Tag Archives: Rhythm

Introduction to Music, Part 5 (Rhythm)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Measures and rhythm

Rhythm

Rhythm is the relationship of note values to one another and their placement in a measure. A measure is the space between the two bar lines. We are measuring beats. If we say that a 1/4 note is one beat long, then in the above example, each measure adds up to 4 beats. Remember that a 1/2 note is twice as long as a 1/4, thus equaling two beats. It is important to keep in mind as you learn to play or sing that you keep each similar note value the same length throughout the piece of music. For example, no matter where in the music you are, a 1/4 note will take up the same amount of time as any other 1/4 note.

As you can see a few notes have dots after the notehead. We describe these as dotted-[whatever the note value of the note is]. A 1/4 note with a dot is called a ‘dotted quarter’. Memorize this saying: A dot increases the length of a note by half its value. That’s a mouthful.

Take the dotted half-note as an example. A 1/2 note is 2 beats long. Half of 2 is 1. So, a dotted half-note is 2+1 or 3 beats long. A dotted-quarter note is equal to one plus a half-beat. Since an 1/8 note is half the value of a 1/4, an 1/8 note is half a beat long. So, a dotted-quarter note is equal to a quarter plus an eight or 1 + .5 or 1.5 (1 and-a-half) beats long. An 1/8 note almost always follows a dotted-quarter note. Any note value can be dotted.

Review the example above and use the numbers to help identify the note values. A dash between numbers indicates the note lasts for that many beats. In order to count 1/8 and 1/16 notes, we need to subdivide the beat into smaller parts. For 1/8 notes, the first of the two 1/8 notes is always the beat’s number. The 2nd half is ‘&’, said ‘and.’ For 1/16 notes, we subdivide the beat into 4 parts. The first is always the number of the beat, the 2nd is ‘e’, the 3rd is ‘&’ and the 4th is ‘a’ (said ‘uh’).

(Note that the next to last measure in the bass clef has a different rhythm than the treble clef. It is held for four beats. This is common in piano music and scores. If you count four beats per measure, focusing on the treble clef part, then you just hold down, if you were playing piano, the bass clef note for four beats).

Try clapping the examples. Whenever there is a dash between numbers, clap the first number, but keep the hands together until the dashes end. Keep the counting steady. You can count out loud, or better yet, use a metronome – there are many online sources for computer based metronomes – or the second hand of a watch or clock to keep the beat steady. The next section will have more on counting.

Next time: Time signatures and counting

Tips for Practicing The Piano – Intermediate to Advanced level

Another look at practicing the piano. This time for intermediate to advanced level students.

This is one approach to practicing the piano. It is by no means meant to be the only way. Use this as a supplement to other ways of practicing.

Before You Play

  • Look through the piece of music and look for anything that might be different than what you are use to.
  • Do you know what all the terms (eg. morendo), and symbols (eg. accents, fermatas) mean? If not, learn them first.
  • Make sure you are positioned comfortably and use good posture.

When you play

  • While you may not need to keep every finger curved and the wrist level all the time in more advanced music, don’t forget that a good hand/wrist shape will help you play better.
  • Scales, arpeggios and other technic exercises: Start SLOW and gradually speed up. Use them to focus on how you play – position of wrists, fingers, fingering, and volume/intensity of each finger. Take your time. Don’t rush through them just to say you’ve done them. Always practice them with precision.
  • Use the correct fingering on scales and arpeggios. If you have any problems with the fingering, start over this time SLOWLY. Wrists should remain LEVEL throughout the entire scale. (A slight leaning to the right when ascending or a slight leaning to the left when descending is okay). This includes when fingers cross over/under or when playing the thumb or 5th fingers. Keep your elbows in the same general position and avoid letting them stick out when crossing your fingers.
  • Look ahead several notes, or even several measures as you play. Adjust your fingering accordingly.
  • As you are learning a piece, be sure to count with precision. No pausing or hesitating should be allowed. If you are hesitating anywhere in a piece of music you need to work that section AND slow the entire piece down until you can play the entire piece at the same speed. You MUST count when learning a piece of music. Keep the tempo steady and precise. Add rubato later. Use of a metronome can be helpful.
  • Fingering: Use standard fingering for scale, scale-like, arpeggio or arpeggio-like passages. Don’t invent your own fingering. The simpler the fingering and the less motion of the hand, especially the less crossing of fingers over/under, the better. You should almost NEVER slide from one note to the next using the same finger (when playing just one note, with chords & harmony it is okay).
  • Where you have problems, work – slowly – just that section, then increase to regular tempo. Then add a measure or two before and after – slowly first – then a whole phrase, then the whole piece.
  • Understand the theory behind what you are playing. What chords and chord progressions are you playing? What is the relationship between the chords and the key of the song? What is the key? What is its relative major or minor key? Look for scale like passages (ie. 4 or more notes in a row) and figure out what the scale is (or might be if it had all 7 notes).
  • Phrasing. Pay attention to slurs. At the end of a slur, let your fingers breathe similar to how a singer or wind instrumentalist does. Don’t change the tempo, but rather shorten the last note of the phrase a slight amount (eg. make a quarter note 0.9 beats long instead of 1.0 beats).
  • Rhythm. In addition to basic counting to keep the tempo steady, double check the length of individual notes (or chords) and make sure you are playing them the correct length. Use of a metronome can help to insure that you are playing all the notes correctly. Look at the rhythmic relationship that exists between the hands. In some songs, for example, there are passages where every beat will consist of 1/8th notes, but not necessarily in both hands. Use the rhythmic flow of a piece to help you in playing the rhythms correctly.

The best advice I can give about practicing is to play the piano every day and try to play correctly. If you skip days between playing the piano, it will slow down your progress.