Issue 144: Timing/Pulse/Rhythm in Performance

I’ve been ranting for several weeks now about the difficulty of accompanying children who do not play their pieces with a good sense of pulse.

In the past I have accompanied Gershwin while the clarinettist (Grade 2, was it?) played in straight crotchets throughout. I can’t remember the name of the piece, but just try singing “I got rhythm” in straight crotchets and you will get the general idea.

How aboutĀ a saxophonist playing “Food, Glorious Food” in alternating 4 and 3 beat bars because she never held the long notes for the full value. Or “Du, du, liegst in mein Herzen” (grade 1 flute) in straight crotchets, while I am trying to play “oomchacha oomchacha” on the piano? Here’s Marlene Dietrich singing it if you don’t know the song.

It’s too late to do anything about the rhythm by the time they come to me to try their pieces with the accompaniment. All that happens is that the child can be completely thrown and unable to play (there have been tears) and my task as an accompanist becomes nigh on impossible.

I’m not talking about the odd small error here or there, a skipped beat in the stress of the moment of performance.

What the children certainly don’t realise is that the physical timing of sounding the note becomes as much a part of the whole process of playing as the pitch, articulation, tonguing, bowing, fingeringĀ and everything else.

When I teach, I try and get each of these elements right from the very beginning. This can mean that, to begin with, I might only teach the first couple of bars of a new piece, very slowly and carefully, getting the pupil to make sure that they play at a speed which means that everything is CORRECT.

I haven’t specified the instrument; I could be talking about piano, djembe (rhythm, bass/tone, order of the hands), recorders (fingering, tonguing, rhythm, articulation), samba, ukulele, you name it. There’s no point in learning a Wrong Thing.

There. Rant over. Until the next exam session….

Poppy divider


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