Dalcroze · Practice · Teaching

Ostinato of 3 + cross-rhythms

As fall approaches we begin to think of bonfires, homecoming games and ostinatos with cross-rhythms. No? Ok, me neither, but how about some ostinatos with cross-rhythms anyway?

I was hoping you’d say that. I recorded a slow meditative track with an ostinato (repeating pattern) of 3 against cross-rhythms of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Practice suggestions: step the left hand, clap (or play on a hand drum) the right. It is a predictable system (with one quirk – can you find it?), so the best way to learn it is to try it first as an canon, either at the measure, or at two measures. Once you know the pattern you can move it simultaneously.

Other possibilities: choreograph another way besides hands and feet; invent your own system that will produce cross-cross rhythms; improvise other patterns in the two measures in between each one. Enjoy!

Check the “Classes” page for the updated fall schedule. Adult classes are all in-person with online options. This is a rather advanced exercise, and I’m hoping to add a drop-in class that will be post-Certificate this fall. That will be online, too. Check back later for details.

Drop me a line and let me know what you’d like to practice, and I’ll do my best to accommodate.

Practice · Teaching

Improvisation Workshop: Finding Your Sound

Ever hear some music, maybe a jazz pianist who has a great command of the instrument, or a piece by Debussy that seems to take wing, and think, “If only I could improvise like that!” I have felt that many times, and I still enjoy trying to capture and take inspiration from the sounds created by others. But more and more I am coming to value a regular practice of listening to myself and finding my own sounds. In fact, these two pursuits are not separate.

On Saturday, May 15th, I’ll be giving a workshop for the New York Chapter of the Dalcroze Society of America. As the pandemic hopefully begins to wind down in the United States, I am as eager as anyone else to get back into the classroom with students again. The heart of our work doesn’t exist in online teaching. But while we are still in this moment, I wondered if I could offer something that would only be possible by teaching online, with the participants isolated from one another. I realized it would be an opportunity to lead people through a personal investigation of this process, which is really best explored in one’s own practice studio.

So this workshop will be somewhat unusual. I won’t be playing or offering any musical material to work with. We won’t be playing together. Instead, I’ve designed it as a guided personal improvisation and practice session that will be unique to each individual. The objective will be to strengthen your connection to yourself and the music that only you can make.

You can register for this workshop here, and I’ve included the information I sent to the chapter below.

Improvisation Workshop: Finding Your Sound

What is your sound as an improviser? Having your own unique sound is one of the highest aspirations shared by jazz musicians, but it’s also something that improvisers of all stripes and genres can benefit from, especially those who, like Dalcrozians, teach through the medium of improvisation.

During this session we’ll both improvise and listen to ourselves improvising. As we play (players of any instrument, including voice or movement, at any level of musical and improvisational experience are welcome), we’ll explore the difference between improvising and practicing improvisation. We’ll work with our spontaneous reactions to what we hear, think and feel when we improvise and when we hear ourselves improvising. We’ll talk about ways to sustain this practice beyond this workshop (how does 5 minutes a day sound?) with a goal of strengthening your connection to yourself as a creative artist, whether you are in the classroom or on the concert stage.

Nervous about improvising in front of other people? Not a problem for this workshop. Sound (and cameras for movers) will  be turned off as you improvise while I guide you through the process. We’ll come together as a group to share experiences and gain inspiration from each other.

For full participation, workshop attendees should have access to a space in which they feel free to make as much sound (or movement) as they wish, uninterrupted and unencumbered. They should also have the ability to record and listen to themselves while also participating online.

Dalcroze · Practice

Divisions of 12

To warm up for this one today I let a gesture or movement unfold as slowly as possible until it reached its limit. I tried to wait until I was really ready to begin a new one. I sometimes resisted an impulse or two so that I could really listen to what my body wanted to do. You might find some spacious or interesting music to open up new possibilities. Don’t worry about matching the music just yet. I am on a Muhal Richard Abrams kick, and that really worked for me today. He has just the right balance of mind/body/spirit for this! Experiment with speed, length of gesture, spatial planes… or anything else that feels right. The sky is the limit.

When you are ready, you can use the track below. You’ll hear a very slow measure at first. Find your large gesture or movement inside this measure. I begin by dividing it into two very large and slow beats; eventually the two become three, then four and then six. Don’t worry about counting at first, just investigate it through movement. Eventually, I bring in the division in the left hand. There are 12 per measure, but you can just continue moving in the same way. I enjoyed finding a way to divide the large gesture into 2 parts, then 3, then for, then 6. There’s no warning as to when I change the grouping, so you’ll probably have to catch up a measure or so later, but that’s not a problem. Enjoy the cross-rhythms!

