Dalcroze Practice

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, 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.

Musical Subjects · Teaching

Beat

I enjoy working with the subject of ‘beat’. 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. Yet it is very difficult to capture this experience with words. It is the same thing with ‘beat’.

The definition of the word itself is slippery. 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, based on teaching through direct experience, I feel comfortable removing the scare quotes from the word.

When I begin to plan a lesson related to this subject, I ask myself, “What are some things musicians need to be able to do with a beat?” The list is long and varied, but it might include things like:

  • Maintain a steady tempo
  • Change the speed (slowly, suddenly, just a little bit, a lot…)
  • Change the quality (light, heavy, in between…)
  • Feel it when it is not being overtly expressed
  • Recognize when there is no beat (recitative, for example)
  • Follow a conductor
  • Lead an ensemble
  • Return to an original or previous tempo

This is just a start, but even with this list I can begin to imagine what we can do together to immerse students of any age and background into direct experience. For young children, I will look for ways to elicit the target behavior (e.g. speeding up, slowing down, returning to an original tempo) and let the music follow them. Images and stories are very helpful. The cat prowls, slows down, stops to pounce, etc. Older children can be asked to synchronize their movement to the music they hear. I aim to give them more responsibility, though. Once they are moving at my tempo, I’ll gradually give them more space, forcing them to take charge in maintaining the tempo. Students of all ages can lead an ensemble or partner (or even myself at the piano) in tempo changes of all kinds, as well as fermatas and ceasuras. The possibilities are endless, which can make choosing specific activities for a lesson overwhelming. (It’s the same problem you might have with an empty plate at a buffet.) I try to remind myself that these are foundational skills that will be revisited time and again under the auspices of many other related musical subjects: divisions of the beat, dynamics, tempo, meter and all the rest.

This is an example of a playlist I have 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).

What would you put on your ‘beat’ playlist?

Dalcroze Practice

Changing meter: Reaction game

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.

Dalcroze For Children · Teaching

7-9 Year-old Dalcroze: April

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.
  • Movement Concertos
    • 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.

Michael

Dalcroze For Children · Teaching

7-9 Year-old Dalcroze, 4/4/17

This week’s activities:

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.