I always find that after a mock exam there are certain things that stick out as being mis-understood. I have found recently that Rhythm and how it is described and identified is one of those stick out things! So today I started to really address this with my students.
We started off by establishing that rhythm basically is what determines where notes happen in a piece of music. From that point you start to move away from the pulse and start to think of rhythm as the guide for melody. The two go hand in hand of course, but it was a good place to start.
We then looked at rhythm from the point of view of what you can do with the different note values you have. I found it really important to stress that rhythm is all about the value of the notes and how they can combine in a bar, alongside the odd rest, to create a rhythm, that you can then attach melody to.
I picked out a few key things alongside these opening points:
Dotted Rhythms, Syncopation & Triplets.
The students then went off to create a rhythm that had to use both simple and a compound time and also the three things above. Suddenly Syncopation become clearer as they could see that it was all about the spaces between the beats and the stresses you place on these spaces.
It was a lesson based on a simple element of music, but one that is often confused. Some students in the exam described rhythm by actually describing the tempo and the volume. Or they got confused between melody and rhythm. Sometimes breaking things down again and then looking at what you can do with rhythm aside from melody is really important. I also urged them to think about a triplet as a way of changing or enhancing a rhythm that they already had. Sibelius is great in a lesson like this as it keeps them in check in terms of beats in a bar and it gives them instant playback on their woodblock or triangle rhythm.
We then finished off the lesson with some listening and it was clear that they were now listening to the rhythms – the note values and the rhythmic elements of the music and nothing else. A useful lesson all round.
In addition to this I wanted the students to really grasp the concept of note values when describing music. In a listening exam it is highly likely that they will have to comment on Note values at some point. It can really aid them in their analysis if they focus on the different note values of a melody or a section of accompaniment. It is obvious to some but not to others.