The Rhythmic Flow of Music
The rhythmic pulse or beat is in many ways the foundation of all music. Listening to indigenous music forms as well as those dating back several centuries, we can hear that there are many expressive forms where the melody is not particularly well developed, but the sense of a vibrant pulse or beat is very much to the fore. This is also apparent in modern day life where we often catch a loud, pumping bass and drums whilst being unable to discern the melody of a track – all very different from the sound of an orchestra or string quartet!
In classical music, if we use the rhythmic pulse as the starting point for learning a piece, we can’t go far wrong and when that piece has a high degree of rubato present, we will find that it ebbs and flows perfectly naturally, without any jolting pull-ups or sudden slowing down of the music. It’s often possible to hear world class soloists who have refined their sound and intonation to a high degree of perfection but have lost that gentle, undulating pulse that pervades a piece, giving it a flow from the first note to the last.
In ignoring the flow of the beat, the performance can strike the listener as somehow artificial or insincere, even if we are unable to pinpoint exactly why. For this reason, getting to know a piece without the instrument present can get us in touch with the music more deeply.
By singing the note names whilst gently pulsing with the knees to the beat of the music (and perhaps clapping the beat as well in a circular motion), we can fully engage with the unbroken line of the music. Perhaps more profoundly, this allows us to engage with our hearts and not intellectualise the work. With an understanding of the key signature, time signature and tempo marking we can wholeheartedly feel the composers intentions from the outset.