For years I would work on all of my literature with a metronome. With the metronome on, my time and rhythmic integrity was always VERY good. But the second that I turned off the metronome, the pulse was gone, and while I was “close” to being precise, I always had the tendency to “crush” rhythms, stylize passages, and lose time without really being aware of it. It was extremely frustrating for me because I had really put in my time (years) with the metronome and it never seemed to get me to a point where this pulse was internalized.
Since I was not a music-major in school, I had always felt that I was missing some basic fundamentals that other players just naturally possessed. Then someone suggested to me that I should investigate a book entitled “Rhythmic Training” by Robert Starer. In the book he states that, “The ability to transform visual symbols of rhythmic notation into time-dividing sounds is an acquired skill
. It is preferable for the student to produce the pulse himself (tapping, conducting, etc).” How fantastic was it for me when I discovered that internalizing a pulse is a learned skill and not just something that you are born with!
This book is available at Amazon.com for a mere $6.95. The author taught at Juilliard for 25 years and has a true gift in presenting the material in this book. There are several ways to work through the exercises in the book, which are all visceral in nature (tapping or singing the rhythm while conducting with the other hand or tapping the strong and weak beats on your leg). In this manner I was literally pounding the pulse into myself (internalizing) since I was my own metronome. In one month of focused effort (about 10-15 minutes per evening while resting between practice sessions), I have given myself a pulse. This has certainly breathed a fresh new life into my music!
This brief story will give you an idea of the transformation that I experienced in my playing. I had received my instrument back from a long stay in the shop for repairs and had been working out of the Starer book for about a month at this point. After a warm-up, I played through Charlier #2 to become familiar with my horn again. As I played I was very aware of something that was very present in my playing that had never been there before. On the last line of the etude, there are two trills that are 6 beats in duration each. In the past when I played these trills, if I varied the speed of the trill (i.e. slow increasing to faster and then slowing to the resolution on one), I had a very difficult time maintaining the full duration of the note (I didn’t know when to resolve to one). Well, as I played, there was a clear and STRONG pulse happening in my mind. I knew exactly when to resolve while I was enjoying the ability to let the trill develop musically!
The other major benefit of this book is related to identification of rhythmic patterns (literally every combination that there is). Work through this book and you will never be tripped up by a rhythm in your sight-reading ever again! I’m guessing that it would take a minimum of a year to work all the way through the book allowing plenty of time on the individual exercises to put them into your subconscious.
As far as focused study is concerned, I contend that if you have never considered spending time with a book like this, you should RUN (not walk) to Amazon.com and get yourself a copy. Time (pulse) is probably one of the most important attributes of the finest musicians. This is one of the best purchases that I have ever made for the advancement of my abilities as a musician, and for $6.95 you can’t afford to not have this book in your library.