If you haven't printed out The Self-Inspired Flutist Ultimate Rhythm Guide from last week, click HERE to download your copy! This simple worksheet is my attempt to condense the basic rules of rhythm on to one sheet of paper (I have a personal philosophy that you can handle any challenge in this world if you can fit the plan onto one piece of paper...).
After I created the guide, it was so nice to be able give students their own copy and make sure they were connecting to rhythmic principles, empowering them to learn music on their own, rather than always being dependent on me. It was even more fun after my former student, Brooke David, added the fun illustrations!
Here are 10 Tips for using The Self-Inspired Flutist Ultimate Rhythm Guide (either for yourself or for your students!):
Tip #1: Try "Pop Quiz" Style Questions
It's amazing how it sometimes seems like a student understands basic rhythm rules, but when asked a question directly (like, "How many thirty-second notes fit into an eighth note?"), they either freeze up or stumble around scrambling to find the answer. Remember the friendly reminder that "unless you know it in one second, it doesn't count!" Musicians need to know how many subdivisions fit into any given beat (at any tempo) instantly, so that they can concentrate on music making and not math!
Tip #2: Internalize The Dotted Rhythm Rule
Dotted rhythms are often explained by teachers via "the dot adds half the value" speech. While this is a true statement, it's not always a helpful thing to focus on while reading music (remember, doing extra math slows you down!). Instead, try "the answer is always 3" approach. If you see a dotted quarter note, instantly divide it into 3 eighth notes. If you see a dotted eight note, divide it into 3 sixteenths, right away. This rule is more practical in the middle of a playing moment.
A fun way to remember the rule is to equate dotted notes with the little blue birds from the game Angry Birds. Just like you split the blue birds into 3 different birds, you split dotted notes into three subdivisions!
Tip #3: Demystify Triplets
Musicians of many different levels tend to recognize an eighth note triplet and understand that it fits into one quarter note beat. Add one extra beam? Panic sets in! Move past the fear of sixteenth note and thirty-second note triplets by remembering that they fit inside of a note value one level up on the rhythm tree. If using fun words to count triplets (I like "Straw-ber-ry"), memorize how many fit into one quarter note beat: one strawberry for an eighth note triplet, two strawberries for a sixteenth note triplet...
Tip #4: Clarify Music Math
Sometimes teachers and seasoned musicians take for granted how awkward music math can seem to those that haven't yet mastered the concepts. Why on earth is it called a sixteenth note when you fit FOUR of them into a beat? Why isn't called a quarter note? Doesn't that make more sense? Getting the hang of the names of notes relating to the whole note and the duration of a note relating to a given beat can be a bit tricky. Making flashcards based on The Self-Inspired Flutist Rhythms Guide and quizzing yourself could be a great way to get more comfy with rhythmic proportions.
Tip #5: Practice Different Rhythm Combinations
Rhythms can feel dramatically different depending on their context. For example, playing a triplet in between two sets of eighth notes can be quite disconcerting. It's easy to "guess" and play the triplet too slow or to think of the triplet as twice the speed of the eighth notes and play it too quickly. I'm a huge fan of fun words to bypass the difficulty of feeling duple against triple. Sometimes, it's just a heck of a lot easier to say "Jel-lo Straw-ber-ry Jel-lo" than to think of the rhythms in a more academic way! Be sure to practice rhythms in all kinds of combinations since the feeling will be so different depending on which rhythms come before and after the rhythm you need to practice.
Tip #6: Test Out Different Tempos
The true test of rhythmic mastery with a musical passage is the ability to play it at ANY tempo. If it feels comfy at 80 bpm, but understanding and clarity melt away at 60 bpm, then it's not really learned, yet. Practicing at a variety of different tempos helps to identify rhythmic weak spots and areas of discomfort. When you can solidify your rhythmic accuracy at a tempo that was not easy for you initially, you can be sure you'll be on point when you return to performance tempo!
Tip #7: Change The Meaning Of the Click
4/4 time may be common, but it's certainly not the only time signature! When you're counting, clapping, and practicing different rhythms, be sure to test them out in different time signatures as well. Keep asking yourself the questions, "What kind of note does the metronome click represent right now?" and "How many of these notes fit inside of one click?" Soon, you'll be ready for any time signature a composer can throw at you!
Tip #8: Alternate Fun Words & Counts
Sometimes numbers work better, sometimes fun words work better. Feel free to mix them up! Since I'd rather not say something like "1 and 2 and 3-la-li-and-la-li" for four eighth notes and a sixteenth note sextuplet, I'm not shy at all about saying "1 and 2 and strawberry-strawberry." If the rhythms are in proportion and your thinking is streamlined, simply use whatever works!
Tip #9: Attitude Matters!
Recently, in 10 Reasons You Should Never Ever Practice Like This, I wrote about the rhythmic distortion that occurs when the attitude behind the rhythm doesn't match the spirit of the music (lethargy or autopilot can cause dragging and delays, while tension and nervousness can cause rushing and rhythmic compression). When counting, clapping, or playing rhythms, make sure you count with appropriate energy and direction so that your rhythms are expressive AND accurate!
Tip #10: Practice Rhythms Like a Pro
Unfortunately, a common mistake music students make is thinking that professional musicians don't care anymore about basics like counting, subdividing, and practicing rhythm fundamentals. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you want to practice like a pro, don't be shy about using your metronome, subdividing audibly as much as you need to, and taking great care with your tempo, evenness, and overall rhythmic approach.
Happy Rhythm Practicing (and Teaching)!
P.S. If you just recently got back into practicing after the holidays (or really want/need to get back into it!): be sure to read 10 New Year's Resolution Ideas For Musicians to get some good ideas for inspiring personal goals.