If you just started studying music again, and your only prior experience was in very formal education, you probably learned the performance conventions expected of classical musicians. If you go to watch an orchestra, you’ll notice that the musicians move very little during the performance, save for those parts of their bodies that actually manipulate their instruments. In fact, watching the perfectly synchronized bows of the violin section, the slides on the trombones and the other motions that musicians make is one of the visual appeals of seeing an excellent orchestra.
It can be very difficult to learn to count rhythm, however, when you are expected to remain still the entire time that you are playing. While you may have noticed the very disciplined and almost statue like form that classical musicians adopt, you may have also noticed that many popular musicians sway in time with their music and, in some cases, even dance with their music. This can have some value for beginning music students, particularly those who are struggling a bit with rhythm.
Think of Children
If there’s a child in your life – whether it’s your own child, a younger sibling or a friend’s child – try turning on some music for them sometime and see what happens. If the child enjoys the music, they will generally start trying to dance to it a little bit. This is a very primal human thing. Human beings tend to move in time with music that they hear and enjoy. This is, of course, the foundation of dance at all levels, from flirty nightclub shimmying to the most disciplined dance troupes in the world.
If you are having a hard time keeping the rhythm of a song, don’t be afraid to sway to the beat a little bit so that you feel the rhythm more viscerally than you would by tapping your feet. In fact, for some students, the traditional method of tapping your feet – one, two, three, four – is so rigid that it makes it more difficult for them to feel the rhythm and the rhythm of the song ends up becoming very external and intellectualized rather than something that is internal and felt.
Your professors may have different requirements of you when you are performing. For example, if you are studying blues guitar, it’s perfectly acceptable to move around with the beat and, in fact, it’s part of the stage show. If you are studying classical guitar, however, you will absolutely be expected to maintain proper form while you are playing so that the movements of your body do not detract from the audience’s ability to focus on the music.
Even if you are studying a form of music that requires you to be very still while you are performing, don’t be afraid to loosen up a little bit when you are playing. If it helps you to get the rhythm into your heart, you shouldn’t have a difficult time controlling your motions and performing the music while sitting perfectly still – if that is required of you – and you may just do it quite a bit better.