In this series of posts we explore musicality: what it means to be “musical”.
We’ve all seen them – wild and crazy drummers that are playing contrasting polyrhythms with each limb in a seamless explosion of rhythmic energy. Maybe it’s the jazz pianist whose magical hands can turn a beat inside and out with fluid perfection or the orchestra conductor who somehow manages to keep eighty musicians playing together in time no matter how maddening the tempo.
What all these musicians have in common is good rhythm. It may seem that the musicality that these musicians have comes straight out of the stratosphere and is unreachable, but the reality is that keeping good rhythm is simply part of developing good musicianship.
What is Rhythm?
Loosely speaking, a rhythm is simply a repeated audible pattern like the beating of your heart or the ticking of a clock. In music, rhythm usually pertains to playing specific rhythmic patterns like eighth notes, 16th notes, or quarter notes in time by keeping tempo. When you hear a drummer rocking away during a solo or the steady walking bass line in a blues tune, you are listening to rhythm.
Good rhythm is often invisible because it is so well executed that the entire band just grooves to the beat. Part of good rhythm is playing the rhythm in time, which means that the musician doesn’t rush or drag the tempo. When someone can’t keep good rhythm or rushes the beat, the results are often obvious and sometimes disastrous! Those are the moments when you hear the entire band crash and burn, or the soloist comes in at the wrong time, or the choir stray so far away from the accompanist that it seems that they end up singing in an entirely different time zone!
A person with good musicianship can play any rhythm pattern by ear or through sight-reading in tempo without speeding up or slowing the tempo.
Why Having Good Rhythm Matters
We’ve talked a bit above about why good rhythm matters for musicianship.
Having good rhythm means that:
- You will be able to stay in time with the band
- You will be able to play any rhythmic figure by ear
- You can sight read good rhythms
- You do not rush or drag the beat
These are all important musicianship skills that will make the difference between a professional and amateur musician. Any studio musician will tell you that you can’t have bad rhythm and make it as an artist! These guys and gals come into a recording session and sometimes have only one run-through of a tune before recording the final take.
Imagine if you are the keyboard player and you lose time every time a difficult solo comes up or if you can’t keep tempo when you play a guitar lick. Our favorite bands, from the Stones to Metallica, all have impeccable rhythm. Professional instrumentalists depend on their incredible musicality to succeed, including a rock-solid sense of rhythm. In an audition or rehearsal, a professional musician that lacks good rhythm often has to find a different profession and fast.
Good rhythm matters because without it, you can easily get lost in the music. The entire band may lose tempo. Most importantly, even the least musical listener can tell when there are rhythm problems. For those that want to take their love of music and turn it into a career, excellent musicianship is essential, and keeping good rhythm is a core part of that.
How You Can Learn Rhythm
There are many ways to learn good rhythm, but the easiest way is to practice your instrument every day with a metronome. No other tool will help you see if you can play rhythms in time without rushing like a metronome. Set your metronome while you play alone, when you jam with friends, and especially when learning new music.
Other things you can do include tapping your toes when you are playing, working on increasingly complex rhythms, learning rhythms by ear, and practicing advanced musical skills like polyrhythms or complex world rhythms. Even clapping in time is an easy way to practice good musicianship.
How Musical U Can Help You Get Good Rhythm
At Musical U we focus on helping musicians develop their musicianship through a skills-based approach. Most musicians who try to develop good rhythm by themselves often find the process frustrating because they don’t know what to do, or how to plan their development of this skill. At Musical U we have an engaged community of professionals and fellow musicians working together to help you develop your musical skills through modules that work on specific skills.
We have developed an in-depth approach to good rhythm and musicianship with an entire Roadmap dedicated to Getting Rhythm, starting from the basics like keeping the beat through to developing musical skills like playing syncopated rhythms and complex world beats. Intuitive audio examples and practice exercises help any musician, regardless of level, to truly excel, and a helpful staff can work with you if you have any questions.
If you want to work with a helpful (and friendly!) musical community to improve your rhythmic skills, consider joining Musical U. Connect with other musicians for helpful tips. We’d be happy to help you!
Musicality Means Having Good Rhythm
Stop having to worry about losing time or flubbing the next complicated rhythm you encounter. Take the time to develop strong musicality through honing your rhythmic skills. Practice playing in time and working on difficult rhythms. Learn how to listen for good rhythm and repeat the same in your practice. Buy a metronome or check out a metronome app, and use it to help you achieve the next level of musical precision.
It doesn’t take much to go from mediocre-sounding musician to rhythm superstar, so turn on that metronome, pick up your instrument, and rock on!
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