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A Novel Approach to Teaching and Learning Rhythm

In the last article, I talked about Mixtures (combinations of one eighth note and two 16th notes in a beat) and how a mathematical approach to rhythm (as mentioned in previous articles) can be used. I also gave tips on how to clear up the confusion related to the musical notation of these rhythms. In this article, the last one of the series, I will introduce the "Weaning Process," which explains how to count rhythms at faster tempos without losing the common denominator or fractional aspect to counting rhythms.

The first three articles detailed a method that stresses deliberate counting, playing, and writing. (Understanding how these basic rhythms line up mathematically equates with what the rhythms actually sound like.) For those students who love to play at fast tempos (who doesn't?), you can either learn to count 16th notes really fast (this is not a waste of time, but can eventually become cumbersome) or you can wean yourself off counting all of those 16th notes. The Weaning Process is a step-by-step process for playing rhythms without having to depend as much on counting, so that the rhythms have more of a flow at faster tempos:

Note: This process will work better if you have built a foundation in deliberate counting and playing.
The old saying "You can't play it if you can't count it" is hard to argue with.

1. Count and play the 16th-note-based exercises slowly, gradually increasing the tempo through repetitive practice. Once you reach a "breaking point" (for most students, this is around 100 beats per minute), counting the notes and spaces between the notes will hold back your musicality. Now you're ready for number 2.

2. Don't count the sounds in parentheses. Say aloud only the counting that appears at the bottom of the staff. In other words, don't count the spaces between notes; count only the 16th-note spaces that you play. Make sure that you can accurately feel the space that you are not counting. If you can't feel the spacing between notes, and you are struggling playing this with a metronome or drum machine or along with the accompanying CD, go back to number 1. You'll need more repetitive practice.

3. Count all 16th notes and spaces when certain rhythms are confusing. For the rhythms that you know well, count only the note locations and feel the spaces in between those locations.

4. Count the 16th-note locations silently in your head. Don't count but feel the spaces between the notes.
5. Go on automatic pilot and don't count at all. Play the rhythms that you see. (To get to this point, you will need to practice and have enough experience to memorize and recognize what these rhythms look and sound like.)

Andy Ziker

Andy Ziker is a teacher and professional drummer in the San Jose, California area. He has authored several instructional books, including Drum Aerobics, Daily Drum Warm-Ups, and Drumset for Preschoolers, and The Jazz Waltz.

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