Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

10 Reasons Why You Might Have Problems with Rhythm

As teachers and performers, we often prescribe the metronome as the all-purpose solution to most of our rhythmic and metronomic ailments. In most instances, practicing with the metronome is the best resolve for these matters. But not always. Sometimes these issues result from things we are doing incorrectly, or just simply not doing. 

In this piece, I've identified 10 reasons why you might have problems in some of the aforementioned areas as well as a few prescribed remedies. These are hardly the laws of the land, just a few pointers that have helped me over the years.

1. You have not thoroughly absorbed the material at hand.  Trying to play things before we have thoroughly absorbed them is one of the surest ways towards rhythmic calamities. When creating in real time, there's plenty of room for error, but little room for hesitation. In general, we tend to be more hesitant with things with which we are uncertain. 

2. Playing outside of your comfort zoneTypically when we go for things outside of our musical reach, we tend to get into rhythmic trouble. The solution: Play less, and play what you know. Sometimes it's ok to drive under the speed limit. You don't always have to burn rubber.

3. Don't spend enough time listening to music. Writers understand that if they want to write well, they have to constantly read. As musicians, we tend to forget that listening is just as important as playing. Chances are that if you're constantly listening to players with great rhythm, you'll probably instinctively begin to play that way. Or at least you'll have a clearer understanding of how things are supposed to sound.

4. Need to play more. There's no better way to improve at something than by simply doing it. Playing allows you to assess what you can and can not do in real-time. It also gives you a more realistic perspective of your musical comfort zones.

5. Mentally unfocused. Sometimes our minds are just not in our work. And this is where practicing with a metronome helps. Having constant rhythmic accountability enables us to practice from a more heightening state, which will usually translate into you performing from the same state of mind.

6. Technical difficulty. Let's face it. If we can't technically execute something, it's not going to be rhythmically sound. This is usually the result of needing better instrumental control or just needing to get our ideas better under our fingers.  

7. Uncomfortable with our sound. People often underestimate the importance of sound. Being comfortable with our sound helps us to be more centered. And if you're centered and relaxed when you play, that will be reflected rhythmically, and definitely musically.

8. Thinking too rigidly about time and rhythm. If we're constantly looking at these musical components through narrow and limited scopes, we may never find what works best for us. Imagine that Ornette only interpreted time from the perspective of Sonny Rollins. Or what if Cecil Taylor only viewed time through the rhythmic lens of McCoy Tyner. Neither of them would have experienced the rhythmic liberation that enabled them to change the way we think about music.

9. Practicing with the metronome too much. There is such a thing as over doing it with the metronome. I've certainly been there. In doing so we don't allow ourselves to connect with our own internal clock. More importantly, we don't learn to trust our musical instincts. And ultimately this is our most valuable metronomic resource. 

10. Have not embraced your own unique relationship with rhythm and time. The fact of the matter is that everyone has their own unique relationship with these musical components, as they do with sound, melody, harmony, etc. And we have to learn to embrace this aspect of playing music. Some play perpetually ahead of the beat, some seem comfortable just a little behind it. Some are masters at swinging and playing over complex chord progressions, some make their most profound musical statements during free improvisation. Whatever the case may be, do what you do and be the best at it. Own it!


Unknown said...

Something that has been helpful to me is to improvise as fast as I can with the metronome going as slow as I can possibly tolerate it. When I do this, it highlights my finger movements that aren't accurate. Then I take those isolated finger movements and make exercises out of those.

My Profile said...

It is true that practicing slow is one of the most revealing exercises you can do. Thanks for sharing.

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