GCSE Revision


For the last couple of days I have been focussing on Rhythm! Just like melody, this is often an area where students get confused. If they are asked to analyse or comment on a rhythm then they can sometime stray into talking about melody, or dynamics. It is crucial that they focus on one thing:


That is what rhythm is all about – a collection of note values. You could start the lesson by asking them to define Rhythm – they may find this hard to do! What they need to be able to do is focus on the values of the notes and essentially forget pitch. I know that in reality pitch and rhythm combine to make a melody, but in the exam they are often asked to distinguish between the two.

I covered a range of topics in the lessons on rhythm that I feel often come up in the exam. Here they are for your use and to give you come ideas

  1. Hemiola – I love this rhythmic device/feature and I think it is a good one to teach students as it can come up and is also a useful tool to spice up a composition. I actually get them up and dancing to a waltz and then when the Hemiola happens they notice it.
  2. Syncopation – this is often misunderstood as being “off-beat”. It is crucial that they get used to using this term and it might be good for them to have a visual representation of it in their revision notes. Get students to write down a syncopated rhythm and just check that they are not stressing strong beats and also tying over a bar-line etc.
  3. Rubato – This is another term that can be really useful in the exam. Most live recorded music, particularly from the romantic genre, will feature rubato. I mean what self respecting musician doesn’t aim to bring a bit of passionate flair to a performance. I explain that it means robbed or borrowed time and then I focus on the fast that Rubato is what gives the piece of music a sense of passion and emotion. It is where the performer adds their own sense of interpretation. It is the kind of term that they can throw in to most descriptions of a piece – obviously with some caution. Get a student up who plays piano and ask them to perform their latest piece with and without rubato – I did and it worked really well.
  4. Triplets & Duplets – Obvious, but important that they see this as a rhythmic feature that gives a piece character – take star wars for example!
  5. Augmentation & Diminution – Stretching or squashing a rhythm. It doesn’t affect the melody you see, but it does affect the rhythm – the note values!
  6. Scotch Snap – This old chestnut that few students seem to know, except mine actually because I always go on about it. Dotting the second of a set of quavers rather than the first – you know what I mean. It is in many ways the opposite to a dotted rhythm – I won’t bother making dotted rhythm one of my points!
  7. Simple & Compound Time – This is technically a metre or time signature related thing, but fundamentally a rhythm is given character and definition by the time signature and so I think when discussing rhythm it is important to refer to time signature.
  8. Tempo? – Lots of students asked why tempo wasn’t linked more closely to rhythm, so I thought I would bring this up. Tempo doesn’t actually change or alter the note values, just how fast they are played. It is important that they understand this and it will also highlight if they have fundamentally understood the nature of what rhythm actually is.
  9. Accents – In my opinion, well placed accents can really affect a rhythm. But, and my students were quick to point this out, accents don’t actually change the rhythm. But they are more of a rhythmic device I guess as they can change the whole feel and emotion of the rhythm. So I think it is another great discussion point.
  10. Cross Rhythm & Polyrhythm – not too tricky to explain the concept of two conflicting rhythms happening at the same time. Quite good to get the class clapping different rhythms and also you can of course embark on a class performance of Clapping Music by Steve Reich.

So there we are, a lesson on rhythm that will prepare students for the exam. Get them clapping, get someone playing with rubato and make sure that they leave the lesson knowing exactly what to say when they are focussing on Rhythm!


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