I enjoy working with the subject of ‘beat’, especially with non-musicians or less experienced musicians. The phenomenon itself is so fundamental it can be a challenge to define it. It’s like asking, “What is air?” We can all produce a quasi-scientific definition of the air we breathe, but our experience of it could not be more fundamental to our existence, and it is very difficult to capture this experience with words. It is the same thing with ‘beat’.
Older children or adults more oriented to popular music are likely to associate the word with drum patterns. Classical musicians who primarily learn music through notation tend to associate the word ‘beat’ with groupings of beats, i.e. time signature or meter. Jazz musicians relate the concept of beat to a player’s sense of “time”: one’s personal style might be associated with being “ahead of the beat” or “behind the beat”.
Like many fundamental motor experiences, people can’t really be taught to feel a beat in music any more than they can be taught to walk, ride a bike or skip. We can “teach” by setting up the right conditions for it to happen naturally, but I do think the we have to say “teach” in this case. With the Dalcroze approach, I feel comfortable removing the scare quotes.
This is the music I am currently using to explore this subject with students of all ages. In some selections the beat is very strong and clear, in others almost totally obscured (but still present).
Here is a page with other playlists that I am using for different subjects.
What would you put on your ‘beat’ playlist?
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