Learn harmonium, Sing kirtan, Love life - The Blog of Kirtan Central founder Daniel Tucker Learn harmonium | Sing kirtan | Love life - The Blog of Kirtan Central founder Daniel Tucker Learn harmonium, Sing kirtan, Love life | The Blog of Kirtan Central founder Daniel Tucker Learn harmonium, Sing kirtan, Love life | The Blog of Kirtan Central's founder Daniel Tucker


Music and Mantra playlists

Learn harmonium!

Online music classes

Krishna Das
Breath of the Heart

Songbook and Storybook

Keeping the Beat

  posted by Daniel on January 11th, 2012

[Excerpted from an actual email exchange with an Irish student who is in my Bhakti Breakfast Club online harmonium class]

Hi Daniel,

...I'm a huge Krishna Das fan and it was as a result of his work that I got involved in this in the first place.

One area that I struggle with though is timing. I have a decent sense of rhythm, however I feel that I'm timing challenged... I've no problem with the straightforward 4/4 chants where everything is on the beat, however I struggle keeping it together on the other stuff, especially slow ones.

I did some music lessons when I was a kid and understand the basics. It really feels that it's almost as if the "gene" to auto-time has not been granted to me. Or it's like the challenge of playing, singing, keeping a beat and taking care of timing is too much to ask of myself (at the moment). I would dearly appreciate any pointers you could give me on this...

Regards, Jan


Dear Jan,

...I want to commend you for doing such a great job communicating what you're struggling with musically. You obviously love kirtan a lot, and are calling on all the musical skills you've got to make it happen. And, some areas are strong, and others need some work. Which is fine, and how it is for all of us! Here's a few thoughts about rhythm.

When you get down to it, musical development falls into two categories: rhythm, and melody. ("harmony," usually meaning chords, is a subset of melody)

While playing a kirtan song, a lot of musical skills are being called on simultaneously. You're singing and playing harmonium - that's two instruments at once, pretty amazing right there! But you're probably also playing chords on harmonium, and singing melody with your voice - that's two totally different rhythms and different notes! You're calling on keyboard fingering, visual recognition of the black and white keys, pumping while monitoring your volume level, remembering the lyrics and singing with feeling, etc.

All to say, there's so many things being done at once, that if one of them is a challenge, it's hard to muster the conscious attention to really work on it.

SO! Working on rhythm involves a two-pronged-approach. On the one hand, you do want to work on rhythm in the context of a song. That's challenging, as mentioned above, but sometimes there's a certain phrase or note that throws you off, and really you need to work that specific spot repeatedly until you crack the code.

On the other hand though, the second prong is doing rhythm exercises independent from the rest of the music stuff. Strip away melody, chords, pumping, harmonium, singing. Just work on rhythm. When I do this with a student one-on-one, we start by tapping our knees with a solid rhythm. Then I make some variations on that rhythm which the student has to mimick. It gets gradually more challenging and/or fast, till they've got a real "tongue-twister" in a rhythmic sense, and that's a rhythm they can take home and practice till they get it into their body.

This is like going "under the hood" to work on rhythm directly, and there's lots of ways to do this.

1) Look in to "TaKeTiNa." This is a fantastic system for developing rhythm skills, based on body-motions. Stomp, clap, tap, snap... "cracking the code" with your body, where rhythm lives. (p.s. rhythm does live in your body, it's part of your human birthright! There's no "gene" for rhythm that you could be missing. It's just more latent than other music skills you've developed further. All you need is practice and patience and guidance!)

There might be a TaKeTiNa group in your area, I don't know if it's in Ireland! There are some great books and DVDs about it that you could search out on Amazon.com and perhaps also YouTube.com.

2) Get a metronome. (A small digital metronome costs $15 to $30, get one online or at any music store.) Practice clapping along with the beat. Set it to 60mm and clap along. Set it to 70, or 80, or 90.... or 180! and clap along, tap along, snap along... encode those beats into your body, into your muscles and bones. And, use it when practicing exercises or songs. If you're playing a kirtan song at home, set the metronome to something moderate, perhaps 60 or 80mm (depends on the song and your mood), and keep 20% of your attention on the metronome's "clicks" while singing the song. If you get off beat, bring your attention back to the metronome to get in synch again.

3) Practice with a friend who plays drum of some sort and who also wants to practice!

4) If you specifically need to work on 3/4 timing, put on Krishna Das' Hare Krishna Waltz (or any other song in 3/4) and say with the beat:

ONE - two - three - ONE - two - three ...

And when that's easy, then add a clap on "ONE," like:

CLAP - two - three - CLAP - two - three ...

And if that gets easy, then turn the music off and do it on your own, while imagining the music.

...OK! There's lots more I could say, but this is an email for Krishna's sake, so I should wrap it up. The main thing is that it's just a muscle you need to develop, and over time it'll get stronger, you can't help that from being the case. If you do any of the above, it'll just expedite that process, as would anything else that emphasizes rhythm, like dancing (rhythmic dancing, like African, jazz, tap, swing... less so with modern), or learning to play a drum. I'm tossing out lots of ideas here though, if you're busy and all you can muster is to keep up with your harmonium practice, and learn new songs in the Bhakti Breakfast Club, I sincerely believe your rhythm will develop naturally from year to year. Music's a gradual process, so look for the progress from year to year.

Alright Jan, I look forward to seeing you in class! Drop a note any time.

All the best, Daniel
[see permalink]

  Share some harmonium love on facebook!