Gershwin said it right in his jazz standard: "I Got Rhythm, I Got Music!" The more attuned we are to the rhythm of a song, the more musical it begins to feel. Notes become less choppy, our fingers and mind feel focused and relaxed and we begin to play more naturally. Rhythm is a tricky aspect of learning any instrument — but add in notes, hand coordination, dynamic signs and a repeat sign? It’s enough to make any student flustered. Rhythm plays a vital role in music, and it takes time and practice to build a strong foundation and understanding of rhythm. Here are some exercises/games to help focus on rhythm – try these two or three times a week, for about 10 minutes, and see if you notice a difference!
1. Think of a song — could be the one you’re assigned this week by your favorite 4/4 teacher, could be a song you just heard on the radio, could be an old nursery rhyme — anything! If possible, play or listen to the song a few times through. Now, try to hear the song in your head. Chances are, certain notes are held longer than others. This is the rhythm of the song. The more aware we are of the rhythm, the easier it becomes to identify and then be able to replicate later in our heads and on our instruments.
2. Clap or tap the rhythm to the aforementioned song. Are you hesitating and waiting to hear what comes next, or are you anticipating what comes next already? By developing a natural, internalized sense of the rhythm, it becomes easier to produce the claps/taps on the beat, rather than in front of, or just behind the beat.
3. For an added challenge, take a song you are learning. First, try saying the names of the notes (quarter, half, whole, etc) on the beat. Then, try counting aloud while tapping the rhythm.
4. Want to make it even more challenging? Try saying (or singing!) the letter names of the notes (A, B, C, etc…) on the beat. This requires not only a sense of the rhythm, but also challenges us to identify notes on-the-spot.
Practice these exercises a few times a week, and see if you notice a change in your practice and your awareness of rhythm both in and outside of lessons. Next month we’ll focus on the role of rhythm on the written page – bar lines, measures, time signature, all that good stuff. ‘Til then — keep rocking!
~ Jennifer Iovanne