Rhythmic Ear Training

Rhythm is very difficult for some people. As a piano teacher, I see some kids who just get it and some who don't. Rhythm is one of those things that is so abstract, it's very hard to teach but there are 3 areas that I think should be focused on:

-Hearing form
-Hearing "the beat"
-Hearing "groove" or swing

Hearing Form
This is tough for a lot of people. This is really the ability to hear 4 bar phrases as well as 8, 12, 16, 32, 64 bars. A good example is the song "So What". It's an AABA form with 16 bars of D-7, 8 bars of Eb-7, and 8 more bars of D-7. Why is it so hard not to lose the form on this song? It's because not only do you have to hear the 8 bar sections, you have to feel the difference between them. I think the key is to really hear the last 8 bars as the end of the form and then hear the next D-7 section as the beginning. Hearing form also relates to other genres too. Can you listen to a symphony and think about how the first movement relates to the second? I must admit, it's pretty hard. If you can't hear form, I think the best remedy is to count 4 bar phrases until you don't have to count them anymore and can just feel them. The same goes with hearing chord progressions and not getting lost in the middle of solos.

Hearing the Beat
It's really easy for people to speed up or slow down the beat. I tended to flip the beat once a tempo gets above 220 bpm and make the 2 and 4 the 1 and 3. The key to improving this is to be able to feel the beat. This is where a metronome is crucial to improvement. Musicians should be able to play music to a metronome VERY SLOWLY and then slowly start to speed it up to performance tempo. Often the problem is that the player doesn't even realize that they are sloppy rhythmically. It really is the first step, whether it's someone telling you or you realize it yourself, it's a good thing to come to terms with. I think people don't recognize their rhythmic disability because if a musician is hearing it in their head while playing it simultaneously, their brain will adjust the imperfections that they hear in their ear to match their conceived thought.

Hearing the Groove or Swing
This is learning to recognize the subdivision of the beat. A lot of jazz "swings" and it comes down to placing the upbeats slightly behind the halfway point between beats. The best way to do this is to listen to a drummers cymbal and try to "lock in" with it.

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