The ancient Greeks categorized music in 3 ways: Melody corresponds to intellect, Harmony corresponds to emotion, and Rhythm corresponds to the physical body. It’s this physicality of music that I’d like to address here, and share some tips for connecting deeper to the seemingly elusive “pocket,” and hopefully hip you to the secrets of relaxed and focused performance.
A player’s sense of time and rhythm are the elements that make them connect to an audience and to the musicians they are playing with. Since it’s a physical property, it’s what makes you “feel” music. By improving your time and rhythmic clarity you can make leaps and bounds with your technique and have greater impact with your phrasing, regardless of instrument or style.
Every tempo on your metronome has a dance, a physical expression, and a factual physical measurement. By connecting with the actual physical space of the tempo, you can intensify your groove and access the state of relaxation that is crucial to all great technique. When you are dancing you are “in the moment” and having fun, you are the antithesis of stress; you are caught up in the joy of movement. It’s important to observe great player’s “dance,” or where they feel the music in their body.
Let’s find the actual physical space of a tempo: Set your metronome at 60, stand up and with your hand, make even circles that last for one measure phrases of 4/4 time. You flow from beat 1 to beat 4 in a relaxed and steady motion. You are now creating, your personal rapport to tempo. The factual physical measurement is _________inches. So we could say that the tempo of 60 is ________inches. This is the first circle! Within that and outside of it are several others; to find the inner circle, move your fluid circle twice as fast, keeping the movement smooth and relaxed. The inner circle is __________inches. To find the outer circle, move your hand twice as slow, or in a 2 bar phrase. That circle is __________inches.
Now that we have discovered three measurements for one tempo, the next step is to choose the circle that is the most relaxing and natural, the “feel good” circle. Now, with instrument in hand, begin to play, moving your body within that measurement of space. Let the relaxed physical movement direct your breathing and phrasing, move through the space as it moves through you. Now you are “feeling the time!” Let the expression of the circle appear where you are comfortable with it, and more importantly, internalize the space of the circle. All great players have their dance within the tempo, some express it in dramatic ways, others in subtle ways, but it is always there, directing the mechanics of the music and deepening the expression of the notes. Find the dance and you find the joy.