For the last couple of days I have been focussing on Rhythm! Like melody, this is often an area where students get confused. Confusions will often take place when thinking about the different between Melody & Rhythm. It is crucial that they focus on one thing and that is the Note Values
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. In reality Pitch and Rhythm combine to make a melody, but in the exam they are often asked to distinguish between the two.
Key Terms for Rhythm
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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. Where the performer adds their own sense of interpretation & emotion, this is Rubato. 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.
- Triplets & Duplets – Obvious, but important that they see this as a rhythmic feature that gives a piece character – take star wars for example!
- Augmentation & Diminution – Stretching or squashing a rhythm. It doesn’t affect the melody you see, but it does affect the rhythm – the note values!
- Scotch Snap – 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!
- Simple & Compound Time – A rhythm is given character and definition by the time signature. When discussing rhythm it is important to refer to time signature.
- Tempo? – Tempo doesn’t actually change or alter the note values, just how fast they are played.
- Accents – Well placed accents can really affect a rhythm, but, accents don’t actually change the rhythm. They are more of a Rhythmic Device.
- 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.
Lesson on Rhythm
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! And next time you have a mock exam make sure that they are focussing on the correct key terms.