Think you’re a lost cause, musically – you’ll never be able to play music well?
Chances are you’re not: musical skills are unavoidable; they’re innate in language speaking and everyday life, so you probably already have them. Check it out –
Your sense of rhythm:
Count down from 10 to 1, out loud.
How did it sound?
Did it have random, unpredictable gaps between each number – like Christopher Walken reading an emotional spoken-word poem about diffusing a bomb?
Or was it evenly spaced like a well-made clock counting down to zero?
This is your pre-existing sense of rhythm.
We walk and run in rhythm.
If we didn’t we’d trip over every time. We don’t take a step, then wait 3 seconds, and then take 2 quick steps, start taking another step – and before it’s finished start taking the next one! They’re evenly spaced, and regular.
We breath in rhythm.
We don’t take a deep breath, hold it, and then start panting like a dog – that would make you pass out (don’t do that).
Our hearts beat in rhythm (especially if you breath in rhythm).
Otherwise that’s called cardiac dysrhythmia.
And as you’ve probably demonstrated to yourself – We talk in rhythm.
Rhythm is everywhere.
Think of someone doing an impression of Christopher Walken, or William Shatner – part of what makes their speaking style distinctive is the odd rhythm it has: gaps where you wouldn’t usually put a gap. It sticks out, like someone playing drums out of time would stick out from the band.
When counting from 10 you have a long-term goal in mind: get to 1. The issue with bad music timing can be focussing too much on each beat – like counting to 1 ten times instead of counting down from 10 to 1.
In music, you’ll often be counting to 4 or 8, 3 or 6, and maybe 2, 5 or 7. There’s still the issue of speeding up when you get to 4 and have to go back to 1, so think of it like counting to 8 – but replace 5 with 1 and start again: You’ll never get to 8, but your smooth rhythm will be maintained.
It’s not a perfect fix but it’s a start until you start to just feel the timing internally and don’t need to count anymore.
Now mix it up a bit:
Count down from 5 to 1 – really fast!
As fast as your mouth will allow you!
Count down from 5 to 1, reeeally slooowly;
like it’s an epic slow motion countdown to a space rocket launch!
Not only can you keep an even metre, you can perform different tempos – different speeds of rhythm. With practise it will get easier to keep the speed even, and to get in sync with other musicians so you all keep the same tempo.
As with so many skills used in music, the ability is already there (learned as an infant) but in a different context – in language, basic arm and leg movements, basic mathematics, etc.
For most of us, we already have that sense of rhythm, an ear for pitch and tone, the speed of fingers, a head for patterns, and the potential for great strength and stamina on our instruments – all that needs to be done is to adapt these skills around music and the things we use to make it.
So start practising and see how far you get.