Thursday, March 16, 2023

Counting system overhaul - 02

I was working on this last year, and never posted part 2, because it was an unreadable mass. Still is. But for people who teach and deal with this subject every day, here we go:  

Lately I use a counting system I improvised when I thought about it for five minutes. It's based on speakability and familiarity: the only syllables are the beat numbers, e&a, and da, usually spoken in that order. Some may prefer to use ta instead of da, especially with sixtuplets and 32nd notes. I find it works very well. 

See part 1 from November for my complaints about other ways of counting. I've bolded some syllables to help make this mess more readable— don't take it to mean you should accent them with your voice. 

8th notes:
 1& 2&

8th note triplets/compound 8th notes:
1&a 2&a

16th notes: 
1e&a 2e&a

1e&a-da 2e&a-da
Alternative, phrased 3+2: 1ada-&a 2ada-&a

Sixtuplets / 16th note triplets: 
1ada-&ada 2ada-&ada
Problem: Slightly ungainly when speaking running sixtuplets— could use ta instead of da.  

Compound meter 16ths: 
1e&a-&a 2e&a-&a
Alternative: 1e&a-ada  2e&a-ada

Problem: Syllables are different for 8th notes and 16th notes. The 8th note becomes a second when 16th notes are involved. Also difficult to articulate the a-& syllables when isolated in a rhythm

Solution: Count compound 8th notes 1&& 2&&, or don't prosecute people making that mistake when counting a mixed passage. Or use the alternative 1e&a-ada, which has the 8th note syllables in their original places— but which will make some common rhythm combinations more difficult to pronounce. 

Saying the a-& syllables in isolation, I would say da-and.

Admittedly, this area requires the most tolerance for inconsistency and ambiguity. I still find this way of counting to be better than any other system I know of. 

1e&a-&ada 2e&a-&ada
Alternative, phrased 2+3+2: 1e-&ada-ada
Phrased: 3+2+2: 1ada-&a&a or 1ada-&e&a 

32nd notes: 
1da eda &a ada -2da eda &a ada  /  1ta eta &ta ata 2ta eta &a ata
This will be most useful when just a few 32nd notes are involved— you can just touch the extra syllables and communicate the rhythm. Of course it will be difficult above quite slow tempos, or with long runs of straight 32nds. Use the harder ta syllable at faster tempos.  

Counting complex passages of mixed 32nd notes and 16th note rhythms, it's probably best to count them in half time— using the more familiar 16th note syllables. 

PROBLEMS/COMPLAINTS: Parts of this bothered a couple of people on line. 

•  Reusing syllables with different subdivisions— as if the should be the platonic 4/4 forever, and saying any other time is confusing. Like when speaking you use a duh sound in the word dog and everyone's cool, but then you say diaphragm and everyone says Huh? What? Did he say dog? 

Obviously absurd. Anytime it's not clear from the context, you can distinguish the subdivision you intend by mentioning the subdivision— the triplet &, the compound a, the quintuplet e, the second &. Complex situations will be complex situations no matter what, no counting system will make them into non-complex situations. 

•  Teaching people a non-standard counting system, I am dooming them to be unable to communicate rhythm to others. To which I say:

a) It's not that non-standard.
b) I'm not a cultist, I don't pretend to my students that there are no other ways of doing things.
c) There is no standard counting system for most of these things.
d) Most people you talk to will not know the convention you're using, and you have to clarify anyway. 

• By what authority do I just make up my own way of doing things? There is no authority, the entire literature of drumming is nothing but guys figuring stuff out and publishing it. Players and teachers (and communities thereof) adopted what worked, or what they liked. 

CONCLUSION: This system has been very useful in my teaching, clarifying some areas of rhythm that were previously a little mysterious, that had to be “just gotten”, or counted in an unsatisfactory way— especially compound 16ths, and odd meters like 5/8 and 7/8. No doubt I'll continue refining it. 

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