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How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
#2703940 01/11/18 11:09 AM
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A student of mine is studying the Beethoven Rondo Op. 51/1, and is struggling with the 2 against 3 sections. To prepare, I had her work for several weeks on the Rhythm Exercises for Two Against Three in Keith Snell's Scale Skills Level Six book, transposing them into all the major keys. It wasn't easy at first, but she did get the hang of the rhythm a few weeks in.

The problem is that, while she can do the exercises correctly in isolation, her success rarely transfers to playing polyrhythms in the context of the Beethoven. There has been only one time that she's done the rhythm correctly in that piece, and that was at her last lesson before Christmas vacation. It finally clicked, and she knew it, and was so excited! So I had her record one of the polyrhythm sections with her phone, so that she'd have a recording of how it should sound at the tempo she's currently playing the piece. I told her when she left her lesson that the first thing she should do when she got home was to play those sections again for just a few minutes, to reinforce what she'd just done.

I don't know if she did that, or how much she listened to the recording over vacation, but when she returned to lessons this week, the rhythm was all wrong again. Sigh. I took her off the parts with polyrhythms for this week, partly to give her time to get the wrong rhythm sound out of her head before reintroducing it the correct way, and partly to give myself time to think of what to do next to help her internalize the rhythm and put it in the context of the whole work.

In the past, we've discussed partitioning the beat into six parts, with the triplet playing on 1, 3, and 5, and the duplet on 1 and 4. That made sense to her, and she could execute the rhythm correctly when thinking of it that way. But she has a hard time transitioning into dividing the beat into six parts when she's just coming off two eighths and four sixteenths. Her triplet sounds exactly like the one sixteenth - one eighth - one sixteenth rhythm. In other words, she is holding the middle triplet twice as long as the others to allow the second duplet in the other hand to come in between the second and third triplets.

I'm sure she has heard that sixteenth-eighth-sixteenth syncopated rhythm many times, and that's what she almost always defaults to in her 2 against 3 execution.

Any ideas on what she can do to get the sound of the wrong rhythm out of her head, and how I can help her successfully transition into the polyrhythm sections consistently? I'm thinking I should have her temporarily drop out the hand that's doing duplets, and have her concentrate on playing the triplets evenly distributed, over and over, and then adding back in the rest of the harmony, encouraging her to listen hard for whether those triplets are still even after the duplets have been reintroduced.

Any thoughts?

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Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2703947 01/11/18 11:26 AM
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No particular expertise here, but my unsupported opinion is that tricky rhythms are done by feel rather than explicit counting.

When I've had a problem like this, I've typed the rhythm into a notation program and let the computer play it back in a loop, until it's fixed in my brain. then I try to play along.

This has been true for big band syncopation and swing rhythms too, but the computer doesn't reproduce the way these need to be played. So I listen intently to the experienced players in the group.


gotta go practice
Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2704048 01/11/18 04:11 PM
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Thanks, TimR. That reminds me, she has a school-issued ipad, and has used it for composing and playback. I wonder if it has a repeating-loop function in which to continuously play a 3-against-2 pattern she types in?

...or maybe she could type in, for example, duplets, and play triplets on the piano during the duplet playback... Then vice versa.

...which reminds me I could try doing that at our lessons, too, with both of us at the piano--she on one part, I on the other, then switch. Maybe we could play with dynamics, where one part is louder than the other (especially the triplet, since that's where she's having trouble hearing her rhythmic inaccuracy)...

I'll stop rambling now (insert smilie here; I don't know how to do them on this forum, lol), but your post gave me good ideas to stretch my thinking. Thank you!

Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2704200 01/12/18 09:04 AM
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Don't work on rhythmic hearing in isolation of tonal hearing. Polyrhythms in tonal music don't use rhythms for their own sake. There's a very precise musical logic that makes sense if you discipline yourself to hear (and specifically identify) every particular consonance and dissonance as they overlap within the context of the rhythmic structure. You will actually be able to artistically space things out based on musical knowledge and intuition rather than just executing unrelated physical instructions.

What we're trying to avoid is forcing a learned physical action that is only coordinated by rhythm and not aurally, which is often what happens when the ear is overwhelmed. The ear is overwhelmed when the mind hasn't been trained to perceive every piece of aural information in a coherent manner.

In order to combine lines aurally and experience it as a composite rhythm, you actually have to hear it interval by interval, note against note (and see how rhythmic combinations particular to polyrhythms interact with the tonal structure.

See here for the various possible rhythmic combinations, note-against-note, and even with reference to the beat:
https://imgur.com/a/kaerh

Even when you subdivide, you can imagine a tonal component to it, which helps facilitate the hearing of the actual effects brought on by syncopation.

Rework your use of physical gestures. Jumping straight into physical gestures or representations that focus only on articulation (tapping/clapping) outside the actual blending of sound is folly.

Instead, conduct, "air-bow" a string instrument, or just gesture creatively the air to help "retain" note duration the mind (or even sing along) in relation to denoting onsets and terminations of a note's time span. Actually feel "subdivision" of a whole gesture rather than just points of articulation. Again, none of this should be done in isolation of the actual tonal sounds as they overlap.

If you can't imagine the overlap of intervals (fluently), that's what needs to be worked on before actual execution at the piano. Trying to execute with only the vague mental image of a rhythm alone is a shortcut that needs to be stamped out as the default "go to" tool. Alone, it will severely limit your student's ability to audiate music and execute music coordinated by that audiation.

