How to Practice II

In last week’s installment, I mentioned that I will give more detail of point one of the ‘How to Practice’ rules.Remember: 1. Know what you are doing.The reason this is rule #1 is because unless we understand what to do, we cannot be successful.It is impossible.

Our brains tell our bodies what to do.At least that is the process for most of us.

Recently, I have been working with a few students who are either struggling with playing a specific rhythm, or we are just working on some basic rhythm ideas.So, I will use rhythm practice for the examples in this article.

There is much confusion concerning written music’s notation of rhythm.I will not get too involved in my usual debunking of common thought concerning music’s notation of rhythm, while at the same time, hopefully creating a basic understanding of the concept of rhythm and its relationship to an underlying pulse.

First, let’s define ‘underlying pulse’.What I mean by ‘underlying pulse’ are the points during a song where we feel the need to clap, snap our fingers, and tap our foot.Perhaps not all three at once since we all have different levels of coordination.

Most of the music we hear on ‘Pop Radio’ is in a time feel of ‘4’.What I mean by ‘Pop Radio’ is everything other than jazz or classical that one would hear on a public radio station.Then again, what we hear on public radio does not always challenge our sense of time either, but I digress.

By the way, I certainly do not use the word ‘Pop’ in any condescending manner.I enjoy all music that is constructed and played well.I am just old and cannot keep up with all of the labels that seem to multiply exponentially.

Concerning the time feel of ‘4’, one could listen to nearly any radio station and count the beats where we would clap, snap our fingers, or tap our foot: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 …Try it; I’ll wait.

See what I mean?Now, here is the next exercise:Listen to an instrument in the song that you can hear very easily.Does this instrument play one thing per beat?How about two things per beat?Usually we would hear combinations of one, two, or more events per beat.As an example, if you listen to the bass instrument, we might hear one note per beat, two notes per beat, and sometimes four notes per beat.

This is the relationship I mentioned above.We have a beat in the music that we want to react to that is constant and we have other musical activities that are interacting with the beat and are usually in between the beats.This is where we start to understand the concept of ‘events per beat’.These are usually: 1, 2, 3, and 4 events per beat in most of the music that we hear.

When I start working with a student on playing in ‘time’, or with rhythm, we usually start by strumming one note per beat with a metronome.This is easiest because we hear the beat and we are playing a chord or note each time the beat happens.For those of you who have tried this, it is not quite as easy as it may seem.After this, we would play two strums of a chord, or two plucks of a note per beat.This is where the beginner usually has difficulty.

At first, we are playing at the same time as the metronome.The metronome clicks; we play our chord or note.With two events per beat, the second event is to be played while the metronome is in between beats.

What do we hear in between the beats?Well, we hear nothing in between the beats.That is what makes this difficult to do.We must listen to what we are playing in the silence and its relationship to the beats and hear that these are evenly spaced.Keep in mind, that as discussed in How to Practice I, we have no inherent ability to judge the passage of time.So, we are listening to the relationship of what we play and when the metronome clicks to hear whether or not we are ‘on time’.

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Here is how to practice this concept of two events per beat:Play one chord or note per beat at 100 BPM (Beats Per Minute – Use a metronome!).Then change the metronome speed to 50 BPM and play at the same physical speed you were at 100 BPM (One event per beat at 100 BPM = Two events per beat at 50 BPM).Then, to eventually move to four events per beat, bring your skill up to two events per beat at 100 BPM and then change the metronome speed to 50 BPM and play at the same physical speed that you were just using at 100 BPM (Two events per beat at 100 BPM = Four events per beat at 50 BPM).

Please remember that if you are rather new to playing with a metronome, or you are new to playing in general, this process could take several weeks.Again, we must first understand what to do before we can develop the physical skill required to actually do it.

So, to summarize: Know the concept of events per beat; start with what is easiest – One event per beat; and move up in tempo until you can play just as fast and evenly with the metronome set at half the speed you were just playing.

Now let’s see who can achieve eight events per beat!



P.S. If your mind is completely boggled by these concepts of time, or you would like to see this process demonstrated, let me know by e-mail or by comment below.I am chomping at the bit to have a subject to make a video of for my YouTube account.

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