I Got Rhythm…

Music.  The canvas – TIME.  The medium – SOUND.

When we consider ourselves as time artists, the importance of rhythmic integrity becomes evident. Without it, expressivity becomes an amorphous morass. Rhythmic integrity sets up a pulse that gives sensibility context, and thereby, meaning. It gives something to push and pull against.

When the listener has a strong expectation of pulse, you can affect them by hurrying them along, or making..  them…   wait……

10 responses to “I Got Rhythm…

  1. Randy Hodgkinson

    Love your insights, Sharan! I have heard that musicians in general have a move developed right brain to left brain connection than the norm. Do you think it has to do with having to process the mathematics of rhythm on the page to how our body “feels” and executes impulses?

  2. Sharan Leventhal

    Hi Randy. That is a very interesting observation. Here is what I think I know…

    Musical training creates and strengthens pathways between the two hemispheres of the brain (as do other arts activities). This enables more creative thinking – the ability to make connections and to think ‘outside the box’.

    Certain areas of the brain are more highly developed in musicians than non-musicians. Humans are the only species that spontaneously moves in synchrony with a musical beat, or can perceive a beat within complex rhythmic structures. The scientists at The Neurosciences Institute (MIT) study music and the brain and have looked at the possible role of the motor system in how we even hear a beat. (http://www.nsi.edu/index.php?page=xii_music_and_language_perception)

    Making music lights up more areas of the brain in magnetic imaging, than just about anything else. This makes sense in connection with your comment. After all, we need to decipher the markings on the page, translate that into physical activity and then use that motion to make a meaningful statement.

    For me, this lies at the core of why being a musician can be so engrossing for the course of an entire lifetime. It demands attention and involvement from us intellectually, physically and emotionally.

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  4. Randy Hodgkinson

    That makes sense. I think I would like to hear in future blogs more on the topic of “meaning” in music that you mentioned in your post. Does or should the meaning(of a phrase) change from listener to listener or is there some universal that we must aspire to? (or a combo) When you allude to hurrying them and making them wait, is that out of our own mischievous nature or to some extent is it demanded by the music? I also wonder if a performance of a passage moves the listener to move or feel the rhythm well, does that necessarily mean that the “meaning” has been successfully expressed and received? By the way, what is your definition of “good sense of rhythm” and do you think it can be taught? I think one ability that contemporary musicians seem to have is the ability to hear simultaneous rhythmic formations like you mentioned. I have a brilliant student who upon dissection the opening of Claire de Lune was amazed that one could continue the large beat while changing the subdivisions. Second nature to professional musicians but “magic” until it clicks! Sorry, I ramble. rh

  5. Whoa! We have a dissertation in the making here. Obviously we will need to modify the platform for this discussion!
    One comment – I am in complete agreement that contemporary musicians can hear simultaneous rhythmic formations, meters, etc. While playing one thing, a great deal of our attention is directed to how the others are filling the same time. For me it has very little, if anything, to do with counting (rhythm feels more organic than that). Instead, it has everything to do with feeling the size of the space in question (measure, beat) and the almost physical bulk of the time one has to fill it, and then listening to the other part more than my own.
    Not very clear, I’m afraid….

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  7. I’d like to join the conversation from the perspective of a music educator for middle school and high school. Understanding of beat and rhythm is not a natural occurrence, but something taught. It is always shocking to see people with very little connection between their bodies and beat or rhythm. I assume that most people in the population are like my students.

    In popular music, the beat is always evident with standard rhythms, providing the average listener with a experience that they can feel and understand. When music plays with time and the pulse is not as evident, I assume that the average listener gets lost and can no longer connect to the music. If we want our audiences to stay with us, I do not suggest that we play music to please an untrained ear/body, but we can start as musicians by keeping the rhythmic integrity, as Sharan emphasizes. If we know what we are working with, we have more chances of bringing our audiences with us.

    • Sharan Leventhal

      Hi Laura. Love that final statement… knowing what we are working with! Then we can actually communicate something effectively.

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