Christine's Blog

Musings and Thoughts about All Things Musical ...

Rhythm

Oct 20, 2020

““Magical is not too strong a word for a child’s connection to music: there is extraordinary receptivity and lively creativity in young minds, and the results can be enchanting. Think of how small children often make up songs all day long, musicalizing their own experience and the world around them…. Everyone is delighted to be around such freedom of spirit, and in that sense a child’s connection to music is magical”
(Chapter 1 – Music Magic and Childhood in The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust your Musical Self 2003 pg. 19)

Music, whether you are young or old, has the power to move us deeply and I believe is an essential part of the human experience.  One very integral part of music is Rhythm.  The world is full of rhythm in many different ways, you can feel your heart beating, the rate in which you breathe, the pace in which you walk, in this sense rhythm or beat is our natural inheritance.

What is Beat and what is rhythm?  Are they different?  Beat is the very foundation of rhythm, beat is the structure in which rhythms fit.  Think about it like a pulse, steady and regular.  Rhythms fit within this pulse and are constantly changing where the pulse or beat does not.

Beat is the very basis on which rhythm exists.

Why rhythm?  Because rhythm is constantly changing it allows for changes in the feel of the piece you are playing.  If you have a very quickly moving rhythm pattern verses a very slowly moving rhythm pattern, even if the pulse or ‘beat’ of the piece is the same, it will create an entirely different feel.  This is how composers can create a ‘journey’ of sorts within a movement of music even though the beat is the same we can be taken along a path that feels very different from moment to moment.

The other thing that beat does is it allows musicians and to synchronize their efforts, meanwhile much of the time playing different rhythms.  Think about an orchestra, if everyone were to play  their parts rhythmically correct yet playing with different concepts of the beat, the outcome wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant.  It also helps people synchronize their efforts in other ways too, often as simple as when people are working as a group, they will sing to help coordinate their efforts.  The most primal form of rhythm is in each of us, with the beat of our hearts.  Needless to say, we all have an internal concept of rhythm and beat that we draw upon when we are learning music and living our lives, it is truly innate to everyone.

I’m often surprised at how many people think that they don’t have rhythm or timing because we all have it built right into us.  But does this mean that we don’t need to work on rhythm or timing?  We all do, as having a reliable sense of rhythm is one of the things that distinguish an amateur musician from a professional one.  It is vital that you develop your ear for rhythm and timing.

This can be done in a variety of ways such as working with a metronome, clapping, counting, playing at a slow tempo (tempo is how fast or slow the beat is), you can record yourself and play it back, and you can practice rhythm and timing on other instruments.  All of these are useful tools to help you tap into your internal sense of rhythm and beat and in turn translate that to your instrument. 

Last year I was brain-storming on what to do with my students over the summer that would be fun, collaborative and would improve their playing overall.  In the meantime I met up a friend who is a professional percussionist for coffee and one of the activities he does is lead drum circles.  I thought to myself what an interesting idea — have a summer camp that is drum circle based.  It would improve student’s playing skills and at the same time allow them to work as a group, and be a ton of fun!  Drumming is a practice that is world-wide and has a presence in every culture.  This activity would allow anyone interested to be involved from novices to anyone who requires a developed sense of  rhythm dancers, musicians, poets, writers — rhythm and timing reaches far and wide. 

For centuries, drumming and more basically rhythm has served many purposes.  From communication to building community it does many things, it can be used in healing, as therapy it can unite people and uplift the spirit.  Learning to play two or more rhythms simultaneously helps students extend their attention span, improve concentration as well as their hand eye coordination.   

If fact I think that we have all had some experience at drumming already by simply playing clapping games as a child.  Truly this is creating music.  In its simplest form music is the creative organization of sound.  Doing it with others makes it much more fun.  What we can create singularly is nothing compared to what we can create as a collective.

So have some fun and be creative when you are thinking about working on rhythm and timing and consider joining a drum circle.  It’s an integral part of music and is a hallmark of any good musician.

Leave me a comment if you’d like to hear more about this topic!

Much Cello Love,

Christine

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