Please use a discerning gaze when reading these claims, which deserve critical examination. This documentation represents a snapshot of my internal landscape at a certain point in time in my life during my collegiate career.
On Rhythm… On Pulse
Rhythm and pulse are centers of gravity in sound. Not only do keys have centers, but so too does pulse.
As I play, I tap on 2 and 4 and engage with the feeling of pulse. As my mind sorts and integrates new information, the energy of my awareness shifts to enable my arms and hands to activate and maintain a pattern; when this happens, my awareness sometimes looses hold of my pulse on 2 and 4, and my imagination slides around outside of a feeling of time, causing me to oftentimes drop my entire act.
This is the moment to become more deeply aware of. When do I drop the whole show and loose track of the ground, the beat? What techniques or feels scramble my mind? These are the moments to realize.
All feelings are relative to a center; where I loose my center is where I work to move more deeply into it, to compensate for hectic changes.
If I continually drop my performance in one spot, this becomes the spot to thread a steady pulse that I can feel with my body.
I am aware of the feeling of my body. I harmonize with center through the feeling of pulse. My foot tends to feel pulse on 2 and 4. My arms, hands, and fingers feel vibrations emanating off of my guitar. I am my ability to harmonize multiple dimensions of feeling around a single unshakable center. My hands and fingers harmonize their rhythm with the pulse of my body, of my feet. I am my ability to smoothly drift through changes while maintaining a solid living root of pulse in my awareness.
It’s fascinating to see the language of my mental operating system out of this era of my life. I was really taken with this “I am my ability to…” phrase, like it had some sort of super power. It was a phrase my friend Ryan Murray arrived with at festival when Mark England walked him through a process of examining his language and personal stories. I watched Ryan suddenly become empowered with his words in that moment, and rather than fully appreciating the process that brought him to this personal phrase, I just grabbed the phrase, believing it to be the magic fruit that could help me do anything.
Although I employed this phrase frequently, I’m not sure that it had the intrinsic power that I hoped for.
Do any of you notice features of your language and how it seems to change over time? If so, I’d love to hear about your perspective on your own linguistic process!
Beyond these initial observations of language, this entry is an interesting one. You may know that, Western music especially (as in Western Hemisphere) tends to use tonal or key centers. But at the time of this writing, I was realizing that the beat or pulse of music can also act as a center of gravity.
Here I am talking about “tapping on 2 and 4.” Just in case you don’t know, I’m talking about tapping my foot along with a metronome. Instead of tapping out every beat, I was actively practicing tapping my foot ONLY on beats 2 and 4.
Why? Why would you do such a thing?
This was one of the first and hardest lessons I learned at the University of Toledo in the Jazz department during my 2012 incarnation as a Saxophone Major. My Teacher at the time insisted that I “CUT THAT SHIT OUT,” (talking about me tapping my foot every beat) and “TAP THE 2 AND THE 4.”
I had no idea what the fuck that meant. Though I was quickly and harshly informed that beat 2 and beat 4 were typically the beats that the drummer would pump the high hat with their foot in many styles of traditional jazz.
So, I realized I was going to have to become my own drummer – at least in some capacity.
I smashed my head against the wall with this one for the entire semester. It took five months of continual (and painstaking) practice before this started to become even close to second nature.
Then I dropped out of school and forgot largely forgot about it.
After a year of shenanigans, I gathered up myself and reapplied to the University of Toledo, now incarnating as a guitar player (This had been my original intention back in 2012, although I accidentally auditioned on Saxophone, thinking I was just trying out for the big band or something, ending up lumped in with the other saxophone majors.)
During my year away, I had taken it upon myself to drill all my major scales and basic major and minor triads. Theoretically, I felt ready to hang, but as a player, I knew I had a LOT of mechanical work to do.
But you know what I didn’t need to do?
Kill myself to understanding tapping on 2 and 4. Turns out that shit was slowly aging like a fine wine in the cellar of my consciousness while I partied for a year. It happened to be so that I could tap 2 and 4 pretty effortlessly now.
This entry is interesting because I was noticing that, even though I had a pretty solid command of tapping beats 2 and 4, there were still moments in some tunes where I would completely lose the beat or turn myself around. The easiest place to do this for me was during an improvised solo. I always wanted to do the best I could (maybe trying to one-up my friends and peers), but usually I just ended up farting and fumbling around, loosing track of the beat and the form.
It was like: “Solo time? AHHHH!” *Screaming and spontaneous fires, people running in utter mayhem*
My most basic thought was embarrassing: “DO THE THING!” I’d scream to myself, watching my hands open and close like clamps in a claw machine.
All of my training went right out the window in panic and I’d just bang on the strings, using wide vibratos and bends when I ALWAYS landed on a b9, #9, b3, b6, or b7 on a major 7 chord (These happen to be among the WORST sounding unintentional tones a person could accidentally resolve to).
Eventually I became aware that it was perhaps, not a wonderful idea to panic and vomit every time I soloed.
Then, a friend, mentor, and wonderful teacher of mine, Mike Cantafio then taught me a way to take my foot tapping to the next level.
“On your left foot, keep tapping 2 and 4, but with your right foot, tap every beat 1, 2, 3, and 4. A teacher taught me this, then I applied it to EVERYTHING, and It’s CRAZY dude, it will help your time SO much. I can tell when drummers are dragging or rushing now. It’ll change your world!”
Bows Mike. That shit fucked up my mind and put me back on square one. It was hard.
Really. Fucking. Hard.
But I kept practicing. This exercise took YEARS before it began to feel natural, but guess what, it clicked together, even for a person as dense as myself.
This new approach to rhythm has changed my life.
It didn’t solve everything, but suddenly, I had much deeper and more stable roots to rely on when site-reading, playing melodies, and improvising solos.
After that, I started to wonder if I could root my rhythm more deeply, using my voice as another anchor point for rhythm.
I started counting the beats “1, 2, 3, 4” out loud. Easy, right? Sure, if you are playing quarter notes or maybe 8th notes. But how about syncopation? Triplets? 16th note syncopation? Quintuplets?
This is the cutting edge of my practice now, keeping my feet tapping and locked onto the beat, counting any subdivision that I choose, and creating musical phrases that have a beginning, middle, and end. Where do I lose the beat now? What moments overload my rhythmic center of gravity and cause me to drift through time?
And you know, maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What if I could use this mistake, drifting through time, and harvest the result of it while still maintaining my grounded gravity of pulse? That sounds like freedom.
This entry really hit hard! I think that, as a musician, “I am my ability to…” could be a dangerous phrase. I wonder if there are any practices of making mistakes on purpose?? I know that my fear of making mistakes often leads me to choose pieces with safe rhythm and tempos.
When I was in college, my flute professor would occasionally tap 2 and 4 with his foot, and keep all the beats on whatever finger he happened to not be using, on his left hand (usually his index). I never quite got to that level of rhythmic integration, but it still intrigues me to this day!
Would you be interested in doing a Q&A on the Fusion blog? I was thinking maybe something along the lines of juggling and music.
I appreciate your comments!
I think the “I’m my ability” started as an empowering phrase, but it sort of fell off into hopeful ritual for me.
That fear of making mistakes is real, I’ve heard a lot of great players say that mistakes matter less than how we react to them. I’d love to integrate deeper levels of recovery from mistakes, myself.
I’d love to do some Q and A on your Fusion blog, let’s set something up!