Monday, September 3, 2007

Time counting trick for non-wind players and other cool stuff

This works for piano, organ, percussion, and strings while actually
playing. It can also work for winds when they are resting but not
when they are playing, as you will see from the method.

I developed this little system for myself, because as an organist, I
have to be very careful of how long to hold whole notes when playing
hymns for a congregation. There is a great tendency toward church
pianists and organists to "jump the gun" after a long note.
Sometimes this is caused because the congregation is mostly non-music-
readers and just guess at the rhythm rather than feeling the pulse
and reading note values. Then the pianist or organist "goes with the
flow" and you get a sort of random, vague tempo that leads to lack of
participation. An organist that wrote an article in "The American
Organist" magazine took Duke Ellington's "it don't mean a thing if
it don't swing" and made it "it don't mean a thing if they won't
sing." This can be a mind-altering thought for someone like me that
has been playing the organ for 50 years. A firm, strong pulse leads
to great group singing.

Here's the technique: With your mouth shut, put your tongue against
the roof of your mouth and then pull it away (but keep the tip of the
tongue against the roof of your mouth and only pull down the back of
your tongue) , like pronouncing the sound "ch." You'll hear a
clicking sort of sound in your own ears. This make a great "ersatz"
metronome that you always have with you. You can "tick tock" to your
heart's content and nobody will know. You can also use this
technique to practice subtle changes in tempo while looking at a
piece of music. That way you can learn just the tempo change on a
ritard or accelerando without having the actual manipulation of the
instrument as a distraction. It is also a good technique for "finger
practice" when you are looking at the music, doing the "fingers" on
your horn, but not actually playing. Adding the "tick tock" to
finger practice can reveal rhythmic irregularities or inaccuracies.
Think about the difference between an irregularity (pulse) and an
inaccuracy (note value). It is also good for figuring out when to
use an agogic accent. (Go look that one up.) (Here's a good
reference--piano based but also general:

One of the most disconcerting and jarring things you can do to an
audience is to rush. Have you ever climbed a staircase and found
that the top step was a little shallower (or taller) than all the
rest? Jars your teeth doesn't it... because it disrupts the rhythm
of stair climbing that you established on the first two or three
steps. Rushing a whole note is just as jarring.... or actually
rushing the note that follows a whole note. This applies to any
sort of music.

The "ch ch" technique I described above is also great for wind
players who are sitting there counting rests. It helps you keep your
count with the conductor's tempo. Of course, you have to pay
attention to three things... your own counting speed, the tempo set
by the conductor, and keeping track of where you are..and hold your
attention on all three. Frankly, I count on my fingers. Just press
one finger a little harder into your palm or onto your leg and you
can count on your fingers without anyone knowing you are doing so.
I start with the "pinkie" as one. The thumb alone is 6. That allows
you to get to 10 on one hand.

The "moral to this story" is to figure out what you want to be able
to do on a consistent basis and then develop a system for doing it
the same way every time... or adopt someone else's system after
trying it and finding that it works.

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