The Beat. If you feel like you have trouble finding the beat, the pulse, the rhythm in music, (these words all refer to the same thing), there’s a high likelihood that you’re not from a family that dances. There are families where everyone dances… no matter if you’re old or young, talented or not. When a group like this gathers for an occasion, moving together is a celebration and strengthening of community. Which is to say, dancing is something that is observed and experimented with and participated in from birth.
Step by Step. If you weren’t blessed with a situation like this, just realize that all of the people you think of as having natural rhythm have spent many hours practicing, whether they know it or not. The great thing is that neuroscience research proves that the brain can continue to improve and learn new skills throughout life. Noticing the rhythm and keeping the beat is a skill, therefore if you put in the effort and time you, (yes, YOU), can also improve.
As with all skills, it’s best to start with the basics. The first step is being able to keep track of a simple beat.
- First you’ll need a metronome (follow this link for more information and resources).
- Let’s start with setting up a slow and straightforward beat. 60 beats per minute is nice and familiar… that’s the same as the ticking of a clock.
- Tap along with the metronome sound with one finger.
- Alternate tapping with one finger from the opposite hand.
- When this feels successful, stand and march your feet with the beat, keeping your hands at the top of your legs so you can stay aware of the full movement of your body.
- Now move more of your body with the beat. Play around with letting your body move however it wants to while staying with the pulse of the beat. Try leading the movement with your elbows, knees, heels, head… just explore! Let yourself be silly and have fun!
- Investigate the options of the metronome. What does it feel like to go a little faster? A little slower? A lot faster/slower?
Practice. Spend at least a few practice sessions (separated by doing completely unrelated things) with this metronome exploration. When you feel comfortable with this, turn on the radio. Generally a pop music station will have songs with simple and straightforward rhythms to tap, march, and move with. Here are a few straightforward examples from different musical genres:
Where Did It Go? There will surely be times when you lose track of the beat. That’s fine! It’s an important skill to be able to realize when you’ve gotten off the beat and then successfully rejoin again. In fact, if you’re not losing the beat enough to practice this, purposefully distract yourself. One way is to turn off the music and then turn it back on, challenging yourself with how quickly you can return to the beat.
Adding a Vocal Layer. A lot of times we’ll want to be able to keep the beat while singing. Sounds easy enough, but it is actually layering on an additional skill set, so be patient with yourself. First practice with just speaking something while moving with the metronome. The ABC’s work well, or recite anything that’s already in your memory. To try singing a song while keeping track of the beat, go back to something easy and familiar. In the accompanying video I’ll demonstrate with Happy Birthday. This song has a bonus challenge with its musical pause toward the end (called a “ritardando”). This is a perfect place to practice getting back on the beat.
I hope you have fun exploring and practicing this skill of finding and keeping the beat! Remember to have patience with yourself and find the joy in the wonderfully messy process of learning.