Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini...Image via Wikipedia

Call it inner rhythm, inner pulse, back beat, or subdivision ~ sound familiar? No matter what your name for it is, there is more than one beat going on at all times. And being aware of more than one can help in many ways!

Here are several situations in which I’ve found this to be important:

Having trouble finding a tempo? Maybe the inner rhythm can help.

It is much easier to make an even accel. or rit., or to make no rit. at all (i.e., most French songs end w/o one) when you subdivide the beat.

When making a cresc., the smaller beat, getting louder & louder w/each increment, makes the music live!

In fact, reiterating the smaller increments of the beat is an excellent way to sustain pitches w/o allowing the vitality to sag. Robert Shaw’s recording of the “Dies Irae” from the Verdi Requiem provides a stunning example. Listen to a clip here. You don’t need to pay for a download ~ just click the “play” arrow.

During a house accompanist gig I had for oratorio solo auditions, someone started w/a Bach aria. He had the back beat going strong! We had never seen each other, yet both had a wonderful time.

When a passage is unsteady for whatever reason, hanging the tempo on either the smaller or the larger pulse can help. In a Bach prelude I played in college, the first line was unsteady. (16ths in the right hand, 8ths in the left, then it switches.) I carried that information with me for 3 yrs. between teachers, when finally, Martin Katz said, “The first line is unsteady.” (and I was ready to give up) “Try listening to the 8th notes.” Instant success! That prelude got me into Tanglewood‘s fellowship program, and has been a reliable backup to pull out when needed, ever since. (Why no one could say something positive and/or helpful until Martin did remains a mystery. I think it’s called “bad teaching.”) Thanks again, Martin! 🙂

One more thought: have you ever performed when someone in the front row was swinging their foot, out of rhythm? Or opening a cough drop, oh soooooooo sloooooooowly, trying to be quiet? (And all you want to do is yell, “Hurry up! Get it over with!”) During one performance of mine, a land phone in an adjacent room rang something like 18 times, & no one ever answered it. And then there’s the page turner (different performance) who cracked his knuckles out of rhythm…. Concentrating on the smaller beat is one way to help your brain focus.

Enjoy the groove!

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