In fact, for a more advanced challenge, try moving a different grouping then the one you hear. You can also experiment with combining two with hands/feet, left/right, body/voice, etc. I would recommend that you try to keep the spirit of open, free, curious and investigative movement, though, even if you up the challenge level.

Happy dividing (and conquering if you so choose)!

We’ll work with this in the Open Level Drop-in class (online) tomorrow. If you’re not on the list yet and would like to be (this will run through the end of March 2021), just let me know via the form on the “Dalcroze Annex” page in the left menu.

Also, new Eurhythmics, Improvisation, Solfège and Pedagogy classes are starting a new semester as we speak at the Lucy Moses Dalcroze School in New York City.

Dalcroze · Practice

Quadruple and Triple Time

Another reaction game, this time with a musical signal. You will hear music in a meter of 4 (e.g. 4/4). If you hear a division of 3 on the 4th beat, the next measure will be in a meter of 3 (e.g. 3/4), for one measure only.

There are many possible ways to interact with this recording. If moving through space, try stepping on 1 and lightly playing drum, sticks, etc., or just silently clapping, on the other beats. For more of a challenge, do the reverse: play/clap on 1 and step the other beats of the measure. Be sure to take advantage of all the space (high, low, diagonals, back, front…) around you. If sitting, you could assign these roles to your left and right hands or simply conduct.

One note of warning: I did quite a few takes of this recording, many of which I liked but each of which contained at least one error. I finally decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This means that there will be at least one place in the recording that you will wish to give me “the fish eye”.

It’s ok – I’m used to it. Enjoy!

Dalcroze · Teaching

5

Measures of 5 are most often broken up into groups of 3’s and 2’s. (The classic model is Brubeck’s “Take Five”.) In this activity, I play with length and placement of those groupings. The simplest way to interact with the recording here would simply be to keep track of 1 within the measure of 5 beats by stepping, clapping. Better yet, move the entire length of the measure taking full advantage of the space around you (up, down, sides, diagonals, etc.)

You’ll hear me call out numbers. For a further challenge, as you step on 1 acknowledge the number I call (2, 3, 4 or 5) with a hand clap, a tap on a drum, or maybe even a toss of a scarf. Want more fun? Use a balloon. 🙂 If using the scarf, aim to catch it on the next downbeat. (This might take some practice for some of the numbers.)

Here’s the recording:

And here’s a playlist of tracks in 5 from different genres for more exploration of music in 5.

Have fun!

Dalcroze · Practice

Amphibrach: Augmentation and Diminution

Well, if that isn’t the most wonky title for a blog post…

It’s less fancy than it sounds. This is an augmentation/diminution activity for the “amphribrach” rhythm, sometimes called “syn-co-pa”. In 4/4, the rhythm could be written quarter-half-quarter. (The rhythm could be notated in any simple duple or quadruple meter, like 4/4, 2/2, 2/4, 4.8, etc..) In this recording, “hip” means the rhythm goes twice as fast (diminution), “hop” means it will go twice as slow (augmentation). Return brings it back to the original. If you are unfamiliar with this compositional and improvisational device, this is all it means: making something faster (and thus smaller) or slower (and thus larger). When you move it, you really get to experience the changes in size.

The easiest way to ineract with the recording, might be to simply step the rhythm as played and called. Since many of us are practicing in confined spaces, you could step the base rhythm, play (without traveling) the diminution on a handheld percussion instrument, and step and play together the rhythm on the augmentation. I know I do not have nearly enough room to move the rhythm in it’s twice-as-fast form. But if you do, go for it!

Enjoy the syncopation. Try to embody the entire length of the long rhythm value in the middle of the pattern while maintaining the organization of the meter. The agogic accent of the longer note is a chance to expand, contract, lift, reach, etc. It’s a fun one to move!

If you’ve been coming to the drop-in class I’ve been offering on Wednesday mornings, you might enjoy the soundtrack I’ve been using. Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist that includes all of the music I’ve used so far. One of my goals this year has been to expand the kinds of music that I use in a Dalcroze class. I think list is a good step in that direction. I’ll continue to add to the list each week.

Dalcroze · Practice

Beat, division and multiple: an inhibition game

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).

Enjoy!

Dalcroze · Practice

Changing Beat

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?

Dalcroze · Practice

Expanding and Contracting Beats in Duple Meter

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.