The Rhythm is Gonna Get You

by | Jun 14, 2024

Rhythm Gets Ya

The Rhythms of Summer

Summer’s inherent rhythms remind us that music is not just about melody and harmony but also about the pulse and flow that drive it. This month, the cicada’s song flows like a shimmering river of sound, its crescendo rising in waves. Its hypnotic pulse fills the air with a summer symphony of sounds, weaving nature’s heartbeat into the fabric of the day. Basking in cicadas singing their symphony in my little wild wooded grove, I feel the rhythm and flow in their waves of sound as they teach me how to perform the gentlest of diminuendos. Musicians develop unique sounds using imagination, mental imagery, and practice, nurturing inner hearing and expressing their authentic sound through aural imagination and mental rehearsal.

The previous blog, “Cultivating Your Sound,” delved into the imaginative and subconscious elements of developing a unique musical voice. We explored how planting the seeds of sound in our subconscious leads to a vibrant musical expression. It emphasized the importance of visualizing desired sounds, practicing mentally, and connecting deeply with music to shape one’s artistic identity. But your sound needs a heartbeat to come alive. To cultivate a well-rounded sound, we must also develop our sense of rhythm and timing. As the seasons change and summer arrives in full swing, it’s time to let the rhythm take center stage. This month, we’ll explore how your internal rhythm transforms your playing and how to harness its power to elevate your musical expression.

Understanding Rhythm

Rhythm is the foundation upon which music is built. It’s the steady beat that keeps time, the groove that makes you want to move, and the structure that supports melody and harmony. Without rhythm, music would lack direction and energy. Imagine the conductor giving the first beat and nothing else. Oh, wait. No rhythm might mean that the first beat isn’t even there. So…

Rhythm isn’t just something you hear but something you feel. We’ll subconsciously tap our feet, clap our hands, or nod to the beat of the music if we are not consciously stopping ourselves. Rhythm is about timing, spacing, and a pattern of beats and rests that creates a piece’s tempo. Mastering rhythm doesn’t start with understanding its components, such as the beat, meter, tempo, and syncopation. It starts without thinking but by dancing, clapping, or moving to the music. We can feel the beat without any special musical training. Letting your body become attuned to the pulse of the music and internalizing the beat is fun and easy as long as you are not trying to count or think. Time stops for thought, and so does your sense of rhythm. When you lose the beat, it is easy to get frustrated.

The Joy of Rhythm

At its core, rhythm is about joy and movement. It’s the part of music that makes you want to dance. It’s the groove that makes you want to move. Embrace the joy of rhythm and let it infuse your playing with energy and life. Summer is a season of movement and dance, and this is a perfect metaphor for how we can interact with our instruments. Instead of just playing notes, we should strive to dance with our sound, letting the music move us.

Approach your instrument as if dancing with it, let the rhythm guide your movements, and feel the music in your body. Dancing with your instrument, body, and soul as one, the inner musician becomes the DJ, sending out music born from within. Each beat is a pulse of life’s rhythm, flowing seamlessly in a harmonious dance. The feeling of the instrument’s weight and the resistance of the keys or strings don’t matter, and you let your body respond naturally to the music you’re creating from within. This physical connection to rhythm can enhance your musicality and performance, and just as dancers express emotion through movement, your inner musician physically engages with your body and instrument.

The Body’s Rhythm

Our human being is full of rhythms and pitches, or natural music. Composer John Cage famously wanted to experience total silence, putting himself in a chamber without sound. He could still hear a high pitch, which was the nervous system in operation, and a low one, his blood in circulation. Next, he heard his stomach grumble, and he went to get lunch. As disappointed as he might have been at his inability to experience silence, it was better than the alternative. We will all get the chance for silence one day, but we can wait for that experience.

Until then, we can find rhythmic inspiration in our heartbeat, blood flow, and breathing. Use these rhythms to shape your musical phrases. This natural metronome will guide you to play phrases that align with these internal rhythms, creating a more organic flow. Developing a strong inner rhythm starts from within, and this sense of pulse significantly contributes to the overall musicality of your playing.

Embracing Nature

The long, sunny days and warm nights are filled with the steady cadence of life. This natural rhythm can profoundly influence our musical journey. Tapping into the rhythms and elements of nature can bring a unique and evocative quality to your playing. Just as summer is a time of growth and abundance, it’s a season of rhythm and movement.

The owl’s hoot echoes through the night, a haunting, melodic call that whispers secrets to the moon. The natural song in the owl’s rhythmic hoot reveals the true rhythm of a soul calling out and its ability to blend pattern and emotion into timeless music. Internalizing rhythm means you can move freely in the beat, with the beat, and cradle it delicately as the final beat breathes its last breath.

Sound and Rhythm Dance as One

Just as we planted seeds of sound in the subconscious in the spring, we cultivate our sense of rhythm this summer with our imagination. Imagine the rhythm of a galloping horse, a bird’s fluttering wings, or an elephant’s slow, deliberate steps. Whether you’re visualizing natural scenes, channeling the movements of animals, or simply letting your emotions flow freely, the natural world can be a profound source of inspiration. Embrace the freedom to explore and express these natural rhythms, and let them guide your musical journey. Using your imagination to let natural rhythms influence your performance can be a beautiful and expressive endeavor.

I mentally practice with a picture of natural scenes when I imagine myself playing the music, visualizing different exotic settings. Imagine a forest, a flowing river, or a stormy sea. Let the imagery influence your music’s dynamics, articulation, and flow. Let your imagination sing as you embody the rhythms of the elements. Think of how the wind might move through the trees or how waves crash on the shore. Translate these movements into your playing style, using your breath and phrasing to mimic these natural phenomena. Use your emotional connection to the music to influence the dynamics and articulation of your rhythms.

