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Time Keeps On Ticking

Apr 11, 2022

Whenever I get to teach, or I am personally working on counting music, I feel like I’m really doing the good work of teaching. Counting seems to be avoided or maligned despite it being one of the most powerful tools available to us as artists. Here are a few considerations as well as a frame of reference.

When we talk about counting in music, we’re talking about identifying the beats in the music, as well as the rhythm of our line. We can be in four four time, where there are four large beats per bar, each of which can be subdivided into eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or even thirty-second notes. Our melody may not have a note on every beat, but the combination of notes and rests will amount to four beats in every bar.

Understanding and being able to count our rhythms, and that includes rests, enables us to anticipate our entrances, know how the timing of our melody complements or contrasts with others, and in general builds confidence since we have a deeper understanding of how the music is composed.

When we practice with a metronome, we learn to establish and articulate a steady pulse. The process of learning this facilitates our ability to play/sing with others, to use a click track in a studio, and ultimately to remain stable in time when the metronome or rhythm section isn’t playing.

That, I would argue, is where the ephemeral nature of our art truly takes flight.

It is in the ebb and flow of time that we push and pull on our melodies. By compressing the subdivisions we go faster; expand them and we slow down. When we couple this with a generally stable tempo, the changes are felt by our listeners and interpreted.

Slowing down can mean reflection or hesitancy, speeding up can mean rushing to a conclusion or sought after result. Subtle or dramatic shifts dictate the intensity. Ultimately, this is an invitation to our listeners to join us in the experience. Live or recorded, when we push and pull on time in this fashion, we create a small slice of a world that exists if briefly, ever so poignantly.

Those of you in the RVC - be sure to check out your podcast feed for an audio example and further discussion of this! Questions? Drop them in the chat below!