Here is a classic Dalcroze “Inhibition” game. Step and gesture or lightly clap simultaneously. At “feet” stop the feet. When you hear “feet” again, start the feet. Likewise with the signal “hands”. You might try improvising this without the recording at first, calling your own starts and stops. You can simply move the beat, or you can experiment with combinations of durations and patterns. On the recording, I take the mover through different combinations of the beat (the basic pulse), multiples of the beat (durations longer than one beat) and divisions of the beat (durations shorter than the beat). You can: simply aim to start and stop the feet and hands at the right time; aim to match the durations you hear from the piano; improvise your own rhythm patterns but let either feet or hands to match the music; start and stop the feet at the right time, but completely improvise the rhythm of your movement.
For good movement, use the longer durations to keep your weight moving through space (i.e. not just putting a foot down at the beginning of the note and stopping). Make full use of the space above, behind, to the sides, etc. for your upper body (i.e. keep the hands moving through each phrase).
Here we play with beats of 2, 3 and 4 divisions. I start with 3, which I am playing with a swing feel on the recording. At “hip” I take a way a division (e.g. 3 divisions becomes 2), at “hop” I add one (e.g. 3 divisions becomes 4). I am playing in a measure of 2 or a duple meter. “Return” signals a change back to 3. It could be notated in 6/8 with a dotted quarter beat for “3”; 2/4 with a quarter note beat for “2”, and 2/2 with a half note beat (and eight note subdivision) for “4”. The eighth note is kept at a constant tempo–or at least that is my intention! This is known as a “reaction” game or activity in Dalcroze parlance. In this case the signal is verbal (they can also be visual, musical or tactile).
Try bouncing and catching a ball on the beat. Bounce from one hand and catch to the other, alternating hands each time. It becomes a short study in the relationship between time, space and energy.
It is common practice in jazz to move between 2’s, 3’s, 4’s and more in jazz, however most often the beat stays constant (rather than the division or subdivision). I do remember Wynton Marsalis experimenting with this device on a couple early albums from the 1980’s, however. I’ll see if I can find it and update this post if I do.
Or… maybe you have an example in any genre of music you’d like to share?
In a measure of two beats, the length of beat can change from as low as two divisions (e.g. two eighths with a quarter note beat) to 6 divisions (e.g. 6 eighths with a dotted half note beat). I call the number of divisions right before each change. You could:
Simply step, gesture or conduct the beat (always in groups of 2; only the length of the beat changes).
Step the beat, gesture or silently clap the divisions. Also the reverse.
Step the division on 1 and the length of the whole beat on 2.
Toss a scarf (if not a scarf, it will need an object with some sort of air resistance unless you are outside or have very tall ceilings!) on the first beat, catch it on the second.
Same as above but also step the division on 1 and the full length of the beat on 2.
Plenty more ways you could get creative with this.
We’ll work with this activity (among others) in the Open Class Wednesday morning, October 6, 2020. This is a free Open Level Drop-in Dalcroze class I’m offering online during October and November. Send me your info through the contact form and I’ll put you on the list.
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?
I’ve updated my course offerings page for the fall season. Click here.
Step and clap the patterns that you hear. At the signal “hands”, stop the hands and move only the feet. When you hear “hands” again, restart the hands. Same with “feet”. Having trouble following? Use the piano: the left hand is associated with your feet, the right hand with your hands. This is known as a game of “Inhibition”.
This is the first of a series of posts for adults interesting in practicing eurhythmics on their own. The following is a known as “Reaction Game” in Dalcroze parlance. In a reaction game, a signal (auditory (musical or non-musical), visual, verbal or tactile) tells the participants what to do to explore a given musical subject. In this case, the subject is “Changing Meter”. See the instructions below for suggestions on how to use the lo-fi home recording I recently made. Better yet, make up your own variation!
Divisions of 2 on the last beat of the measure call for duple meter (e.g. 2/4); 3 call for triple meter (e.g. 3/4); 4 call for quadruple meter (e.g. 4/4). Suggestions: gesture the measure freely; step the beat or measure and conduct; toss a scarf on 1; clap the measure and step the beat, being careful to use space to express the measure grouping.
Life caught up with me in April, so this is the first update for class activities in over a month. Here is a brief list of some of the things we have explored and games we have played over the past several weeks:
Toss the bean bag on the high note.
Kids hear melodic patterns in 4/4 time. Each pattern consists of quarter notes with a high note falling on beat 1, 2, 3 or 4. They walk and toss on the high note. Challenging for most. We spent some time in the beginning exploring things to do with a bean bag that can match specific tempo and dynamics requirements.
Lead your partner through touch.
Partners work to develop a set of signals to guide their partner around the room. Signals can include direction, starting/stopping, tempo, etc. I encouraged them to talk as little as possible. Pairs demonstrated for the group. The group attempted to discern and describe the signals they saw.
The student with a bean bag moves as she likes, the piano follows her with a single voice. When the piano plays with many voices, the entire class joins in the same movement. The children are encouraged to use a wide variety of tempo and dynamics as I attempt to mimic concerto form and style in my improvisation.
Improvisation with rhythm cards.
