This is a little bit of a rant, so brace yourself.
Why is it that the world seems to have terrible rhythm? Or at least it seems to lately. I have been noticing as of late how many of my students and people that I play with have issues with rhythm/tempo. As a product of the American music education system, I think I know why. It is because when we learn our instruments, the emphasis is placed on playing right notes and fingers. That is number one, and rhythm is number two. Why is that? Rhythm is SO much more important than notes. Think about it: when someone misses a note, it might sound weird for that one note, but then it is fine…and if the listener doesn’t really know what the music sounds like, it might not even sound like a mistake. But if one misses a rhythm, it can be much more detrimental to the flow of the melody, and to the cohesion of the ensemble. I notice this with my students constantly. I like to play duets with my students (to teach rhythmic consistency, ha!), and if they have trouble with rhythm, it can be really difficult to get through a piece. I constantly tell them to think about the rhythm first, notes/fingers second, but for some reason our brains are hard wired to think the opposite. Its a constant struggle.
And Monday night, I was floored by the rhythmic atrocities I witnessed at VWS rehearsal. Simple rhythms were either being played completely wrong, or they rushed or dragged so badly that it made the ensemble fall apart. And these are people who are full time musicians and people who are teaching the next generation of musicians! I’m not saying that I have perfect rhythm, I certainly do not, but I always put good rhythm in front of correct notes. And I try to emphasize its importance to the people around me, especially my students. I feel like I have a duty to this world to start teaching the importance of good rhythm!
One of my student recently was having trouble learning 6/8 rhythm. He had been playing in duple since he started clarinet (I started him as a beginner), and so it was somewhat of a task to start dividing in three instead of two. I created this little exercise that we can do during lessons:It has really worked wonders. Instead of teaching the individual rhythms by themselves, I am trying to teach the relationship between rhythms in the same time signature. Basically, I play one line, and the student plays the other. For example, I would play line #2, while the student played line #1. This shows the student that there are three eighth notes per note that I play. Then once that is mastered, I would move on to something more complicated, like, I play #2, and the student plays #4, etc.
If they are having difficulties at first, I will have them play line #2 and I will play one of the other lines, just so they can see how it sounds. Any line can play with the other, the possibilities are endless! I also created a version for duple meter. This is what I love about teaching; coming up with new ways to teach an idea so that it makes sense to that particular student!
Never underestimate the power of good rhythm!