Getting the Alma Mater Blues Rhythm
Found in: Musicality, Pedaling, Technique
Sheri R., California
I’ve noticed that a number of my students have trouble getting the rhythm right in Alma Mater Blues. The left and right hands are properly coordinated but the RH is played evenly rather than with a swinging feeling when the hands are played together. However, the rhythm is correct when played RH only. Any ideas to help them get it, besides listening to the audio file, trying to play along with it, saying “here’s humpty dumpty,” slowing down, or explaining how the first 2 notes are slower than the last 3? I wonder if having them playing it for weeks wrong is going to make it harder for them to finally get it right. I probably need to nip this in the bud as soon as I see it but a few of my students have been playing it out-of-sync for a while now.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
Your thoughts and ideas all make good sense, especially nipping the problem in the bud. If the student has listened to the song prior to learning it, chances are they’ll never have the problem in the first place. The occasional student may still have an issue with such details of the rhythm of this and other songs.
Sometimes the physicality of playing the patterns has dominance over the sound; in other words, as the student plays the song, concentrating on both hands and all the complexities of coordinating the fingers, there isn’t enough attention left for the ear to do its job of confirming to the student that it sounds right. They can’t hear that it’s wrong, and after a few repetitions finger memory has kicked in and the faulty rhythm has “stuck.”
The student may need to have this faulty hand-ear connection broken again (like when a doctor re-breaks a bone that hasn’t knitted properly, only less painful!). The first thing I do in this situation is to play two versions of the phrase – the way the student plays it (exaggerated if necessary) and then the correct way, just so they hear that there is a difference. Then you can go back to controlling the events and relearning. In other words, bring out the original diagram (in your training notes, step 1.10.4) and step through it again, stopping at and reviewing each event. You can point out how the diagram positions the RH “+” close to the LH “3”, which means the two must be played close to each other. Stop the student at that event and have them play just that tiny step: “+3”. Have them repeat the step, voicing as they do, until it’s unthinking. Then back to the first event to put the step back into context: “1,2,+3”. When that’s comfortable, complete the entire pattern: “1,2,+3,+4.”
If all that sounds too complicated (such things are usually much simpler when demonstrated), try this: Go to the last page of your Level 1 Training Notes, where the Arrangements are listed. At the bottom of the page is a diagram that places both hands of the pattern along a series of counts of three. Below each number 1 is a mark that represents the placement of the LH. The circles around some of the numbers represent the placement of the RH. Have the student follow the diagram, counting aloud. As the student says each number, he or she follows the diagram, playing each step of each hand as it fits with the count. In other words, at the first count of “1” they play LH first step and RH first note, then keep counting until the next “1” where they’ll play LH second step, RH second note, then keep counting until next count “3” where they’ll play RH next note, etc. Step through VERY slowly, stopping whenever necessary, so they can figure out each event, then repeat until they have enough confidence to start dialing up the speed.
Again, this can seem more complicated to read than it is in real life. It’s never too late to go back a step and control the events.