Partners sit across from each other. A holds up rhythm card, B plays rhythm following whenever A changes. All partners perform simultaneously.
variation: One student conducts for dynamics.
Metrical scarf toss
Quick reaction: step the beat and toss the scarf on the 2nd beat of a 4/4 measure if I call “2”, etc. (Students are hearing dotted quarters on their toss as I play.)
Dotted Quarter Quick reaction
Walk with a partner linking arms. When you hear a dotted quarter + eighth, change directions with your partner.
Walk alone. At “hop”, take one step backwards. (“hop” coincides with a dotted quarter + eighth.)
Pattern + soloist, improvisation
Group plays a pattern, one soloist is free to play as she likes. (All have percussion instruments.) We experimented with the form of this one, and really practiced listening for dynamics and responsiveness to the soloist.
Those are a few of our greatest hits. I’ll give you one more update at the end of the year, which is coming up fast. Happy Memorial Day! Always interested in your thoughts and comments.
We first reviewed the notation and language for some basic rhythms for compound (ternary) meter: dotted quarters, 3 eighth notes, quarter-eighth. I put the symbols on the board, and asked one student to stand in front of the one he/she wanted to hear and see moved. After this quick reaction game, I gestured a pattern. In our rhythm language, it was, “Running and skip and beat beat.” I asked them to speak it in as many different ways as they could (using the same words). It took some time but we eventually got a variety of dynamics and tempos. I then asked them to move freely to the music, but stop and show the pattern if as soon as they heard it. After this, we practiced simply moving the pattern. The starts with three running steps, which lead to a single skip, followed by two slow steps. It was challenging for them to get off the ground and immediately stop. There were varying degrees of success, but as a group we managed to get a gestalt of the pattern.
They wanted to be seen moving it one at a time, so I asked them to design the space. They lined up and each moved the rhythm twice across the diagonal of the room. I decided to spend some time making what we call a ‘plastique’ out of the rhythm. In this case, this means that we choreograph how to move, who is moving when, the shape and organization of movement in the room. I did a fair amount of prompting by giving them a series of choices (e.g. “Should we move it twice or once? “Should partners move at the same time, or one after the other?”). In this way I helped them to make the many small decisions necessary to create organized movement. We tried it several times and I accompanied them on the piano.
We ended with a quick experience/game with three rubber spots, which I placed on the ground and associated 1, 3 and 5 of the major scale with. First I moved and sang myself. Then I moved and asked them to sing. Finally, I sang while they moved. We improvised short phrases for a while, and then said goodbye. I will return to this game in the future.
Tempo and dynamics Follow ( 2 dotted quarters, 3 eighths, 1 dotted quarter)
In this classic Dalcroze exercise, the class moves a pattern through a variety of tempo and dynamics changes. The three eighths required us to develop some technique, as the students found it difficult to run for three and stop suddenly.
Drums around the room; move freely until you hear the pattern, then stop and play it on the nearest drum.
This required some sharp listening and more movement technique. I was able to test their abilities to discern between variations of the pattern a couple of times. They seemed to enjoy this game.
Improvisation: 2 groups; one plays a 3 bars of a pattern, alternating with a one bar soloist by someone from the other group.
This was an arrangement that I came up with, in hopes that they would suggest alternatives after a few times through. We came up with a few interesting variations.
This was the most interesting part of the class for me. As students were suggesting ways to change the above improvisation, they ran into inevitable disagreements. I began to suggest that music could accommodate everyone’s wishes if they decided that was ok. We tried this successfully within a strict structure as above, and then I suggested that we all try to play together without discussing anything first. Our intention would be to play what we wanted while listening to what other’s played. There was, maybe predictably, a lot of loud playing, and I did wish for more attentiveness to others as they were doing it. However, all seemed very pleased with the results, and someone surprised that this was even possible. There is nothing particularly Dalcrozian about this concept (it comes more from the free jazz tradition), but it certainly does not go against the grain of our work. Perhaps we will be able to build on this idea in future classes.
The question is quite open, but the kids took it in the spirit intended (uses were restricted to ways to arrange and move through them). Here are some of the ways they discovered, and questions they explored:
arrange in square, step only on the spots
what’s the difference between a square and a diamond in this case? (answer was inconclusive, but seemed to have to do with visual perspective)
take one step in between each spot
place them far a part
place them close together
I played a pattern (quarter quarter half) and asked them to arrange the spots any way they liked, and to move through them to show this pattern.
There were two solutions. In one the kids stopped on the spot for the long note, in the other they kept moving, arriving at the spot during the second beat of the longest note. The spot represented a rest in one version, and the end of the pattern in the other. Both true, and highlighting different perspectives. I accompanied both versions, and one student felt certain that I was changing the way I played on the second version. I wasn’t, but her feeling changed by changing her movement. A very Dalcrozian experience!
Chalk Talk Exploration
They asked to draw on the chalk board. Ok: one student drew, and I followed their movement on the piano. After everybody had a turn, we switched: I played and they drew to match. This was an introduction to a dictation technique that we will return to later.
We ended by listening for the call and response of trumpet and voice in a classic recording of the blues we have been playing and singing for the past few weeks. Here’s the link if you’d like to hear it.