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Commandment 2) THOU SHALT KNOW AND LOVE THY BEAT. Chapter 2

Commandment 2) THOU SHALT KNOW AND LOVE THY BEAT.

The most important thing in music is rhythm, the most important thing to rhythm is the beat, and the most important thing to the beat is its steadiness.

I can play a familiar melody such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, and make it completely unrecognizable by radically changing the rhythm. However, it is still easily recognizable if it is played in a serial tone row, (maintaining the melodic shape while using large leaps and wild chromaticism) but keep the original rhythmic patterns.

There are two components to a secure sense of rhythm. First you must KNOW where in the score the beat falls. The beat can be any note value assigned as the primary rhythmic motive function. You must understand where in the score these beats occur.

The next part is the “Loving”. You must have a physical sense of the beat. There is no guessing allowed in the beat. Clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up and down, tap a foot, tap a toe, count out loud; do something to physically feel the presence of the beat or pulse.

Now put these together. Know where you belong in the score as these beats you feel come by. No matter what, you must be where you belong! If your playing is controlled by a steady, known beat, with a thorough understanding as to where you belong in the score with the beat, you will have a secure rhythm. Failure will make your playing rhythmically unintelligible.

One of the things which intervallic music reading teaches us is the correlation between the arrangement of notes on the pages and physical act of reproducing the music on the piano. The movements we make in the act of playing are choreographed directly from the score, as the notes go up the page, we play higher on the keyboard and the shapes of chords are expressed by various and uniform hand shapes. There is a parallel understanding available to us in regards to rhythm.

Musical notation indicates proportional values; two of these equal one of those and three of these equal one of those. The most fundamental aspect of good rhythm is maintaining a steady pulse. The note value assigned to that pulse is irrelevant, the only thing which matters is deciding which note value will be assigned the pulse and keeping that pulse steady. The next step would be to understand which rhythmic signs are equal to two (or three) of our pulse and which signs are half the value.

As in note reading, the ability to name the notes has nothing to do with the ability to play the notes; naming is simply for the convenience of communication between people and with ourselves, the mastery of beat numbering and subdivision syllables will never yield effective rhythm. You can say all the right numbers and syllables, but if you speak them without any reference to the beat or pulse, this knowledge will not give you the correct rhythm. And again the numbers and syllables simply provide a means of identification and labeling and nothing else.

Learning to maintain a steady pulse is something which best begins with some type of larger motor gesture than we experience with simple finger movements. Finger movements are poor pulse keepers for many reasons but primarily it is often a different finger moving for each pulse which weakens the relationship between the movement and the pulse. I have often told my students I really didn’t care what they did, tap their foot, jump up and down, shout… just do something very noticeable. You have to feel the pulse to be aware of its steadiness. I understand, taping ones foot can be unsightly in a performance setting, but it is a very effective method for having a physical action, separate from playing, to keep a steady pulse. As the student matures the foot taping will diminish anyways, learning to feel a steady pulse is just too important not to find something for the student to do.

One of the advantages of foot taping is the built in subdivision. The top of the movement represents the half subdivision.

The most complex musical notations (with the exception of some very modern scores) can usually be broken down to simple 2:1 and 3:1 relationships. Even in the presence of 128th notes; they also have a simple 2:1 relationship to 64th notes. If you assigned the pulse to the 4 beamed 64th notes, the 5 beamed 128th notes take on the same rhythmic simplicity as quarter and eighth notes. As comfort and tempos increases it is a simple matter to move the pulse to the next values, the proportional relationships remain the same.

One of the most misunderstood aspects of rhythm is the meter, sometimes strangely called the “time signature”. The typical explanation for the meaning of the two number will often go like this: “X is the number of beats in a measure and Y gets the beat.” That is pretty worthless! Yes, this information may be partly true, but it doesn’t tell us what those two numbers mean. A more succinct and accurate was of express this information would be to say: ” There are X number of Y’s in a measure.” A perfect example of why the first expression is inaccurate can be found in most compound meters notated in 3/8, 6/8 and 9/8. We most commonly count these meters with the dotted quarter receiving the beat which is a value not present in the first explanation, though it seems to imply there should be.

