Using Rhythm to Build Better Internal Time

Rhythm and Time can be the nemesis to players of all instruments! It is in many ways the most difficult aspect of music aside from extremely advanced technical passages. And depending on the style of music you are playing, can make or break the way other musicians perceive your playing! A lot of the players I encounter tend to have a fairly advanced rhythmic understanding, yet a fairly week sense of internal time. Yes, Rhythm and Time are separate entities, yet many people don’t think about it that way.

Try this…Clap a fairly advanced or syncopated rhythm to a young kid and or beginner music student and have them clap it back to you. Most can repeat what you have clapped easily as we all have an innately built in sense of rhythm. BUT if you wrote the rhythm on a piece of paper and asked them to clap it for you, most would be unable to do so. They may even be able to tell you what types of notes are there and the rhythmic value, yet they would still be unable to clap it back correctly. This is because of an underdeveloped sense of internal time and understanding of how rhythm fits into it.

Ok…you may say…well I can clap all of my rhythms and don’t have this issue…well bear with me. I believe that even advanced players can benefit from this exercise. You can take it to a deeper level and use it to begin to feel rhythmic modulations and or 2 times at once:)

Here we go…The exercise is quite easy. I’ve attached a PDF file that is called Rhythmic Permutations. It has variations of each type of rhythm you can encounter with eighths, sixteenths and triplets. Here’s how to use the sheet.

Make sure to treat each measure as it’s own entity. Study each one separately and don’t move on until you have mastered that measure at many different tempos. Needless to say, a metronome is a MUST for this exercise.
Don’t forget to analyze and understand what is happening rhythmically in each measure.
Start at slow tempos (50BPM) and clap and count the measure you are studying. Make sure you are tapping your foot on the beat. Some people’s foot will want to move with the claps and not stay purely on the beat with the metronome. DON’T FALL INTO THIS HABIT! I find that the independence of limbs and being able to keep your foot true to the beat / separate from what you are clapping is key to gaining a better internal sense of time. Think of a good percussionist/drummer. They usually have superior time to wind players and they also have an amazing independence of limbs. They can have 3 or 4 times going at once in some cases!!!
The permutations focus on the core rhythm first…pure eighths, sixteenths and triplets…and then go into groups of 1, 2 and 3 (where applicable).
The goal is to not only be able to clap the measure over and over in time at various tempos, but to also be able to feel how each subdivision and or permutation relates to the down beat! In other words, how does the 2nd sixteenth note feel against the down beat. Can you keep time and feel the 2nd sixteenth note comfortably?

Alright! That’s it…it is definitely an exercise that will take years to master, but when you do it will be beneficial in 1000’s of ways! When you are comfortable clapping and counting them with the metronome, then take your horn out and start playing them. You can play a single note, a scale, an arpeggio, a chord progression, a blues or any number of things using the rhythms. Paying a full range G scale on the 2nd and 4th sixteenth notes and staying completely true to the time, WHILE tapping your foot accurately is HARD, But you can do it in time:) Pun intended!