Saturday, March 22, 2008

No More Boredom in Study Hall

Totally bored during my high school study halls, I decided to make good use of the time (as far as I was concerned.) Rhythm being the iron-clad building block of music that it is, and must be, I determined to begin practicing and perfecting it as much as possible. It seemed like it was the most learnable part of a music career, and I was setting out to nail it. My schedule said "Study Hall", but I was enrolling myself in "Rhythm 101".

So, as I stared at the ceiling with my mouth half open in what must have looked like a brain-dead stupor, little did our study hall monitor realize the rhythmic genius that was being developed right before her eyes. She must have thought that ours surely was the most handicapped of the slow learner classes in the entire state of New Jersey. I liked letting her think that. Anyway, onward I continued with my maniacal project!

First: establish a rock-solid tempo and don't change it. Keep it exactly like a machine for a couple of minutes. Next, tap or say eighth notes, 2 notes per beat. The best results came by saying "dut" for every note. It strengthens tongue muscles and develops coordination. After an unbearable length of time doing that without speeding or slowing, I would go to triplets, three equal notes to the same beat.

In case we couldn't remember how to do triplets, our H.S. Band Director told us to say "mulberry" for triplets and "huckleberry" for sixteenth notes. (I determined never to say mulberry or huckleberry ever again.) Then from triplets I went on to sixteenth notes, 4 to a beat. Then it got harder - 5's, then 6's, or two groups of triplets, and further if possible. (Come to think of it, he never told us what to say for quintuplets.)

That was all warm up. The challenge came next. Two measures of quarters, followed by two measures of eighths, followed by two of triplets, followed by sixteenth notes, quintuplets, and finally sextuplets. Then without pausing, I'd reverse it, never stopping or changing the tempo. Now, speed it all up, as fast as you can say "dut-dut-dut-dut".

Next one could go at random from triplets to quintuplets to quarters, etc, etc, all with a steady beat. A friendly neighbor could make hand signals to you indicating what subdivision to do next. (Why was he always telling me to do only quarter-notes with his finger?) By now the study hall monitor would approach with stern looks of disapproval. Evidently I was making noise with my "duts". I hated it when my sextuplets got interrupted by study hall monitors.

But onward I would persist. Next, tapping quarter-note triplets, four on three, five on four, and six on five, as far as you can go. It helped to chart those superimposed rhythms on graph paper. You can also recognize the sound of the beat patterns as they bounce against each other. This was very cool. Maybe my math would improve. . . .

And then I would try to . . . . BELL !!!!!. . . . Study Hall's over. On to Algebra. (Hope he lets us study quietly.)

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