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Master Rhythm by Going Out of the Box

Top industry pros share how they teach rhythm to their students.

Command of groove and rhythm are necessary for any great singer, which is why some of our most prolific voice experts at VoiceCouncil.com have come together in this series to help you overcome your rhythmic challenges.

1. Jono says train yourself with rap

Jono says train yourself with rap

Say hello to Dexter say hello to Uncle Fester got them gazing at my necklace and my crazy sun protectors.”

To try this, every syllable must be spoken evenly, while the last two syllables are half as fast as the rest. In rhythmic notation, this rap would be a string of 16th notes, while the last two syllables are 8th notes.

McNeil says singers must start slow, and use a metronome. Then, as you master the rap you can incrementally increase the tempo. Try it right now! Watch the video demonstration.

2. SK Shlomo says imitate rhythms from foreign genres

SK Shlomo says imitate rhythms from foreign genres

“Control of rhythm lets you add unforgettable flavors” says Shlomo, acclaimed vocalist and beat-boxer. This is why, says Schlomo, you should “Challenge yourself rhythmically by trying to imitate unfamiliar patterns.”

Shlomo went to India to learn complex rhythms from table (Indian hand drum) players, but all you have to do is listen to recordings from any genre that is unfamiliar to you.

Once you have selected music that is unfamiliar, you should then try to sing or tap any rhythmic patterns from the music. Have you ever tried to imitate the rhythms in a Bach fugue? Or, how about an African folk song?

Make a departure from your music. Then, when you return “home” to your own songs, you will notice a new, rhythmic spark.

3. Bob says use syllable systems to train like a drummer

Bob says use syllable systems to train like a drummer

“Melody and harmony stimulate our emotion,” says Bob Stoloff, “but rhythm summons our physical impulses.” He teaches singers to practice like instrumentalists do. Instead of striking a drum or tooting on a horn, singers must use a system of rhythmic syllables for practicing their rhythms.

Stoloff is an internationally recognized vocal jazz educator who has developed a system of rhythmic vocal syllables and patterns that can be found in his book, Rhythmania!.

Bob’s is part of a long history of rhythmic syllable systems designed to let any musician sing and practice rhythmic patterns using only their voice.


Tap a slow beat and say these four quick syllables per every beat: “Ti- ri- ti- ri.” When you put four syllables on one beat, you are singing 16th notes.

You just used Zoltan Kodaly’s (pronounced koh-dah-y) system of rhythmic syllables from the 1930’s. His system is not perfect for English speakers, as he was Hungarian!


Keep tapping your slow beat, and now say, “Ta – ka – di- mi” on every beat. These are also 16th notes.

The Takadimi system originated in India, and has been adapted and used by many western music teachers and musicians.  In 1996, Hoffman, Pelto and White published a widely referred to article that taught how to apply the Takadimi syllable system to the study of wester musical genres.

Boots and Cats

Keep tapping your beat, now Say this: “Boots and cats and boots and cats and.” Place two words on every beat.

Now, you are singing 8th notes. The iPhone’s electronic assistant, Siri, gives us a great example of a rhythmic syllable system!

Get practicing

Rhythmic sophistication is not meant for a select few people and no one else – it is meant for you too. It can be yours with practice.

Practice now

Below are a few very simple examples of how a beginner might start their rhythmic training using the Takadimi Syllables. Enjoy!

Each box equals one beat.
Tap a slow and steady beat or use a metronome.
Speak the pattern so that it matches your beat.
Do this many times before speeding up or moving on to the next level.



Moderate Difficulty:


Ultra Challenge:

  • Rinky Sarah

    Thanks for the information and lessons greatly appreciated

  • Maria Manuela Oliveira

    I thought that “ta ka di mi” was already being used centuries ago in indian classical music…

  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    Tell us more about this. Sounds interesting!