25 Jan 2014

iPhone Rhythm Calculator… Friend or Foe?



I take an occasional look in the app store to see if there’s anything new in the music world that might be helpful.

This new Rhythm Calculator app has me really scratching my head and wondering if it’s the best thing ever, or if I should exit the app store immediately, run for the hills, and hope my students never ever find it.  It allows you to “type in” a section of rhythm and have it played back to you in perfect time and tempo.  Supposedly…

Needless to say out of sheer $0.99 curiosity I’m going to download it.

Then I caught myself having an angel/devil conversation in my head…

rhythm calculator


PRO thought:  ”Wowww, this could save students a lot of trouble when they practice… We could avoid the issue of students returning to lessons with incorrect rhythms that they have practiced all week and now know REALLY well…”

CON thought:  ”YIKES!  STUDENTS CHEATING WITH RHYTHM!?  How will they ever internalize rhythm and know how to perform this rhythm when they see it next time!”

PRO:  ”But maybe since the app plays the rhythm to the student, it will give them a lasting auditory example of what a rhythm looks like… Maybe it will do exactly the opposite of what I was worried about…”


Will someone please save me from myself here and weigh in on this?  What are your thoughts about introducing it to students?
I like to think that I’m effective at teaching rhythm and that the majority of my students wouldn’t need it in the first place, but there’s always a random situation of confusion from time to time with advanced repertoire.


ScreenHunter_37 Jan. 25 11.51

About the Author

Amber Staffa is a performing arts graduate of Rowan University. She holds a BA in Subject Matter Teaching for K-12, and a BM in Instrumental Music Education with a Piano Concentration, and is currently licensed in the state of NJ.

2 Responses to iPhone Rhythm Calculator… Friend or Foe?
  1. Hi Amber, my name’s Laura and it was my partner who wrote the app Rhythm Calculator. I came across your article and it made me smile. We had pretty much the same discussion when writing the app about who this would be good for and whether some people would see it as “cheating” and I definitely get your “CON thoughts”!

    If you would allow me to weigh in here then I would say that we came to the decision it’s a lot like using a calculator in math – you still need to understand math and know how numbers work but a calculator helps you out immensely and lets you know how accurate your workings out are.

    When I was younger and having music lessons, I was the classic student who would happily practise until I got stuck and something became difficult, then instead of pushing on with the tricky passage I would just go back to playing something I knew that made me look and sound good!! This of course would frustrate my music teacher as my progress was stunted until she could demonstrate the piece again. My private practice in between lessons would have been much more beneficial had I had something like this to help me when I became stuck.

    We really believe that because the student has to manually key in the notes, they really learn to break down what’s on the score and develop a better understanding of the relationship between notes and rhythm which actually improves their sight-reading. Furthermore, like you said, because it plays the rhythm back in a loop students are more likely to internalise the rhythm.

    For a couple of non-biased points of view see http://www.notreble.com/buzz/2012/09/03/rhythm-calculator-a-look-at-the-rhythm-helper-app-for-ios/ which reviews our older version before the upgrade. Also http://www.musicedmagic.com/tales-from-the-podium/rhythm-calculator-app-update-adds-value-and-features.html

    I’d love to hear other people’s views on this but I really hope your final thought is “Friend”‘!! Thanks for downloading it.

  2. Thanks so much for weighing in, Laura!

    I’m glad to have your first hand account for consideration. I think your comparison to a regular calculator explains my thoughts on it the best at this point. It’s a good resource for students to have to clear up something tricky, or to double check their work.

    At first my underlying worry was that students would try to use it too much in the privacy of their own homes. However, as a piano teacher, I’m constantly assessing rhythmic comprehension and would be able to determine if a weakness existed that would provoke them to rely on it too much.

    I think it would be awesome if the app kept a log of rhythms that the student has calculated so I could check out what was stumping my students at home!


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