Rhythm is the primary foundation of all music. It is a repeating pattern in music, upon which everything else is build. In most situations, it is build with strong and weak elements: kicks and snares, upbeats and downbeats. Whether it’s the latest pop hit, or an old sonata, whether it’s New Orlean’s jazz or Indian’s folk song, the rhythm is there.
If you have any awareness of Native American culture, you should know that drums and drumming are a common element of this culture’s music tradition. Just like anywhere else in the world, drums (and other rhythmic instruments) play an important role in Native culture. That said, this article is not about Native American drumming :).
Also, keep in mind that while the Native American flute is often played solo, it still requires some kind of rhythm. Rhythm is provided, in most situations, by drums.
FluteCraft is not about music theory, but about Native flutes, therefore I will not bore you with detailed explanations of rhythm and its power and function in music. Rather, I want to focus on the benefits and importance of practicing rhythm and using drumming for this purpose. Now, by drumming I do not mean traditional Native frame drums, but drumming in general. You can practice with your friend who plays percussion, because it works :).
Personally, I love the sound of orchestral timpani and toms. But rhythm can be provided by other means, like tapping your feet, or many different rhythmic instruments. For example, an orchestral triangle or tambourine are considered to be rhythmic instruments. Another, simple method of providing rhythm is the metronome.
Anyway, in this tutorial I will explain the basics of rhythm practice. Don’t worry, as always, I explain everything in a basic way :).
Do You Have to Learn Rhythm?
Technically, not really. In most cases, when I play Native American Flute, I do not worry about rhythm, I just improvise. You can do the same. In such case, “rhythm” will come naturally. It may not be perfect, or “correct” according to music theory, but your song will be your song. My “Awakening” and “Dreams” albums were recorded without formal rhythmic structure and their tempo and rhythm were improvised.
- I have released my native american flute albums for free on Jamendo, with commercial licenses available.
But rhythm is necessary to play with other instruments, it’s the absolute basic element of musical structure. It sets tempo (the speed of the song) and its form, by dividing the song into parts, then into bars.
If you dream of playing with other instruments, then you have to learn rhythm. Because, in simple words, notes change according to rhythm. Different instruments have to play in relation to each other, and rhythm is one of the key elements that set this relationship between instruments (the other is pitch, an element of harmony).
How to Practice Rhythm
Again, it’s important to learn how to play in rhythm for a simple reason: rhythm is essential for playing with other instruments. Whether you dream of playing haunting melodies with your piano friend, or powerful ethnic heavy metal with an entire orchestra, you need to be able to play in rhythm.
Why so? For most people, it’s quite obvious – we all have experience with music, so we know that rhythm provides the basics of structure. Based on rhythm, notes and chords (multiple notes sounding at the same time) change. With rhythm, every player knows when to do things, like when to change the note, when to put decorations, when to remain silent (so called “pauses” in music theory).
Every musician, and every music school or class will have different ways of teaching you how to practice rhythm. The keyword here is practice. You practice, practice and then practice some more, and with time, your brain and muscles in your hands begin to “remember” different types of rhythm. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to play in rhythm.
And the simplest way to start practicing rhythm is the metronome.
The very basic way to practice rhythm is using the metronome. And you don’t have to buy one, just go to Google, and type “metronome” into search. Your Google search results should include a metronome now. Also, there are metronome apps for almost all smartphones, whether they run on iOS or Android.
Any metronome allows you to set up the tempo, which is measured in beats per minute, or BPM. Songs have different tempos. And, for example, 60 BMP is slower than 90 BPM.
Practicing with metronome is quite simple. Set up the tempo you want. Start with slow tempo, such as 60 to 75 BPM, and hit “play”. The metronome will start ticking. Some metronomes generate simple tick-tick-tick-tick pattern, other generate TICK-tick-tick-tick pattern, so the first tick is more “pronounced”. And there are advanced metronomes that allow you to set up time signatures, too. But don’t worry about this, for the purpose of this tutorial, consider we’re working with so called 4/4 time signature, which basically means there are four ticks you should worry about.
- You can start by changing notes every four ticks. You don’t have to shape elaborate melodies, just practice changing notes. Like this:
- Next, start changing notes every single tick.
- Experiment with different BPM settings. Practice slower and faster rythym.
Each four ticks is a single bar of music (at least in 4/4 time signature). That’s your very basic rhythm practice. You can tap your feet along, too. I suggest you practice for 15-20 minutes per day, but in the end, it’s all up to you. You can practice once a week, or every day. If you want, you can start increasing the tempo, or increasing the complexity of the notes you’re playing between the ticks.
- Next, you can pick up my Calm Forest songbook, and play the melodies included in thazt songbook with a metronome ticking in the background.
Or you can use various free tablatures for Native American flute and practice these melodies with a metronome.
The Benefits of Drumming
To help you practice rhythm, I have created a collection of drumming tracks that you can play in the background and play along. The primary purpose of these tracks is to help you learn how to play along with other instruments, while playing in rhythm at the same time. The more complex the pattern, the more difficult it is to keep the rhythm.
Using drums for such rhythm practice is very useful, for two reasons:
- First, they provide you with the rhythm of different complexity, so you can learn to tell the difference between upbeats and downbeats, recognize the structure of complex patterns and figure out when one bar of music starts, and when another one ends.
- Second, drums are a bit more complex in their structure and pitch, than metronome, so you can actually start learning how to play with other instruments, instead of typical ticking.
Using drums to practice rhythm is the next step in learning how to play with friends.
- See the subpage: Drumming Backgrounds for Native American Flute
Of course, you can use these drumming tracks not just for practice, but also while playing for friends or your community.
Practicing with these drumming patterns, or just with the free metronome, will help you learn how to play along with other instruments. My second article on playing along with other instruments will discuss how to play along with simple piano chords, and I will provide you with piano backing tracks, as well.