I gotta get some rhythm

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Ever since I took a break from the concert stage and recording studio, I haven't written much about my musical career. This doesn't mean I've stopped practicing my keyboard every night. After 14 years, I can read music and don't have to look down at the keys when I play. Now I want to share my latest musical breakthrough to help other aspiring musicians.

I was recently playing keyboard for a colleague when she observed that I have absolutely no sense of rhythm. I had long suspected this, based on embarrassing moments on the dance floor. I'm like a male "Elaine" complete with that extra kick. 

Dancing aside, I just read that most children learn how to keep a steady beat in Kindergarten. I must have been expelled before we got to that lesson. My piano teacher tried to teach me rhythm by clapping to the beat but it didn't take. It's ironic that I couldn't understand her emphasis on rhythm. I already knew it was a key component of writing. 

When I taught English composition, I told my students that writing is music. After they identified rhythm and melody as the key elements of music, I taught them how to achieve rhythm and melody in their writing. So you would think that I would know the importance of rhythm in playing songs like "I Got Rhythm."

Anyway, my friend taught me how to use a metronome to keep time. This was a game-changer. After years of playing songs at my own peculiar pace, I suddenly had an actual beat to follow. The standard in music is 120 beats per minute but she started me off at 44.

What a challenge to play the note precisely on the beat! It was like Whack-A-Mole, hitting each note as it popped up. I had thought I was musically cruising down the interstate when suddenly I'm with Lewis and Clark groping my way through a musical wilderness. I had gone from riding a Harley to pedaling a one-speed with training wheels. 

Yes but those training wheels made playing so much more interesting and challenging. After practicing my songs hundreds of times, they had grown stale. Now, they were vibrant, brimming with rhythm. They actually sounded the way they're supposed to sound. I also felt like a galley slave, with the metronome pounding out the tempo.  There's no whipping involved, of course and I'm not even close to ramming speed. 

My belief in the metronome was reinforced by a piano teacher from Brazil, who said all 60 of his students use one. He also demonstrated rhythm by serenading me with "The Girl from Ipanema" in Portuguese. Another perk of being a ride share driver! Anyway, I'm now up to 60 bpm and gradually gaining speed. 

I'm not the only keyboard player with this problem. A friend told me she was listening to a piano player at a department store. The woman had a beautiful command of the notes and chords but she drove my friend crazy with her lack of rhythm. I said that the woman was probably speeding up on the easy parts and slowing down on the difficult ones, like I used to do.

It seems so obvious to me now. Rhythm and music go together like H2 and O. I should have remembered my lesson from American Bandstand. If they liked a song, they would say, "It has a good beat and you can dance to it." 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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