Listening Activities

Playing with the Beat

Just “keeping time” as you listen to music is a critical beginning, this beat that you so easily clap or tap or dance to, actually creates a unit for measuring the rhythms that make music swing.  Following the beat becomes a path into the mathematics of proportion and it is proportional relations that most specifically helps to organize musical time.

For instance, it is proportional relations among levels of beats that create the moving “grid” that jazz musicians are continuously making, playing with and especially playing around with. Regenerating t h e s e  b a s i c time units in action creates the underlying framework in playing jazz. Any particular moment in even a spontaneously improvised performance may be reinforcing the beat grid or pushing against it to create an exciting groove. A song in which the framework is never “attacked” is like a mystery story that is boring because you can predict every move.

To begin playing with the beat, listen to music from our own culture, then to music from some more distant cultures. Notice how each song generates a beat in its own way. Moving away from what is most familiar and then looking back, can make the old seem quite new.