach Teaches them how to learn on their own!

Most students learn rhythm by having someone play it for them and repeating it enough times to memorize how it goes (you would be surprised that most students learn this way even though music educators do what they can to test and check). That works to some degree, but when the tempo changes and you mix up more rhythms than they are used to playing together, they get lost somewhat quickly. They don’t really get “rhythm” as a concept and how the notation gives them the information they need to learn. They get the information, but they don’t get how to synthesize it! So, I have developed the Additive Rhythm Technique (ART) to alleviate this and other problems I have encountered in students. The experience of teaching students one-on-one, in a small ensemble setting (say a band class of the 6-10 percussionists) and large groups (Marching Band settings, etc.) has shown me that this technique completely opens the door for their understanding of rhythm and notation and gives them the tools to understand any rhythm that comes their way!

A New Paradigm for Teaching Rhythm

 The traditional approach to teaching rhythm involves generally a divisional approach. Most people will start with learning whole notes and being told that they are worth four beats. This is generally true, but as most musicians know, there are a number of exceptions to that statement. Then they will learn half notes, being told that each of the half notes are half the length of a whole note and they are worth two beats each (again with exceptions). Along with the notes, people are introduced to rests, which have the same names as the notes but you don’t play during these. Then, quarter notes are introduced - each half as long as a half note and wort one beat.
What is taught next is cutting the quarter notes in half to get eighth notes. For the most part, people are told that eighth notes (and rests) are worth half a beat. Then the idea of sixteenth notes come up and they are worth one fourth of a beat. 
For the first year or so of a young musician’s training, the stick with “easy” rhythms, like quarters, halves, and wholes. Eighth note are introduced and much work is placed on getting them to understand how to play them together and evenly. This usually is met with various results. I contend that the students are trying to do what they are told, but playing “half a beat” is at best guess work. If you try to go half way across a room without measuring, the best you can do is guess! This is just like what is normally asked of beginning students - “play half a beat”... Honestly, this is guess work also.

Maybe there is a better way...

What if there was a way to teach rhythms so that students could not only understand how to play what they see, but they could have the tools to learn new rhythms without being shown how to play them?

What if there was a way to have people really feel rhythm and feel how there rhythms fit in with other parts of different rhythms?

What if there was a way to do this and speed up the process of understanding by 50% to 90%?

There is!!

Instead of thinking of our notation system as one of division, start with the idea that everything begins with sixteenth notes. I know that this idea is used in some approaches, but they generally are looking at working with subdivisions first and using the system in a different order. I am NOT talking about this. I am talking about seeing the rhythms starting in a different place. There is no division any more, you now just relate to notes by counting, not dividing beats. I will utilize all the same well-known nomenclature, but I want you to think a bit differently about it.

Rhythm Books

See the Publications area to see books and materials available to teach ART!

ART can be taught from the beginning

At the elementary school level, there are a few concepts that are thought as too advanced for that age. Since traditional thinking is a divisional process, the idea of using Sixteenths is ruled out almost immediately. BUT, what if there was a way to teach from the Sixteenth level? What if students could learn what they learn now, exactly the same music and ideas, but just from a different perspective? If you consider this, you find there is a way not only to teach from the Additive viewpoint, you also can find out that you need less information to teach the same things! Normally, students learn these pieces of Rhythm information up through about 4th grade: Whole Notes, Whole Rests, Half Notes, Half Rests, Quarter Notes, Quarter Rests, Eighth Notes, Eighth Rests, Sixteenth Notes, Sixteenth Rests (sometimes, not always), Triplets, 4/4 Time, 3/4 Time, 2/4 Time, 6/8 Time and possibly even more! That is quite a bit of information. Many teachers find they have less time in the classroom to teach all of these concepts and end up “teaching for the concert” more than teaching the fundamentals. (Considering that they are also trying to teach pitch, dynamics, balance and also multi-cultural ideas, teachers have very little time left over!) Counting up all of those Rhythm pieces, thats somewhere between 14 and 20! Not impossible, but what if you could do it with less pieces? Wouldn’t that free up more time for teaching things other than Rhythm? I propose that you can teach Rhythm for younger ages by only introducing the idea of Notes and Rests.

If you only teach Notes (written as Sixteenths) and Rests (Sixteenths also), you can just teach the difference between the two - Notes make sound, Rests make silence. It may look different to you, but students only know what you show them. If it’s that simple, all students will know what to do when. Also, Time Signatures can be simplified to just a simple “4” or “3” or “2.” There is no need to get into what the bottom number means. Students rarely remember this into upper grades and they don’t even need to know it! 

 For the Long-Short concept, you can use Ties! This simplifies this process and only requires students to understand one more concept for all longer Notes! It truly is an easier way to think. Once more, you don’t have to change the way you teach, just what it looks like to students. It would work with accepted teaching methods (Kodaly, Orff, etc). The material would look a bit different, but the approach could stay essentially the same. 

 So, instead of trying to teach 14 to 20 ideas, you can do it with 6! All you need is: Notes, Rests, Ties, 4, 3, and 2! All songs used at the elementary level can be done with only these 6 things! The ART for Younger Ages gives you material to help teach the concepts. Once students are familiar with the ideas of counting to 4, 3 and 2, they can then transition to the way of counting that all musicians use. (Ok, well almost all) It is recommended that this transition happen the year before they move to learning other instruments like Band, Orchestra or other. Until then, they only need the 6 basic components! Think of the time you can save. You also will have more time to teach other fundamentals!

Two tied sixteenth notes can be rewritten as one eighth note. Now, this may not seem all that important at the moment, but it becomes very important when you go through the process of reading something new. This shortcut of an Eighth note makes it faster for your brain to process the information (at least three times as fast). Since there is less to look at, there is less to process, hence more speed! As long as you keep the idea that and Eighth note is ALWAYS worth two Sixteenth notes no matter what counts you are  on, how fast you are going or what time of day it is, you will be able to read anything! Now, you can extrapolate on to other notes. A Quarter note is worth four Sixteenth notes - ALWAYS. No matter how you count them, Quarter notes are always worth four Sixteenths. Half notes are worth eight Sixteenth notes and Whole notes are worth sixteen Sixteenth notes. The exact same principals apply to rests for their respective lengths, lest you forget. Now on the surface, this doesn’t seem all that important. BUT, when you begin to use this information in learning new rhythms, or “harder” rhythms, it becomes extremely helpful! That, my friend, is the power in this whole process. When you understand that Eighth notes are worth two counts (and not necessarily half a beat), you can then count accurately through these notes and rests. Instead of assuming you know how long a note is, you will know how long it is - the counting structure tells you! 80% of what you will ever perform is based in Sixteenth notes and rests. Even getting just this part of the picture learned with dramatically improve your understanding of rhythm! Fuhrman Music Publications is dedicated to developing material to help people not only understand this process, but be able to put it into practice so that people can read faster and more accurately at an earlier age. The sooner music sounds good, the more students want to play and learn! If they can sound good right away, they will stay in music longer! Check out the Publications page to find out what we have to offer in your endeavor to be a better reader!

  • Kevin Fuhrmanʼs Additive Rhythm Technique has given my singers the power to read rhythm. Students no longer rely on rote learning and are able to figure out difficult rhythmic passages on their own. Kevinʼs system of addition, rather than division, is simple. Kids get it and use it. I highly recommend this technique for anyone looking for a way to infuse the real learning and implementation of rhythm into their music curriculum.

    Nichole Brenna, Choir Teacher
    Orono High School, Long Lake MN

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