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Thoughts on Rhythm

Rhythm is something we all have to work on at some point in our playing life. Making music depends a lot on how we understand and manipulate rhythm. Before we can manipulate it, we have to understand how it feels to play totally in time, with not just a rhythmic left hand but also a rhythmic right hand; in other words, controlling bow speed.

The following, simple exercise is one that I have found helps develop a good, strong rhythmic sense. The following notes (taken from my book, A Notebook for Viola Players) explain how to practice this exercise, and the attached video clips show the exercise in action.

0121a Ivo rhythm cropped

Do not “try” and play with the beat by tapping a foot or moving the viola up and down. Invariably this causes tension, which can actually prevent you from playing with the beat. Rather, relax and “allow” yourself to play in time. This is very important. Whenever we find something difficult it is easy to tense up. By doing this we actually make the passage even harder. It is better to relax and “allow” the fingers to move in time. Only feel the beat internally; do not fight it.

Once you are comfortable at 40 beats per minute (per quarter note) , move the metronome to 80 (per eighth note) and repeat.

Note: the tempo remains the same. This way you have 3, 5, and 7 against 2. This is very useful practice.

If you have a metronome that can emphasize the quarter note beat, start this way. Be more aware initially of the emphasized quarter notes and play to those. As you become more comfortable, allow yourself to become more aware of the subdivided quarter notes and observe how they interact with the rhythms you are playing.

Repeat now with eighth note = 120 (triplets, so three notes per beat) then sixteenth note = 160 and sixteenth note = 200 (quintuplets!).

Your final goal is to play these exercises without any emphasis.

Once you have mastered the above, try mixing the rhythms, i.e., going from 4’s to 7’s to 3’s or 1’s to 5’s to 2’s. Try any combination you can. The most common fault is to rush each new rhythm.


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