(Note that all of this his really applies to learning any tonal-rhythmic texture and not just polyrhythms.)



Last edited by anamnesis; 01/12/18 12:32 PM.
Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2704222 01/12/18 10:10 AM
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This is maybe less artistic than anamnesis' advice but I can confirm that it has worked with many students.

Start by counting in 6 (or 12 for 3 against 4). Use exercises first, not the piece.
Put the piece away and don't practice it. Or maybe just don't practice the section with the polyrhythm. This is in order to stop practicing it wrong.
If the exercises are coming slowly, add a short and simple piece that is new to the student and uses the same polyrhythm. I know a good Czerny one. Be absolutely picky about the polyrhythm being correct.
When the student is good at the polyrhythm in exercises and in the short piece, then bring back the repertoire piece, and see if the student can tell when the polyrhythm is correct or not. If the student can tell then it's a good time to start practicing the repertoire piece again. Use whatever counting or other strategies helped along the way as the student learned to play the exercise and short piece.

Once everything is good, including the repertoire piece, make sure the student includes cross-rhythm scales in the daily routine so as to maintain the ability to play good polyrhythms in future pieces without too much drilling.

Last edited by hreichgott; 01/12/18 10:12 AM.

Heather W. Reichgott, piano

Working on:
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Beethoven/Liszt - Symphony no. 7
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Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2704429 01/12/18 08:26 PM
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Thanks, Anamnesis and Heather.

Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2704508 01/13/18 07:01 AM
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I'm not a teacher, far from that, I'm an adult beginner, but I'd like to share a video that finally helped me to get 3 against 2. Counting to 6 didn't do the trick for me, but the simplification in this video helped me a lot: together - right-left-right - together - right-left-right. I sing it in my head like padam - da-pa-da - padam - da-pa-da, padam representing both hands together and da for right, pa for left laugh

I copied URL at the right spot, at 2:28.

https://youtu.be/kF5CLjNa2lU?list=LLiRU2KmNuJGkcio-3Wl72xA&t=148


Acoustic: Fazer upright, digital: Roland F-130R, synth: Roland Fantom X6
Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2704511 01/13/18 07:16 AM
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Meria
Thanks so much for posting the Robert Estrin link
as a student, I had never considered playing one hand of a rhythm on the keys and one hand off the keys so that would be easier to hear the synchronization. It’s a great tip for me!


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Meria #2704611 01/13/18 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Meria
I'm not a teacher, far from that, I'm an adult beginner, but I'd like to share a video that finally helped me to get 3 against 2. Counting to 6 didn't do the trick for me, but the simplification in this video helped me a lot: together - right-left-right - together - right-left-right. I sing it in my head like padam - da-pa-da - padam - da-pa-da, padam representing both hands together and da for right, pa for left laugh

I copied URL at the right spot, at 2:28.

https://youtu.be/kF5CLjNa2lU?list=LLiRU2KmNuJGkcio-3Wl72xA&t=148



I have also heard "one--cup-of-tea" used for this, "one" being where the hands are together.


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Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2704648 01/13/18 04:16 PM
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Great video, Meria--thanks much for the link!

I appreciate all the ideas shared on this thread. I'm looking forward to beginning to try them out when the student returns this week!

Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2705122 01/15/18 12:09 PM
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Quote
. . .
...which reminds me I could try doing that at our lessons, too, with both of us at the piano--she on one part, I on the other, then switch. Maybe we could play with dynamics, where one part is louder than the other (especially the triplet, since that's where she's having trouble hearing her rhythmic inaccuracy)...


Yes, working as a duet might help. You might also bring out a pair of drums -- you play one (in two), she plays the other (in three) --

. . . and then you switch parts.

And when you can do that switch on alternate measures, without changing tempo, she will have achieved some mastery.

Whether that transfers to "piano, both hands" -- pray hard!<g>


. Charles
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Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2705310 01/15/18 10:21 PM
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Thanks, Charles. And yes...prayer!

Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
jdw #2705822 01/17/18 05:45 PM
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JDW, the "one--cup-of-tea" you suggested has been in my head often since you posted it -- now to see if it will stick in my student's mind as well! That's a good one. Thanks!

Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2714556 02/15/18 12:40 PM
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Success! My student now has her polyrhythms in the Beethoven Rondo down pat in its context. smile Thank you all for the many wonderful contributions on this thread. I took her off the 3-against-2 sections of the piece, then two weeks later did some rhythm exercises from another book, using the "one cup of tea" idea. (Thanks, jdw!)

A week later I had her apply "one cup of tea" to the actual pitches in her Beethoven 3-against-2 sections, without the broader context of what comes before and after. She executed them perfectly.

Finally, last week, I assigned her the larger context around those rhythms, and yesterday at her lesson, she got into, through, and out of them with rhythmic precision and complete accuracy.

You all have made for one very pleased teacher-student team in my neck of the woods. wink Many thanks!

Last edited by Andamento; 02/15/18 12:42 PM.
Re: How to fix uneven polyrhythms?
Andamento #2716262 02/21/18 10:32 PM
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hooray good to hear!


Heather W. Reichgott, piano

Working on:
Beethoven - Diabelli Variations Op. 120
Beethoven/Liszt - Symphony no. 7
Tommy (whole show)

I love Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and new music

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