Rhythm affects everything you do. In fact, it’s all around you.
There’s the rhythm of day and night. The rhythm of…
- The seasons.
- The rise and fall of the stock market.
- The regularity of your heartbeat.
- Your sleep and wake cycles.
- Your breathing.
- Work and rest.
Rhythm puts zest into dancing and singing, and it makes order out of chaos.
You can often reduce chaos by paying attention to rhythm, because its steady pulse gives you balance. We’ve all experienced the effects of jagged rhythm - too much work without any rest, for example – and you’re likely to get sick.
A key goal in music is to develop your internal sense of rhythm, a foundation for composing, improvising, and playing in sync with other musicians.
Look at a clock. Its rhythm starts with 60 seconds, regularly ticking to make a minute. Then 60 of those minutes, regularly beating to make up an hour. Then 24 of those to make up a regular day. But it all starts with seconds, and if those are not regular, everything else gets thrown off. For time, seconds are the most BASIC rhythmic pulse.
In music, there is also a BASIC, regular pulse. If a piece is in 4/4 time and gets 4 beats to every measure, the first beat is slightly stronger. So two bars of music feel like this…
Practice feeling that slightly stronger beat at the beginning of each bar.
If a piece is in ¾ time, and gets 3 beats to every measure, again, the first beat is slightly stronger than the other two, and its pulse feels like this…
This is where a metronome beat can help you:
- Start the metronome at a slow speed, like 80 beats per minute.
- Listen for accents on the first beat of each bar.
- Tap your hand against your leg to the first beat of each bar, so you begin to feel that accented PULSE.
Increase the metronome to 100 beats per minute, and repeat the process. Then try it with a speed of 120, 140, 180 and 200.
This simple exercise will start to give you an internal clock, so that you can play ON the beat (WITH the metronome click) or OFF the beat (in between clicks) with other musicians. But you first have to have a steady rhythm ON the beat in order to know what it feels like to play OFF the beat and then join the beat again.
When you compose, start with a rhythm instead of a melody or lyrics. Tap your hand against your body. Does it suggest a certain dance step? Does it begin to suggest a rhythm that has words associated with it? If so, what are those words? Use them as seeds for a song.
If you are a pianist, play a steady rhythm with your left hand, and with your right hand play some notes WITH it. Then, keeping your left hand steady, use your right hand to play notes that are OFF the beat.
If you play guitar, strum some chords ON every beat. Then play some chords OFF the beat. For a guitar player this skill is crucial, because guitarists and drummers often play a backbeat – in between the strong beats. So instead of playing on beats one-two-three-four, they might play on the ANDS…
After you practice with a metronome for a while, you’ll begin to notice rhythms all around you – in the windshield wipers of your car, in your washing machine, in the hum of a refrigerator. And your music writing will change. Because you will have strengthened your internal rhythm or clock.
It’s important to remember that people also feel a PULSE from the rhythm of your lyrics or the melody of your tune. Just like they feel a PULSE when they watch a movie. Each scene has its own rhythm, and if your job is to score the movie, your music will enliven it IF you catch that rhythm. There’s not only rhythm when people move in the scenes, but also the rhythm of the editing of the film; of scene changes.
Good movie music will actually go unnoticed, because it’s in sync with the rhythm of the movement and mood of the visuals. Music that’s out of sync with the rhythm of the scenes will stick out like a sore thumb.
There’s one more important part to a pulse – silence. Silence is a balance to sound. And silence is a balance to the rest of our lives as well, to the pulse of living.
When you develop your internal clock, you’ll be more aware of the rhythm of your day, week, the seasons, your movement, other movement, the rhythm in songs – yours and others. And then you’ll notice the rhythm of balance - the rhythm of sound and silence that’s all around you.
BellaOnline’s Musician Editor