What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

Frequency is probably a term more commonly associated with 80’s synth-pop artists and electrical sound engineers. However, it’s not to be underestimated or underutilized as a viable word in other situations.

I worked with one of the more difficult teaching challenges in my experience yesterday at my drum circle. A gentleman joined us with a peculiar short-coming – he had no current musical interest and an unclear memory of the interests from 30+ years ago when he called it (music) quits. I see many people that claim to have “no rhythm.” At face value, it’s true. However, everyone has rhythm whether they recognize it or not. Your heart beat has kept a rhythm for your entire life; surely one can learn to keep one externally for a few minutes. As it turns out, there are some people that this may seem even less possible for. This guy that I worked with seemed to have a real mental block to rhythm, or to something even more fundamental – frequency. In his words, he had trouble with numbers in that they held no relevance. I believe the problem was actually that he assigned no frequency to numbers. In order for counting to assist you in musical timing, one must use a consistent spacing between the numbers. Without it, counting does us no good. I attempted to teach this concept in many styles; visual, tactile, and aural. Each of them seemed to provide a glimpse of what he was missing, but none of them resonated completely. Having thought about it more sense the drum circle, I have some additional ideas of how to get this message across.

For one, utilizing the old method of counting seconds may be helpful (e.g. one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc.). Forcing yourself to say one thousand between every second counted manages to keep many of us attuned to a consistent frequency. There is also the issue of matching patterns, which I think people can more easily grasp than timing. My five-year-old is learning about patterns in kindergarten as an introduction to math. Following this course, I may be able to explain frequency in terms that a potential drummer can understand. In the end, I want this guy to grasp the concept of the wave. Hear the noise of each crest. Feel the silence at each trough. Of course, the goal is anticipation. Without that – and this is something that he struggles with – one can never ride the wave!

1 comment

  1. I’too, am rhythmically challenged. Nto so much in the sense of not having any sense of rhythm, but in the sense of counting a rhythm without first hearing/feeling it. My violin teacher is working with me on this. I am learning to count by stamping the base rhythmn with my feet, such as 1-2-3-4. My hands are clapping a different rhythm, such as 1 and 2 and 3 ee-and-ee 4 and. It is very challenging to fit a specific pattern into the stamping feet. I have pieces with dotted eighth notes (with a trill) followed by a 16th note followed by an eighth note and so on. The rhythmns are easily clapped or counted out loud, but the coordination of stamping, clapping, counting and reading is almost beyond me. Maybe you should try that on him. Oh. And then throw in a violin with specific bowing patterns for each group of notes.

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