Practicing Tricky Rhythms: Seitz Concerto No. 2, mvt. 3 (with VIDEO)

August 3, 2017, 4:17 PM · This week one of my students was having a tricky time with the rhythms in Seitz Concerto No. 2, movement 3, so I thought I'd go ahead and share the practice video that I made for her with everyone.

I can still remember my own struggles with this piece, as a child. I couldn't wait to play it; I'd heard other kids play it, and wow, I loved the way the beginning just seems to leap into the air! I was less familiar with the other parts of it, as I was not a Suzuki student and had no recording. I still remember arriving at the second page of the piece and actually pitching a fit of frustration -- yes, there were tears. Fortunately, with help from my teacher, I figured out the rhythms and went on to give my huge debut -- a performance in the school gymnasium!

I'm not the only student who ever bumped up against a wall in this piece. What makes it so challenging? I'd argue that more than the notes, it's the rhythms. There are two sections that are particularly tricky, and this video gives some play-along ways to practice each one:

Why are these sections difficult? First of all, this piece is in 6/8 time, and often students have not encountered this meter much before playing this piece.

Take for example, measures 48-68:

Seitz m.48-68

Though we are in 6/8 time, we have a hemiola - a little rhythmic trick in which 123-456 takes on the feel of 12-34-56. Basically, those six eighth notes get divided into three groups of two for just a measure, and then they go back to being divided into two groups of three.

If you are practicing without complete precision, without truly addressing the questions of rhythm, you can start feeling it in a vague and lopsided way that won't really fit, once you put it with the eighth-note accompaniment. The solution, for your brain to get all these divisions clear, is to simply play the entire passage in eighth notes, which is what I've demonstrated.

The next example is measures 68-83:

Seitz m.68-83

This is a similar problem with a similar solution. The problem here is not really about a hemiola, but more about the bow vs. the fingers. Very often, rhythm is felt in the movement of the bow. In this case, however, everything is slurred! The bow is quite passive, in regard to the rhythm: in effect, it's just playing dotted quarter notes, with a few string changes thrown in. The left fingers, on the other hand, must keep time with perfect clarity. Playing this passage with all sixteenth notes forces the left hand to do this in a very precise way. Another good way to practice this passage, once the rhythm is clearly in your brain (or your student's brain) is to "play" it without the bow, just listening to when the fingers go down and feeling that rhythm in the left hand.

I hope you have found these exercises helpful, feel free to share with any teachers or students that might use this, and also share your practice techniques in the comments below. Happy practicing!

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August 4, 2017 at 02:37 AM · Completely off topic,

Thank you so much for using the term hemiola. I was discussing this very effect yesterday in relation to Beethoven's 3rd and for the life of me couldn't remember the term. I was doing a very bad job explaining it (I eventually sketched out an example) and just having the term in memory would have been wonderful.

It's horrible how we sometimes forget the things we know when we actually need them :P

August 4, 2017 at 02:56 AM · Not sure I'm finding any hemiolas in this movement. (In Lully Gavotte, yes.) Can you point those measures out?

August 4, 2017 at 03:03 AM · It's such a complicated-sounding term, and rather hard to explain! Then when you do it, it just kind of makes sense.

The ultimate hemiola song: "I like to be in Amer-i-ca...."

August 4, 2017 at 03:38 AM · That's a very good example - something else I didn't think of in the moment. Now it's going to be stuck in all your loyal readers heads for the remainder of the day.

I also found the video informative - I've never considered nor been instructed to break something down into the beats in that particular way for practicing. It's smart and I can already think of some places where it could be useful outside of this example.

Is this something you came up with yourself, or have I just missed a major part of music pedagogy? Perhaps it's because I learned to count in relation to polyphonic music - 'this line is doing this, so these fit into here like this...' as well as the standard 1 & 2 & 3 etc.

August 4, 2017 at 03:44 AM · Thank you for writing about this. I'm in Suzuki book 3, but will keep this in mind for later!

Some of my practice includes Wohlfahrt, in which the initial etudes provide different bowing options. These seem like good exercises for training the brain and fingers in different rhythm patterns. I'm sure these options could be applied to most etudes.

August 4, 2017 at 06:23 AM · Michael, I can't claim full credit for the idea, I always had students practice this way to prepare for m. 68-83, thanks to some excellent pedagogy training from Jim Maurer. However, this week was the first time I'd thought to do it for m. 48-68!

The hemiolas are in measures 49 and 57. Not that many places, but because it's at the beginning of the passage it can throw off a student's compass!

August 4, 2017 at 07:15 AM · Regardless of who's brain child it was, thanks for sharing Laurie. I'll have to keep it in mind for similar rhythmic difficulties :)

To be fair. a hemiola can throw off anyone who has never dealt with them before!

August 5, 2017 at 09:03 AM · Spelling! The noun is practCe in England, the verb: practiSe, or plactiSing. Hemiola? Best example I know is he the first 4 bars, 3rd. movement (I think) Mozart symphony no. 40.

August 5, 2017 at 04:09 PM · LOL that's a British thing that we Americans see as rather funny. We practice, and we are practicing, in America! And apparently that looks rather funny to you!

August 5, 2017 at 04:34 PM · Great tip. I do remember something like this from my lessons MANY years ago, but it's great to have reminders like this.

August 5, 2017 at 10:08 PM · Thanks for the helpful tips. I had a teacher who was always having me subdivide and it's a great way to internalize rhythms.

August 6, 2017 at 10:50 PM · Another trick in bar 49 is to just "pulse" (accent) the tied E by applying a little bow pressure at the 4th beat of the bar (4 out of 6). The problem with that trick is that after you've got the rhythm you have to reverse the tendency.

August 7, 2017 at 03:28 PM · I personally enjoy the pure mathematical origins of hemiola - the ratio of 3/2. Simplified in this way all of its musical connotations become quite clear. A three quarter note triplet makes a hemiola over the two beats of a half note. In fact, it is the consideration of 6/8 here as compound 2 that makes the Seitz example a hemiola at all. Because the natural division in simple time is duples that also makes incidental triplets applied to any piece in simple time hemiolas; an eighth note triplet places the value of three beats over the expectation of a duple make 3/2. Perhaps my favorite fact about them is that Pythagoras based his entire system of intonation on hemiolas ( 3/2 being a just fifth) and our violins are tuned in three hemiolas stacked on each other. They are in so many places for musicians but often hide behind other rationalization or models.

PS. Thanks for the post and videos

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