My fascination with Morse code rhythm has started ever since I heard Barrington Pheulong‘s Inspector Morse theme tune. When I discovered that I could use Morse code rhythms to explain some hard-to-explain rhythmic patterns in music to my students in a direct way so that they can get the feel of how the rhythms should go rather than understand them mathematically.  Motivated by that fact, I started writing short rhythmic tunes using Morse code style notation, and they became very popular amongst my young students.  Because they only need to know two rhythmic syllables (dah and di) to play syncopated rhythm tunes without needing to read standard musical notation.  In my piano studio, these Morse code tunes have become a cornerstone of the rhythmic and aural exercises to improve overall piano playing skills. They’re turning out to be very useful for working on articulations, effective dynamic shaping, ear-eye-hand coordination, attentive listening, and learning about tonalities and metres, etc.

There’re 27 tunes (plus a bonus tune) and are of varying length from 4 to 14 bars. They are repetitive so that players learn about the usefulness of repeated short musical ideas in music. The ideas in this book can be extended to be used as a tool to set a motif for a composition.

For those who can already read music and also for those who are starting to read, it may be an idea to add an activity of transcribing some of the tunes into standard musical notation as shown in the book on p.48~49 (p.50~51 in A4 version) as examples or something inventive like this!:

Morse code notation example2_small

Another creative way of exercising Morse code rhythms would be to use a drum metronome usually equipped on any digital piano these days.  Unlike a standard metronome, a drum metronome has its own rhythmic patterns with a strong steady pulse provided (if you choose the right style, that is!), which often helps players increase their focus level in listening and improve their play-along-to-the-beat skill. You probably find yourself moving (head nodding to start with!) to a drum metronome more to feel the beat.

But before using a drum metronome, it may be advisable to do a simple exercise learning how to ‘listen and play’ to what you hear.  The simplest and most effective exercise actually occurs during learning the Morse code tune; at the stage where you sing the Morse code rhythms whilst playing the notes.  In most cases, players tend to play faster than their singing.  Draw their attention to what they’re singing and ask them to ‘match’ the speed of their playing to their own singing speed.  A couple of playing through this way, they learn what it takes to ‘really listen’ to your own playing.  Voice can be the best the guide, not only as a metronome but also in controlling the finger movement, shaping musical phrases, etc.

The book is available from my website shop and also via Amazon.com and Amazon Europe (UK, France, Germany, Italy, etc.).

cover image wo c

Special thanks to my husband for his support in making this book, Ewan Bailey for allowing me use his witty cartoon illustration, Barrington Pheloung for inspiring me in the first place.  Last but not least, my students for giving me the impetus to write this book and also for being the most honest critics.

Happy playing!

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