How to Teach Your Students to Count Themselves In

Jessica from Virginia recently posted a question in the iTapOnline Community:

I was teaching a level 1/2 tap class tonight for ages 10-13. The kids were working on a rhythm project in pairs and I kept catching one group counting each other in “3 2 1 go.” I corrected them two or three times asking them to count “1 2 3 4.” After a while they asked me why it mattered. It caught me off guard for a second, but I quickly told them that’s how other musicians and dancers count, and if we don’t learn the same way we won’t be able to communicate effectively. They countered saying “but we understand each other.” I stressed again that it’s about ALL dancers and musicians understanding each other. They seemed dissatisfied but I moved on.
How would you have explained the need to count in correctly? Once they started their rhythms they were counting 1e+a2e+a etc. It was only their lead in that they modified.

Here’s how I teach my students the importance of a count in…

One thing that I always say to my newer students is that 1 2 3 4 doesn’t mean green light, GO! I explain to them how deep a count in is. That when I count them in, I’m giving them the time signature, the tempo and the groove.

I also teach them how to count themselves in. I tell them to think of the step in their mind, take their time, they can even take a second to dance the step if they want to do it out loud, and from there, decide their tempo. Then moving forward, my students count themselves in.

If they count themselves in at a certain tempo and start dancing at a different tempo, I’ll call them out on it and ask them to start again. Sometimes younger dancers will mix up their triplet for a sixteenth note and give a wonky count in. We pause and we try again.

If someone raises their hand and says, can we do it slower? Or faster? I say sure, go ahead and count us in.

By giving them the responsibility of the count in, they understand the importance of a solid count in.

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