In another post, I wrote about how one of my schools performed a particularly poor Winter Concert. That experience has forced me to reflect on my teaching techniques and rethink some of my basic approaches to working with those students. In my previous post, I shared some thoughts about how I’ll address classroom management. In this post, I’ll write about a more musical issue: rhythm and pulse.
During the final rehearsals before the Winter Concert, my Concert Band at one school was having serious rhythmic problems. Maybe I assumed that once the students had a better handle on their individual parts, the ensemble’s rhythm would begin to gel together. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, at least to my satisfaction. So here’s what I plan to do about it:
1. Rhythm studies. These have been a consistent part of my teaching for years now, but I think I’ve focused more on students’ abilities to count rhythms independently than I have focused on the ensemble’s ability to maintain a consistent pulse together. In other words, just because Johnny and Susie can each count dotted quarter notes, that doesn’t mean they will play them well collectively.
2. Metronome. I’ve written elsewhere about using a metronome in private lessons. But I think it’s time I experiment with using one in class, at least while working on rhythm studies. I want to teach my students that part of ensemble playing is listening in addition to playing one’s own part. Perhaps using a metronome will help them learn to do so, or at least help them to acknowledge the problems they’re having.
3. Conducting Exercises. Another reason for these students’ rhythmic problems could be that they are not watching me enough. At several points during the concert, I thought, “If only these kids would look up, they could find beat 1, and we’d be back on track!” I plan to teach my students the basic conducting patterns, a few basic left hand gestures (no puns, please!), and do some exercises which force them to watch the conductor while they play.
If any of you have experience with helping an ensemble overcome some serious rhythm problems, by all means share them here!