Rhythm, rhythm rhythm! What the heck is rhythm besides a weirdly spelled word? Like we talked about in early messages, rhythm can be considered the foundation of a song. The rhythm sets up a strong base for us to build the harmony and melody upon. But is it more than just the drums and bass? Let’s explore…
Obviously, one of the first things we notice with regards to rhythm in a song is the tempo – how fast or slow the song moves. We can typically tell this by listening for the beating of the kick drum and any accompanying percussion.
Now rather than getting into explaining the technical side of tempo and time signatures and beats per minute or beats per measure, I want to point you in a little different direction. You see, in the majority of rock songs, there are four beats in each measure, but do you really care if it’s three or five or eight?
What you care about is how the rhythmic aspect of the song affects you – how it gets you moving. That’s where I want to go in today’s message.
Let’s think about where the idea of rhythm would come from. Once upon a time, back a few thousand years when our forefathers were wandering around wearing animal skins (or less) and might be mistaken for Bigfoot, Grock picked up a rock and hit it against another rock. The two rocks made a sound, and that sound made Grock happy, so he continued to smack the two rocks together. OK, maybe he did it to scare off a big lion, but hey, that’s not the point.
Grock took his discovery back to the tribe, and soon everybody wanted in on the action. Before you knew it, Oog was using logs whacked against each other, Ack scraped branches across boulders and Gaa was shaking pebbles inside a hollowed, dried-out gourd. You get the picture – the start of the first rhythm section!
As the realization came that each different object created a different sound, over time early humans learned how to use the different sounds to complement each other. But they also started recognizing certain patterns in their environments.
The fast hammering of a woodpecker digging into a tree trunk.
The chirp of a cicada.
The crash of thunder and the dripping of a light rain.
The thumping warnings of a jack rabbit, or the thundering gallop from the hooves of a herd of buffalo.
Even things as subtle as their own heartbeats drew them into a sense of rhythm.
These things became a reference point to begin creating beats that would influence the outright feel of the song. There is is again – feel. Are you starting to get the sense that music isn’t so much about the technical act of playing music, but how the music is built up to guide and influence the audience?
We rely on the rhythm of the song to set the groove – and this is how the music gets infused with energy. Energy is that ingredient that really grabs us and pulls us into the song. It’s not just the performance of music, but the way the different instruments interact with each other to create that rhythmic energy.
It’s interesting to me how many times the groove is stripped from music and how the resulting sound is really devoid of any feel or emotion. I’m thinking of most of the school concerts I’ve been to for my daughters where the music has been stripped down to merely notes without any semblance of rhythm except for straight time. No groove, no emotion, no energy.
This is all too common in a lot of traditional church music, too. I’m not saying it should be this way, or that it is intended to be this way – it just is. There’s a lack of energy, which translates to a lack of inspiration.
Unfortunately, because music is not considered a priority in most public schools, I believe kids sense of rhythm is not developed, and that’s why school concerts tend to be light on the energy. Sure they’re cute and we’re proud to go see our kids standing on stage singing and dancing, but I’ll bet if the kids had a choice, they wouldn’t be taking part in the show. It’s meant to be fun and energetic!
It’s not necessarily because they weren’t interested in music and/or performing, but because the school music program doesn’t have the necessary resources to give kids the proper tools and guidance to develop musical skills. Without access to the resources, kids tend to lose interest in favor of activities that are stressed in the schools.
A good sense of rhythm can be helpful in other areas of life. Developing a sense of rhythm can help with coordination and stability – this can be applied to areas such as general movement and athletics. Obviously the better coordinated you are in body movement, the better you will do in virtually any sport. Improving rhythm will help you in team activities as well.
Some people feel as if they have no sense of rhythm, but I would argue it’s not true. The very nature of our bodies are based on rhythms. Our heartbeats keep a fairly consistent rhythm, in turn influencing the flow of blood through our bodies. We have electrical impulses firing that help establish rhythms in the body. The way we hear is based on picking up the rhythm of sound waves (the frequency) and interpreting – in essence applying a familiar meaning to the sound source so we understand what we’re hearing.
The problem is that developing the awareness of rhythm and learning how to create it wasn’t really a focus in those people’s lives. Yes, some people just naturally pick up on it without any outside instruction, but I believe a person can learn how to develop their sense of rhythm into something usable for making music.
What do you think? Are kids getting enough music education in school to help them develop other skills? Should Grock go back to Rock school for remedial beat creation?
Keep groovin’, Peeps!