Rhythm is one of the most basic elements of any music. An ensemble with poor rhythm skills, we find difficulties not only on the stage of performance but also in sight-reading. The key to developing a strong program is to place rhythm as a focal of the instrumental classroom. That being said, a music educator may ask:
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I SPEND ON RHYTHM STUDIES?
Because of the importance of rhythm as a basic element of music, rhythmic studies should be a part of every rehearsal and can easily be used as part of the daily warm-up. Weak or inexperienced ensembles should devote more time to rhythmic studies. In the beginning stages of developing rhythmic independence, the conductor should focus on subdivision of the pulse. Percussionists have a great warm-up which can easily be translated to the Winds (Example 1).
This rhythm may seem very simple and basic; however, it is the foundation off which we build more complex rhythms. It is extremely important that young musicians can evenly subdivide the pulse at various tempi. Once students demonstrate a firm grasp on even subdivision, begin introducing new rhythms and build your bands rhythmic vocabulary.
WHERE DO I FIND RHYTHM EXERCISES?
There are lots of great resources with great rhythmic Exercises. Here are some examples:
Ed Sueta Band Method, Book 3
This method has great rhythm charts in the back of each book. Rhythms begin easy and get harder and introduces odd meters.
Rhythm Exercises for Musicians by Evangelos Sembos
Offers a great introductory to rhythms and tons of rhythms exercises. Exercises are not pitch specific and can be easily adapted for ensemble use.
Rhythmic Training by Robert Starer
Introductory method to rhythms. Offers variety of rhythm exercises with the pulse indicated below each rhythm. Appropriate for young players as well as experienced players.
Of course, a great resource for rhythm studies is the music you are rehearsing. Go through the pieces in your repertoire and pull rhythms from the music. You can put together rhythm sheets for the students or simply write them on the board. Pulling rhythms covers two things at once: 1) students are learning rhythms and subdivision as apart of their daily routine and 2) the students are rehearsing elements directly related the repertoire they are performing.
Follow these steps to reading new rhythms:
Count the rhythm – Write the counts under the rhythm (1 2 3 4 | 1+ 2 + 3+ 4+ | 1e+a … etc.).
Clap the Rhythm while Counting (out loud)
Sing the Rhythm (“Tah”)
Play the rhythm (Full ensemble Concert F or build a chord)
TO METRONOME OR NOT TO METRONOME?
No …and yes.
When working with a young or inexperienced group especially, use a metronome to ensure rhythmic accuracy (it’s not a bad idea to check your advanced ensemble regularly, also). Using the metronome with the full ensemble is a great way to model good practice habits for the students. When it is emphasized in rehearsal, the concept of working with a metronome will be emphasized at home in the practice room. Before moving away from basic subdivision, be sure to add variations in articulation. Sometimes articulation can impact an ensemble’s rhythmic accuracy. Legato passages tend to drag while staccatos can sometimes rush.