Help improving sense of rhythm
October 7, 2004 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm pretty good at visual things. Heck, it's my job. However, the more and more I get into multimedia, the more concerns I have about my musical ability. I've never cared about it until now (don't dance either), but now I realize that having a sense of rhythm or tempo could really help my work. How do I even begin improving my aural and timing skills? Do I have to go find Kevin Bacon and get footloose?

I'm also that guy at concerts who screws up when the band asks the audience to clap along. *clap clap clap... clap* shit! ah.. *clapclapclap*
posted by Stan Chin to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Learn an instrument. I started playing guitar just under a year ago and since then my timing has improved tremendously and while I can't hear a tone and say "That's an A sharp" yet but I can say that a pair of tones are 1, 2, 3 etc intervals apart.
posted by substrate at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2004

* Just start paying closer attention to all the music you hear--the stuff you listen to, stuff on the radio, in commercials. And instead of focusing specifically on the melody or harmony, focus on the beat: what instruments are keeping the beat? Spend a whole song isolating that instrument in your head, and follow it through the song. Then start to try to recognize variations on the theme. Get familiar with different techniques, like triplets, for example.

* Try some dance/electronica music. Although much of the time it's all fast, it usually has a variety of rhythms under the main beat.

* Start using your fingers or mouth as a beatbox. First try keeping up with the beat--make a sound or tap on the desk--and once you've got that down, start adding your own rhythm to it. Remix it in your head.

I don't know how much of this is nature, but I think at least some is nurture.
posted by gramcracker at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2004

I read somewhere where a guy's brother started pounding out rhythms on the guy' back till he started feeling it-the guy eventually became a musician, I think.

Get someone to help you with it, maybe they could "clap your hands" for you, etc. till you start to internalize the beat. It really is a kinesthetic thing.

(I am a musician, if it matters.)
posted by konolia at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2004

You could look into Beat Games, or perhaps some Kodaly Method training. gramcracker is also probably on when mentioning that simply paying attention to music can help.

But I think the most rewarding thing would probably be to learn an instrument. Get one (guitar and keyboard are good for simplicity and they're both rhythm focused instruments) and a teacher and take some lessons.
posted by weston at 8:56 AM on October 7, 2004

Also, you could try capoeira.
posted by weston at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2004

Listen to classic breakbeat funk and the hip-hop that samples it. Seriously.

I, too, work in multimedia, and agree 100% that a sense of rhythm is essential to the work. I believe that the more editing work you do, the better you'll get at the timing - I've just picked up a strange knack for finding the correct edit point - but listening to music crafted on complex beats will help.

But yeah, learn an instrument too.
posted by rocketman at 11:12 AM on October 7, 2004

A related question, since the answers are leaning toward 'learn an instrument': How easy is it for say, someone in their late 20s with zero musical training to pick up and learn an instrument? And at this age are there limits to what one can possibly learn, realistically?
posted by picea at 1:08 PM on October 7, 2004

I second the Beat Games suggestion. Dance Dance Revolution is great for developing a sense of rhythm, and it's not nearly as difficult or expensive (or as rewarding, of course) as learning an instrument. It's good exercise, also.
posted by vorfeed at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2004

picea: I started the guitar at age 23, 9 years ago, and have steadily made improvements, usually in sudden leaps and bounds -- I notice that my brain goes through periods of plasticity where learning new things is easier, even as an adult. I've noticed this even as recently as a year ago.

Zero musical training doesn't describe me at age 23 by any stretch of the imagination -- I had a music filled childhood and had almost completed a university minor in it. But I think if you have some natural talent, have spent a lot of time listening to different kinds of music, and hit something like the periods of plasticity, that just about anybody could pick up an instrument and learn to play it to the point that it's personally satisfying.
posted by weston at 2:05 PM on October 7, 2004

Thanks everybody, I'll try most of these.
posted by Stan Chin at 3:14 PM on October 7, 2004

Maybe a little late, but: Try a hand drumming class, like conga or djembe. It is very easy to pick up the basic technique, compared to most musical instruments. And after that, it's all about rhythm, and learning how to feel it / express it.

And don't worry about the "stinky hippy drum circle" stereotype -- you won't get cooties, and nobody's going to force you to go out to the park and drive people up the wall. (Unless you want to!)
posted by xil at 4:34 PM on October 7, 2004

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