But neither of these explanations tells us what it means. We should think back to the very origins of music. The original musical instrument was the human voice and we had metered poetry set to simple melodies. The most effective settings were those which fit best with the alternating patterns of accented and unaccented syllables and whose cadences matched the punctuation of the poetry. The meter reflects this poetic patterning. Each meter is made up of accented and unaccented beats, which when text is present, and well set, is reflected in the organization of each measure of music.

So back to our original idea. You must know and love your beat. You must know in the musical score the location of your beat. We can add to this in time the relative importance of that beat to all others based upon the meter of the music. And Love is a feeling, so you must feel your beat; it has to have a physical reality to you.



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Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

by John Newton (1725–1807)

Tune: New Britain

YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/Tq1qMwpvzZM

1 Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

2 ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

3 Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

4 The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

5 Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

6 The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

7 When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

 

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we celebrate the most powerful message of all time in the cross as it represents one thing above all else: God’s totally underserved gift of grace. From the exile from Eden, where God provided the skins Adam and Eve were to wear; through the exile in Egypt and the arrival in the Promised Land, through the Law and Temple Sacrifices, all the way to the final sacrifice upon the cross, blood was required for our redemption. The consequences of sin are real, yet, in Grace a means for our redemption has been provided. On the Day of Resurrection God says once again: “I got this.” It is not of our doing, lest anyone should boast, but totally undeserving of redemption, we are redeemed by the grace of the Almighty. And how amazing that grace is to a wretch like me!

Through great sin we learn of greater salvation. John Newton (1725–1807) knew the power of grace first hand. He spent his youth from his pre-teen years until about 30 years old on the sea, primarily in the slave trade. He made many trips between Africa and the Americas picking up and selling Africans into slavery, taking African wives (even while married back home), and living a fully self absorbed life. He was a rebellious man toward both human authority and God’s authority. At one time his rebelliousness caused his own enslavement on the island of Sierra Leone. Sailors are known throughout history for their profane language, Newton was known as the most profane of all. He often would create new profanities, never before heard, and hurl them at the captain of his ship, much to the amusement of the crew and non-amusement of his captain. One time he was nearly starved and beaten to death for his indiscretions. He was a man who lived his life in open defiance of all authority and especially God’s authority. However, his recklessness often placed him near death, as these experiences piled up he began to wonder whether he could possibly be worthy of God’s mercy.

After one particularly harrowing sea voyage Newton had a conversion experience of sorts and decided to dedicate his life to God. However, the conversion process for him was very slow and only in stages was his life reclaimed for God.

At the age of 25 he married his childhood sweetheart Mary “Polly” Catlett. By 30, he suffered some sort of collapse and never returned to the sea. He gained work at a customs house and began to give himself the education he never received as a youth; teaching himself Latin, Greek, and Theology. He and Polly were very active in the local church and it was eventually suggested to him to apply for a clerical education. He was initially rejected because of his lack of education and his association with evangelicals and Methodists. These were small sects who operated independent of the official Church of England. He was eventually accepted and after his education took a position in Olney, a small town of about 2500 most illiterate farmers.

Amazing Grace was probably written about 1772, about 8 years into his new role as priest in the Anglican Church. It was not for another 8 years, in 1780 that he began to privately express regrets about his participation in the slave trade and not until 1785 that he began to actively speak against slavery which he did ardently for the rest of his life. This change in attitude is pretty reflective of the general thinking within in English Society as well. It was not until the late 18th century before the abolitionists movement began to take hold. Yet, throughout his life you can see the fearful working out of his salvation. Each of his near death experiences and humiliations brought him closer to knowing the Grace which was already present. Even after coming to an understanding and acceptance of God’s underserved and unfailing grace, Newton still had to grow in his understanding of what this grace demanded of him.

Newton never hid from his past and would use his own experiences to explain the Gospel to his congregation. The directness of this hymn and the first person language have made it one of the greatest Christian songs of all time. The language is very simple with very few even multi-syllabic words. The tune, source is unknown, is a simple pentatonic song. It has only 5 different pitches which is also common to all nursery songs. Out of such simplicity, God’s message has been declared to millions for nearly 250 years.