Ways to Conquer Rhythm

In a previous post I talk about how important it is to conquer rhythm. Music needs to be performed within a time frame. To ensure the music has the greatest effect, the performer needs to have a command of how the rhythm effects the performance.
When working on some of the basic rhythmic forms with children, 4/4 and 3/4, having them clap out a steady pulse while you sing the melodic line can help them understand how the two elements of music work together. Then switch roles and have them sing while you clap.
Once they have a steady rhythm mastered, try having them sing in time with your clapping as you slow down or speed up the tempo. Talk to them about the importance of stress points in the music. In "Mary had a little lamb" there are stresses in the music on Mary and on the Lit in little. These need to line up with the clapping. If you're slowing down, they need to adjust the speed of their song to make sure these stress points line up with the clapping.
A more advanced form of the same technique is using a metronome. Music by Elliott Carter, which often has unusual subdivision which can't easily be deciphered by our brains. Using a metronome, slow the tempo to where you can 'see' the subdivision in graspable elements.
A group of seven eighth notes in the space of two quarter notes is difficult, particularly if the tempo is a quarter note at 120 or more. Slow the process down to where you can successfully play the rhythm. Get to the point where you no longer have to think about 7 in space of 8, then speed up the tempo. Eventually you'll get to the point where you can play the correct rhythm at the correct tempo.
If, this doesn't work, take two metronomes and place them at different speeds. This requires some math (and possibly digital metronomes). At a quarter note = 120 there are 240 eighth notes in a minute. There would only be 210 if they were divided into 7's. Set one metronome to 120 and the other to 105. Start them at the same time and focus on the metronome set to 105. That's the rhythm your notes are at, while the 120 speed is the actual flow of the music.
These are just a couple of techniques, but determined practice will greatly improve your ability to play music in time.
One of the greatest experiences I had in terms of rhythmic development was taking a class in North Indian Kathak Dance. Initially we just learned to sing and tap with our fingers a basic rhythm. But eventually, we were singing one rhythm, moving our hands to a second and our feet to a third - and this was a basic course in Kathak Dance. What I learned is the possibility for my mind to actually process all these different rhythms together and keep them inline with the over-all flow of the music. I'm no dancer, but with work, the poly-rhythmic nature of the music was possible for even someone with two left feet.


Jess Albertine said…
It's interesting to hear the perspective of older orchestral musicians about rhythms like 7 in the space of 8. When I had to play them as a performance major, my professor would never have told me to make sure they were absolutely precise. She'd say that the point of the unusual rhythm was to be irregular, and stylistically if you play irregular things with metronomic precision they can sound really dry. So her advice was just to make sure you fit all the notes in the allotted space, taking as much time for each note as you can, making them as equal as possible with practice. The effect is pretty much the same, but the mindset I think is very different. I'm not sure whether it's a generation gap or what, but it is interesting.
Chip Michael said…
I think it depends on the music. NEVER should I suggest you play Carter irregular. His music requires a precision to make all the pieces fit together.

On the same note, Larson's music is more rubato, so the number of notes fitting into a certain space is less about precise moments, are more about the overall feeling.

There are times in my own music when the precision isn't required, but other times when it is. I believe the performed has to be able to play it precise and can then judge whether or not to be flexible.

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