This past week I’ve been exploring the use of a technique that I’ve kind of developed on my own. I call it the “two-against-three” practice technique. What I’ve been experimenting with is if playing duples against triplet rhythms actually makes your duples more even (and visa versa). In the past, I’ve used this on an excerpt that’s an old favorite of mine (NOT, lol!), the first movement of Beethoven 6:
I set the metronome at around quarter = 80 (no faster, but you can certainly go slower!) and set the subdivision on the metronome to duple eighths. I ended up practicing it this way kind of by accident – I tended to rush the 16ths in the first three bars, so I would put my metronome on the duple subdivision to make sure I was getting it exactly right…and out of laziness I would go on to the rest of the excerpt with the same duple subdivision. I ended up discovering that I started to play the triplets more evenly! So I began to intentionally practice the triplets in this manner. Basically, I think the reason for this is that because your brain is fighting the sound of the duple, it has to think really hard about playing the triples – in turn they are extremely accurate. Plus, I think it makes practicing excerpts more fun! I would say challenging, but we all know that excerpts are super challenging because they have to be super super perfect!
For awhile, I only used this technique for that particular excerpt, but recently I’ve wondered if this can be applied to others. Right now I’m working on a few excerpts for the Youtube Symphony audition – Mozart, Beethoven 8, Mendelssohn scherzo, and RK Capriccio Espagnol. I haven’t practiced any of them for several months so I thought it may be a good time to see if this technique of practice really helps. For each excerpt I’m setting the metronome subdivision on the opposite rhythm (e.g. Mozart – triplets, Scherzo – duples, etc.) So far, it seems to be working fairly well – I am actually catching myself rushing here and there when I’m using the two against three method, where I don’t think I would have notice before, especially in the Capriccio. And each excerpt seems to be getting more rhythmically grounded!
I’ve actually taken this a step further with the Mendelssohn Scherzo excerpt – I’ve been practicing it in 2/8 time. Huh? You can stop scratching your head now. I’ll explain…basically, instead of thinking of the excerpt being written like this:
I think of it being written like this:
Hold on, I’ll let you clean up from your brain exploding… You’re right, its totally weird at first – its like running backwards, but once you get the hang of it, its fairly easy. (I always have to make sure I play it in 3/8 afterwards in order to “cleanse my pallate” – it feels pretty odd to leave the excerpt in 2/8 time). Going back and forth from thinking in 2/8 to thinking in 3/8 is a little tricky too! If you’re like me, the first 16th of the measure is always difficult to place exactly in time, and this is a way to fix that problem. I always rush it, or its late. Its never just right! But for some reason, placing the emphasis on different notes in the measure helps with evenness…not sure why, but it seems to work for me! I could go on and on and on about changing rhythms for practice purposes…but I think I’ll reserve elaborating on that topic for another day.
Of course, the two against three method doesn’t work with all types of music. For example, I attempted to practice the Eb excerpt of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique in this way, and it was a fail. Since the excerpt is composed of mostly “long-short-long-short” rhythms, putting a duple rhythm within that just muddies things up and it gets too confusing. After just one try, I knew this wasn’t going to work for this particular excerpt and I didn’t want to try to force it. This technique should never be forced! It will either click in your head or it won’t.
Lastly, I really should mention that this is intended for people who have mastered the two against three rhythmic conundrum. If you aren’t very good at two against three, you will quickly get frustrated with this particular technique and want to throw your clarinet out the window. Trust me, I’ve tried (and failed) to teach this technique to students who haven’t mastered it. Its a bad idea – we’re talking about “deer in headlights” looks all around.
So how do you “master” the two against three rhythm? Look no further than Dr. Lawson’s (from CSU) scrubber (left). Set your met to 60 and practice your scales. I still do this exercise as part of my warm up – but I articulate all notes and use it as articulation and rhythm practice (two birds with one stone, yes). But it is just as rhythmically effective to slur, and make sure to repeat each one at least three times. And to throw another wrench in the mix – practice it by note, not by the pattern; which means do all the patterns on each note before moving on the the next note. This forces you to switch your brain quickly between twos and threes (in this context, 3s, 5s, 7s, and 9s are considered “threes”, and the rest considered “twos”). This is a great way to practice your awkward 5s and 7s also!
Hope you enjoyed my little post about my newly discovered practice technique. I challenge you to give it a try it if you can!