In the past one of the most daunting skills, I needed to develop is rhythm and pulse. For some reason, I could never play a passage evenly and it drove to the point of madness as I would sit in my practice room for countless hours and still be on square one after completely draining the battery life out of my metronome (may it rest in peace/pieces). Because of this roadblock, it was difficult for me to keep morale and motivation up and find the energy to practice until I started thinking about how I was practicing, and the end results I wanted. Over the years, I have acquired several methods or tricks to help me count and feel the pulse better. Below are my top five favorite ways to help develop rhythm and pulse accuracy.
We have all heard of this time and time again, but I can testify that sight-reading is a tried and true method. In my warm-up, I set aside at least 5 to 10 minutes of sight-reading a day. How? Well, I am glad you asked. My favorite website for sight-reading is https://www.sightreadingfactory.com/ because it can generate countless of musical exercises. Furthermore, this website has a handy little app for your smartphone or tablet, so it leaves no room for excuses.
I would also use Smart Music to generate rhythm sheets. I would practice these several times a week to reinforce the counting habit and establish new neurological highways for the more difficult rhythms. As always, use a metronome.
- Tap and Sing:
This method took me forever to get the hang of, but I am glad I have because it’s my first go to method when learning a new piece of music.
- Set the metronome (met) to a slow tempo. I usually start at 60bpm.
- With the met set and ready to go, start to tap the tempo over your heart or on your leg. This is the step where we begin to feel the pulse.
- After you have become comfortable with the tapping, look at the first few measures of music. We want to take these exercise in chunks of two or four so it’s easier to chew.
- Count the rhythm of the selected section while you are simultaneously tapping the pulse over your heart or lap.
- Say the rhythm on Ta of the selected section while you are simultaneously tapping the pulse over your heart or lap.
- Finally, after we are completely comfortable with the above steps, we are going to fully sing the selected passage either on solfege or La.
- Repeat step 3-6 several times as you gradually increase the tempo each time.
- Conducting the Choir:
Conducting while you sing is one of my favorite ways to ensure I know the rhythm and the pulse of any pieces while checking if I really know the part. This method is easy, and I love singing and conducting with a recording. My personal preference is singing with fixed solfege, but it can be done with whatever syllables you are comfortable with.
- Change the Rhythm:
This method is pretty straightforward. Just change the rhythm of the section you are working on to a repeated rhythm. Below I have written the order of rhythms I like to do. I generally repeat each measure of rhythm anywhere from five to seven times before going onward. Furthermore, this method is great for tackling those pesky technical passages like in the Nielson’s Clarinet Concerto.
LeapFrog is the method I use when I have all the technical passages down, but I need to internalize the faster pulse while keeping everything nice and even. Although this method can be rather time-consuming, it is worth every minute in the end. I promise.
- Select the passage you wish to work on.
- Set the metronome to an extremely slow tempo. For example, a quarter note equals 40 bpm.
- Play the passage no less than five times at 40 bpm.
- Jump three metronome increments of ten to the new tempo. For example, a quarter note equals 70 bpm.
- Play the passage no more than three times at the faster tempo.
- Next reduce the tempo back two increments of 10. For example, a quarter note should equal 50 bpm. Play the passage at least five times.
- Repeat steps 2-6 until you until you have achieved your goal tempo.