Introduction
    Short Changing Notes
    Dotted Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns
    Other Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns
    Syncopation
    Triplets
    Problems in Compound Metres
    Notes Following a Tie


    Introduction

    A sense of rhythm is born in everyone to a greater or lesser degree.  It does not have to be taught.  In the case of musicians, however, this innate sense needs to be much more finely developed.  It is important to remember that just because a student has an intellectual understanding of the relative time values of the various notes does not necessarily mean that he or she can play them properly.  The ability to instantly translate such symbols into their correct rhythmic patterns is a skill, and like all skills it needs to be practiced.

    The following sections outline some of the most common rhythmic problems facing the typical secondary school band. More advanced ensembles may like to refer to my article on "tempo traps" in the Interpretation section.


    Short-changing notes

    Sustained notes are often short-changed by inexperienced players.  Sometimes this is caused by improper breathing, but it can just as easily be the result of carelessness or simply a misunderstanding of the importance of giving the notes their full value.  The problem seems most acute at the end of phrases, or in situations where a note is to be sustained throughout a measure until the next one is about to begin.


    Dotted Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns

    Another common problem occurs in 2/4 or 4/4 metres when dotted quaver-semiquaver (eighth-sixteenth) patterns are executed as if they were in triple time:

    The solution is to call the attention of the ensemble to the mathematics of the situation by using a blackboard to divide the quarter note into four equal parts.  Then count slowly 1-2-3-4 for each subdivision.  The opposite problem occurs in playing swing music.  In the case of the latter, a literal rendition of the notes would sound too mechanical.

    That said, greater precision is often produced in rapid passages when the dotted quaver (dotted eighth note) is shortened and a rest is added, as in the example below:

    Even greater rhythmic clarity will be achieved if the band director encourages the ensemble to treat the semiquaver as if it were a grace note ahead of the following beat. The use of this so-called 'energetic sixteenth', however, is not always musically appropriate. It is the responsibility of the band director to decide whether or adopt such an approach in any given situation. As a general rule of thumb, the energetic sixteenth can be usefully employed in marches. It also works well in certain compositions written during the Romantic period.


    Other Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns

    A satisfying sense of precision and forward movement can also be attained in particularly fast passages when rhythms such as that given below are similarly amended. With some ensembles the approach also seems to have the added advantage of helping to prevent rushing.


    Syncopation

    Dealing with syncopated passages can be especially difficult.  One way of achieving rhythmic precision is to get the ensemble to sing or clap the troublesome passages.  Yet another is to pencil in the downbeats in the students’ scores.  This is particularly helpful to players when they are faced with a mixture of notes and rests as given here:

    Scribbling reminders on the students' scores can be useful in a wide variety of situations. It is especially effective when used to indicate dynamic changes, articulation and appropriate places to breathe.


    Triplets

    Many players also have trouble with triplets, particularly when they unexpectedly occur in 2/4 or 4/4 metres.  The most difficult triplets for young players to execute properly are apparently those that oblige them to negotiate intervals at the same time.  Typically, the first two notes are rushed, forcing the student to hold on to the third note longer than its written value. The musical effect is rather similar to that shown below:

    One way to encourage the ensemble to understand the nature of the triplet is to drill the players using the syllables tri-per-let. And even better approach, however, is based on the realisation that the music rarely halts when a triplet is played. Encourage students to use the words, one-and-a-two, with the two representing the following crotchet (quarter note) beat. Eventually, memory of the drill will combine with a more developed rhythmic sense to produce an acceptable triplet feel whenever it is required. See also the section on notes following a tie.


    Problems in Compound Metres

    Another triplet form that is often played incorrectly is that which occurs in the 6/8 metre, especially in marches.  In this case, a clear distinction has to be maintained between (1) rhythms that consist of a crotchet (quarter note) followed by a quaver (eighth note), and (2) those that are characterized by two quavers separated a quaver rest. The following illustrates the point:


    Notes Following a Tie

    Many inexperienced players hesitate after a tied note. The result is that the notes that come after it are played late and the rhythm is lost. The problem seems particularly acute in slow, melodic passages, where players are inclined to take a breath after the tie. A typical rhythm pattern where this problem occurs is given below.

    As in the case of many other syncopated passages, the solution is to ignore the tie completely and get the players to clap and then play the more simplified rhythm that results. Once the pulse of the music has been firmly established in this way, the tie can be reintroduced.

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