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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Quick Teaching Tip: Rhythmic Units

When I teach a preview to a new song or introduce a new teaching point, I am mindful of the rhythmic unit involved. Let me use "May Song" and "The Happy Farmer" as examples.

May Song

In "May Song," one of the new skills is the dotted rhythm.

I introduce the four notes so that the student is familiar with the "path" we will eventually travel, but the real focus for me is the rhythmic unit. By rhythmic unit I am referring not to the dotted rhythm but to the smaller quick unit of the C# to the E string (the second and third notes). This is where the student will have difficulty playing. At first glance, the teacher and parent may assume that the student is not playing the rhythm correctly and will focus on the space between the A string and the C#, but in actuality it is the the quickness of the C# to the E string that will make the difference.

The space between the A string and the C# will be the "thinking pause," where the student will pause for a second to set up the quick rhythmic unit C#-E. There is a lot to think about:
  • The student prepares the C# to stand up tall to allow the E string to be played and not blocked by the second finger.
  • The student prepares to play the up bow on the C#.
  • The student is ready to go quickly from the C# to the down bow E string.
So in effect, I ask the student to play the A string and then stop, pause, and think in order to prepare the upcoming rhythmic unit C#-E.

Another May Song example of a rhythmic unit is the second measure:

It is tempting to play the F#, high A, and F# as a single unit, but actually the rhythmic unit starts from the high A and ends on the E string. I use the initial F# as the starting or set up point:

  • The student sets the F# super glue finger down and holds it in place.
  • The student prepares to play a quick "toe tap" on the high A (tap down and play A, then lift off and play the superglue F#).
  • The student also prepares to remove the F# quickly and play the E string.
So in effect I ask the student to play the initial F# and then insert a "thinking pause" to set up the steps for the coming rhythmic unit.

In the second part of the song, there is another good rhythmic unit example:

I set up this rhythmic unit in the same way I set up the first measure rhythmic unit:
  • I ask the student to set up the third finger on the A string and stand the finger up tall so that the E string is not blocked by the third finger.
  • The student inserts a thinking pause to prepare for the quick rhythmic unit E string to C#.
    • The student is prepared to play up bow on the E string (even while the third finger is still down on the A string).
    • The student is ready to quickly play C# right after the E string.
Another tricky rhythmic unit in the second part is the quick C#-E-C# spot:
I ask the student to prepare this spot with the C# first, and again ask him or her to stand the finger up tall enough so that it does not block the E string. We insert a thinking pause here to prepare the rhythmic unit:
  • While the student holds the C# standing tall, the student prepares the up bow on the E string.
  • The student prepares to play the E string and back to the C# quickly.
  • The student also prepares to release the C# and play the 1st finger B quickly.

Happy Farmer

In "The Happy Farmer" the challenge is to introduce the student to the hooked rhythm and the hooked bowing. At this point the student has been playing the hooked bowing in several songs in the three minuets that precede Happy Farmer. Unfortunately, the hooked up bows in the minuets are a contained rhythmic unit. In Happy Farmer, the hooked bows do not indicate a contained rhythmic unit. This thinking is why many teachers, parents, and students have difficulty teaching and learning this bowing. Here is the musical example:

The rhythmic unit in Happy Farmer is not represented by the hooked bowing. Instead, I think of the hooked bowing as an indication of a bowing convenience and not a rhythmic unit. It is pretty easy to teach the bowing once a teacher shifts his or her thinking to this new perspective. Here is how I teach it:
  • I familiarize the student with the initial note path we will travel: D string, 3rd finger G, 1st finger B, 3rd finger D, 3rd finger G again, then finally the second finger C natural.
  • After the student can comfortably play the first few notes (I do not worry about the rhythm just yet), I ask them to try this challenge:

    • Play the D string up bow and the then the next note with a down bow:
    • Play the note B with a down bow and the next note with an up bow:
    • I then ask the student to play the final bowing combination in the rhythmic unit challenge of G to C natural. We play up bow on the G and then play down bow on the the next note C.
  • I just let the student play this combination of three rhythmic (and bowing units) repeatedly until the student is comfortable with the sequence of events.
  • Note that the rests serve as places for thinking pauses to prepare the next rhythmic unit.
Happy teaching!

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