Just like pitch accuracy, rhythmic accuracy comes down to relationships. In pitch, we oriented ourselves to the key and its structural pitches; in rhythm, we orient ourselves to the meter and its strong beats.
Once you can feel the meter securely, we use our internalized rhythmic cells and subdivision skills to place rhythms correctly within that meter. These will be most effective if we practice them at different tempos.
Most of the time, we can relate more complicated rhythms to the rhythms we learned as cells in order to perform them. For example:
Goal: Gain confidence in using knowledge of rhythmic cells and subdividing to improve sight reading.
Before you start: You’ll need some notated music to read that has a certain level of difficulty. If you’re using a sight-reading anthology, you may wish to draw from a chapter on ties and dots, divisions/subdivisions of the beat, syncopation, or complex rhythms.
- Look at the time signature and, if indicated, tempo. Set up the meter physically to make sure you can feel it.
- Scan over the music, visually noting where the beats occur. Look for spots where you don’t see comfortable rhythmic cells, and either figure out how they relate to more familiar rhythms or use subdivision to figure those spots out.
- Remind yourself of the meter (conducting is a good way), and perform the rhythm vocally (“ta” or another syllable) or by tapping or clapping. (Optionally, add pitches by singing or performing on your primary instrument.)
- Evaluate how you did. If there was a difficult passage, revisit it with your strategies in mind before performing the whole thing again.