Wednesday, July 03, 2024

16th note reading boot camp

Plotting out an intensive couple of lessons with a younger student, who has been doing extremely well with his playing the past year, but who is deficient reading 16th note rhythms. It's not unexpected that there be some gaps. When you're young you learn a lot really fast, largely from the actual playing you do, and may not keep up so well with things requiring deliberate study. And the way I teach, I don't force things on people that they're not ready to get into. 

For a normal 14 year old he's about on schedule for getting this together. I'll be spending a pretty rigorous couple of hours with him on the subject to get him up to speed:

First, just speaking the syllables counting the major single beat combinations of 8th notes and 16th notes, apart from reading them on the page. Including ghosting counts for rests— e.g., with a 16th rest at the beginning, 1e& becomes (w)e&. He is already good at this. 


Part of becoming functional in reading is simply recognizing a symbol or a one-beat group of symbols as representing a particular counted rhythm. That's mostly how reading is done, at first: people don't fractionally add their way through music, they look at one-beat symbols. 

Looking at the rhythms below, people can recognize that that's a 1e&, that's a 1-a, without actually knowing the values and accounting for each note of it. Which is why people will often mistake the 1e& rhythm for the similar looking 1-&a rhythm.   

When speaking the counts for these rhythms, say them with their proper spacing. Some students will say 1e&, 1-&a, or 1e-a, and space all the syllables evenly— they need to be spaced like the rhythm is played, even in conversation. 

The linear mathematics
Understanding the actual math of how a measure of music progresses, in linear order, from symbol to symbol: based on the value and placement of the current note, what is the count of the next note?

For example, in 4/4 time, a quarter note on beat 1 will be followed with something on beat 2— whatever kind of note or rest it is, it's happening on 2. An 8th rest on any downbeat will be followed by something on the &. A 16th note on the & will be followed by something on the a.  

For this we will be penciling in the counts for every single note or rest on the page. Using a throwaway printed page— not in the book or on the actual practice page. In his normal practicing, I don't want the counts written in. 

Once it's clear he's solid accounting for every single symbol in the measure, we'll do a little bit just putting in beat marks:

The person
Communication is a bitch. Everyone brings their own set of issues to the lesson, and is reprocessing the stuff you tell them their own way. You have to pay attention to your words, and to the person. There are a lot of ways to do it wrong. You don't want to lose the person— by bombarding them with detail, or by not making it easy enough... or by not making the easiness of it obvious to them. People overthink, and will look for a hard answer even when you give them a very clear, simple request or problem. 

You can also craft a lesson that progresses well, with easy steps, but they may also be impatient with that— with the easiness of it. They may have a strong urge to lunge right to the thing they can't do at all, and then give up because it's too hard. That's part of the problem for this student, I believe. He's already good with direct application of rhythm, and likely feels the reading is a hindrance.


I'll be using:

Syncopation - As briefly as possible, the 16th notes materials in it are boring and formulaic, but good for a specific state of learning them.  

New Breed -  Although it's not a real friendly environment for this student, the pages are well written, and in an engraving style I approve of. 

Funky Primer -  There's a good short 16th note rhythm summary at the beginning. 

Elementary Snare Drum Studies by Mitchell Peters - This has the best overall rhythm summary I've seen, with all ordinary 8th note/16th note rhythms, each written a variety of common ways. See the copied examples above.  

Reading Text in 4/4 by Louis Bellson - For the pencil and paper practice. I'll have him write in the counted syllables for each note or rest on the page. I've already given the reasons I don't like this book for regular practicing. Even for this it's barely useful to me.

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