November 10, 2011 at 9:48 AMEvery human being has a sense of rhythm; isn't that wonderful? If your heart beats, and you are breathing today, you are keeping a rhythm, despite your best efforts to shut it out. Not only that, unless you are physically incapable of walking, you have the ability to keep time in 2/4. The next time you walk for a bit, observe the rhythm that your body makes, from the swinging of your arms to the natural nod of your head. Your whole body is measuring out time in predictable segments. To this, you might find yourself spontaneously humming a tune or mentally chanting a sentence or phrase. Walking is a wonderful break-through tool for connecting yourself with this musical pulse that you already know so well. Pick up a skip, and you've got the gist of jigs.
Some of my students like marching so much that they beg me to turn the metronome on and march around the house with them, and so we do. We march to different speeds and count, to two, or to four, and once we're really good at it, we might even clap different rhythms on top of that. Three-four is a little more tricky, but not insurmountable. The legs alternate the downbeat, but this is the same thing that happens with bowings, so it makes for fun discoveries.
Today, after noticing that my normally musically intuitive Hayley didn't even flinch when adding an extra beat here and there to "Trumpet Minuet", I concluded that she had forgotten the underlying pulse. The best way for her to reconnect with the music she was making? We put our instruments down and learned the waltz step. "After all, a minuet is a dance, and this is how you will dance, only with your bow." Big steps for for the quarter notes, singing and swinging until she could feel it with her bow arm, and then when she picked up her instrument again, all the beats were back in the picture.
Right after Hayley, I'd scheduled a lesson with Jaycie, who is learning to slur. "The Bluebells of Scotland" is a 2/2 song, and the bow slurs the notes so that it remains moving to the steady half-note pulse while the left hand creates different rhythms. To get a grasp of this, her assignment had been to say the words of the song in rhythm while swaying back and forth, swinging her arms the same direction her bow would be going. Sounds silly and maybe a bit embarrassing? She nailed the song. I would say effortlessly, but I know Jaycie and the amount of work she put into diligently following the instructions.
The teaching day ended. I sat down at the computer, thinking about my students and the power of movement. ...Too bad for those who are too inhibited to try this stuff out. Some kids are too bashful, and as we get older, the inhibitions increase. After all, when was the last time you skipped?
I loaded the first tutorial video in a series of five provided by Yehudi Menuhin on the art of playing the violin. Eloquently, he demonstrated the necessity of engaging the mind and body in this daunting, experimental journey. In his buttoned collar and tie, he described the freedom of motion and prescribed some whole-body exercises to help the student connect with the motions of violin playing.
I couldn't help but wonder how a prim and proper man would react to marching around the room or waltzing out a rhythm or two. But now he was describing a familiar yoga move, which involved placing the toes high in the air and then laying them over the head, on the floor. He then took off his shoes, lay on the floor, and proceeded to demonstrate. A grown man, of most prestigious nature, lay on the floor and spoke about the wonders of connecting with a most relaxed state. I was in awe of his lack of inhibition.
If an old man in a tie can stick his toes in the air and then place them over his head onto the floor in front of an group of observing students and film crew, no one has an excuse. Everyone can be in touch with music. They only need to lay their inhibitions at the door and move onward. One, two, three, four...
And I'll have you know, I'm 22 and I make a habit of skipping, even when it humiliates people I'm with. I saw a Daily Show clip of Ed Helms doing this in an attempt to ward off SAD, and the vision of this grown man skipping made me laugh like crazy, and I resolved to do more of it. As he says in the clip, "It doesn't cost a thing to do the one exercise that makes everyone happy: skipping!" Skipping rules. We should do more of it.
(PS I blog at the expense of practice time, I'm afraid. Going for thirty in thirty, though, and having fun doing it!)
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