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#117: Count, Click and Canon: a Rhythm Masterclass

While there are many notable quotes from Johann Sebastian Bach, one of my favorites is this one: “There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”  Okay, the man was a musical genius, but obviously he also had a remarkable talent for understatement. 

On the other hand, that really is the major part of learning and playing a piece of music, at least it’s where we start. Certainly the expression of the music is our ultimate aim, but communicating the music starts with the right notes at the right time. That’s the focus of the podcast today: not so much how to find the right notes, but how to play them at the right time. 

We all know it’s not as simple as Bach made it sound. In fact, the difficulties of finding that “right time” are evident everyday in our practice, even if we are expert players. See if any of these common rhythmic challenges sound familiar to you from your personal experience:

  • Starting a piece before you’ve looked at the time signature, and getting it wrong.
  • Uneven subdivisions of the beat, not making your sixteenth notes exactly half the length of your eighth notes, for example.
  • Not remembering to count rests or ties.
  • Rushing through some passages and slowing down in others.
  • Forgetting to count and losing your place.

I’m guessing you’ve had at least one of those challenges; I know I have. Maybe you know how to fix the problem, but maybe you’re not really sure of the best way to go about it. Maybe you’ve tried fixing it, but you seem to have to fix it again with every new piece you learn. Perhaps rhythm or counting or working with the metronome is a constant frustration for you.

If any of those things sound familiar, you’re in luck, my friend, because I’m going to give you some actual steps to take to become more rhythmically secure, not just fix the problems as they arise, although these strategies will work for that too. I want to show you how to practice your rhythm skills, whether you feel pretty confident already and you just want to get to the next level, or you have trouble with plain old counting or working with the metronome. I taught these methods for nineteen years when I was teaching theory and ear training at the Curtis Institute of Music, and if they are good enough for the world-class students there, they will almost certainly help you too.

And by the way, just to make this ultra-relevant for us harpists, I will be using the Pachelbel Canon as our teaching text. So get out whatever version you have of the Pachelbel - any arrangement will work for this - and follow along as we get rhythmic today.

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions and suggestions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected]


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