Rhythm reading is so important in music and rhythm can be considered to be the most important part of any playing. Some rhythms can be a little bit tricky, and for some people reading the rhythm correctly can be a real source of frustration.
The first thing to get sorted is your sense of pulse. The pulse is a regular, and consistent beat that is fundamental to all rhythmic patterns. The pulse can often be counted in a number of ways, but the important thing is that it should be consistent and regular.
Develop your sense of Pulse
For example, in a bar of 4/4 you would be able to count 4 beats. At a tempo of crotchet equals 60, or 60 bpm (beats per minute), you would need to count (or feel) one beat per second. This will provide 60 crotchet beats in every minute. However, for some rhythms it is necessary to think in smaller note lengths. This is known as subdividing the beat. So, in 4/4 you can subdivide the main beat by two and count in quavers. You can also divide the main beat into triplets by counting 3, or you could divide the beat into semiquavers by counting 4 equally within the space of one beat.
Having a good sense of the initial tempo or pulse is of course completely essential to being able to subdivide correctly. The best way of establishing a sense of pulse is to do some work with a metronome. Working on long notes with a metronome set at 60bpm, 80bpm, 100bpm and 120bpm will help to set a regular internal clock. It is of course important to do this work with simple, sustained rhythms to help establish that internal pulse. Here is an example of a really good exercise that will help develop this skill.
Try this in different keys and at different speeds – you could even use it as part of a warm up and to help develop intonation. When this is working well and you feel that you are no longer relying on the metronome exclusively and you are feeling the pulse, try the same exercises with the metronome going before you play. Stop the metronome before you start playing and then when you have played the exercise, check your pulse once more and see if there are any differences in speed.
Consistent work on this will develop a good internal pulse which is essential for good rhythmic reading.
Reading rhythms can pose a few issues and the best way of dealing with this is to have a good awareness of where the the start of each main beat occurs. The beat can then be split into two, three, or four as required. In simple time signatures the main beat is normally divided by 2 or 4 so that you are thinking in quavers or semiquavers.
When reading a rhythm always try to look for a pattern or take note of which parts of the rhythm is on the beat or off the beat. Aim to get all of the parts of the rhythm that are on the beat correct first. This provides an anchor that any off beat notes can be fitted around.
Syncopated rhythms can be tricky to deal with because the main beat occurs in the middle of the note that you are playing. That is the reason that gaining an internal pulse is so important to good rhythmic reading. Feeling the beat, especially when you have rhythmic patterns that go against it, will be very useful to gaining rhythmic accuracy for more complex rhythms.
Have a listen to the rhythms shown above in this short video.
When reading rhythms in compound time (where the main beat is split into 3) you can follow the same thoughts that we discussed above. It is important to consider whether you are counting in quavers or dotted crotchets. This will be entirely dependent upon the speed of the music that you are playing.
Give the exercises a try and let me know how things have gone. Are there any things that worked really well, or anything that you adapted to help things work more effectively?
Good luck with this, and reading rhythms in compound time (and triplets) will be covered in next week’s blog.