Imaginative Visualization

Your imagination can open a world of sound ideas for your instrument to imitate, and summer’s long days are perfect for losing yourself in the music and discovering new facets of your sound. We can start by listening to the rhythms around us. The steady hum of crickets, the rhythmic splash of water in a pool, or the distant beat of a woodpecker can all be sources of inspiration.

Use your instrument’s dynamic range to mirror the highs and lows of summer’s rhythm. Play with volume and intensity, from the whisper of a breeze to the full-throated roar of a summer storm. Let these natural rhythms seep into your subconscious, enhancing your internal metronome.

Musical Imagery

I experiment with different tone colors on my horn. A warm, round sound might evoke the setting sun, while a brighter, more piercing tone could represent the midday sun. Dynamic contrasts and varied articulation can also be used to evoke natural sounds. Soft, legato passages evoke calm water, while sharp, staccato notes might suggest raindrops or leaves crackling.

Your imagination is the key to new levels of musicianship, and mental imagery is how we communicate with the subconscious musician. From our subconscious, we find coherence in our musical ideas to produce the dance of sound and rhythm with our bodies from our instruments. Music flows from the brain, or our subconscious inner musician, through our bodies to the instrument, then out to the audience.

Rhythmic Wiggle Room

Summer is also a time for nurturing the growth that began in spring. This is a period for refining and expanding upon the foundational skills we’ve been developing. When we incorporate rhythmic exercises into our practice routine, using a metronome to keep time is good. Still, I practice playing with a fluid sense of timing, allowing me to feel the music’s natural ebb and flow.

There’s wiggle room inside of the beat for you to set up your rhythmic expression. With that pointy stick that the conductor uses, you might think that the beginning of the beat is a clear dot in time for everyone to start on, but there is more to the beat than meets the eye. There’s a front and a back and more room in the middle than you might think.

Expressive Rhythm

Rhythm is a powerful tool for musical expression, conveying a wide range of emotions and moods. The rhythm shapes the music’s character. The energetic drive of a fast tempo and the relaxed feel of a laid-back groove have a special feel to each beat. Grooving with the beat involves dynamic interaction with the rhythm, feeling the nuances of each beat. Playing in time is just the beginning. Emphasizing strong and weak beats, paying special attention to how they start and stop, and landings when the beat finally stops for good are all done with rhythmic factors considered. Just as we articulate words when we speak, how we play our sounds gives us the rhythmic expression needed to fit into the music’s groove.

Pay attention to the dynamics and articulation of your rhythms. Accentuating certain beats or syncopations adds flavor and drive to the groove. Composers like mixing things up. Sometimes, the melody is simply a rhythm. Rhythm and music are not separate but part of the same musical flow, activating our physical actions. When you are aware of the music, you know the rhythm. When your inner musical awareness is high, you feel the beat intuitively and know how to play seamlessly on your instrument. This poetic and expressive dance with your instrument is conducted by your musical awareness, your inner musician.

Aware of Your Awareness

It’s the same awareness you have of the voice reading these words. Who sings the song in your head when there’s a song in your head? Awareness of the song playing in your head doesn’t mean someone else is there. You are that awareness, and the voice you are making sing in your head is part of the mechanism you use to play music. You have the intelligence, and you are the instrument. Playing music with this mindset allows the subconscious inner musician to sing with any instrument you play.

As summer progresses, you’ll see the fruits of your labor. Your inner world’s music gets clearer and easier to manipulate as you use your imagination to strengthen your sense of music. When a song plays in your head, play with it, and soon, you will have full control over the singer in your mind. Once you know who you are training, music is easy. Let the singer sing the rhythms you’ve internalized, driving the physical engagement with your instrument, and the mental musical practice you’ve done with your inner awareness will create a richer, more mature sound.

A Journey into Your Imagination

Your musical journey is a dance of sound and rhythm, an ever-evolving exploration of your music’s heartbeat. This journey is taken in free time. You are on your private timeline here, and there’s no need to rush. Our bodies work better in a relaxed state, so breathe to reset and relax if you feel stressed. Then, in a relaxed state, your internal rhythm will guide you in transforming your playing. Dance with your instrument, feel the beat in your heart, and let the joy of rhythm infuse every note you play.

This journey is not without its challenges. It requires dedication, discipline, and an unwavering commitment to the music within. It’s a journey of self-discovery that invites us to explore the depths of our imagination and the boundless possibilities of our musical minds. As you embark on this journey of musical exploration, nurturing your imagination and inner hearing happens automatically. Being aware of their usefulness early can make this journey so much easier.

Embracing the Joy of Making Music

As we bask in the warmth and energy of summer, let the rhythm move you. Embrace its power to drive and shape your music. Develop your rhythmic skills from the inside out, lock into the groove, and use rhythm to express your musical ideas with clarity and emotion. Rhythm is more than just timing; it’s the heartbeat of your music, the pulse that brings to life the music you sing from your soul. Play with your rhythm like a child experimenting with a new toy, without thoughts or expectations, only the joy of the dance.

Let the rhythms of summer guide your musical journey, remembering that this season is not just about growth but also enjoyment and celebration. Embrace the joy of making music, the thrill of performance, and the satisfaction of seeing your hard work come to fruition. Let the rhythms of summer inspire you to dance with your sound, nurturing it with care and letting it grow in harmony with the natural cycles around you. Like the changing seasons, your musical journey is a beautiful, ever-evolving dance of sound and rhythm. Enjoy all the phases of your musical flowering, and you will bloom brighter, quicker, and longer with the bright sun of your music shining from within. Each stage of growth sings the way it sings, and your song sings out from your heart beautifully at each stage. Enjoy the journey, and the destination will take care of itself.

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