Jaques-Dalcroze and Rhythm Training

2011Symposium_1_2Yesterday, I discussed solfege exercises developed by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. Today I will examine some of his rhythm exercises. Like contemporary scholars, Jaques-Dalcroze found that rhythm and pitch are more easily taught separately than integrated together. Jaques-Dalcroze also believed that because movement, through which rhythm is expressed, is natural to humans, whereas pitch is not, it is best to begin with rhythm. The essence of Jaques-Dalcroze’s method for teaching rhythm is to gain control over the body through practice and conditioning so that it is able to work with the mind in interpreting and expressing music as movement. He wanted each student to become aware of every part of his/her body, and be able to use the full spectrum of movement to interpret music. The use of individual muscle groups would become automatic, and students would develop attention, consciousness and will power so that all exertion could be used for the “freest possible play to subconscious expression,” and to train the student to “see clearly in himself what he really is, and obtain from his powers all the advantage possible.”  Jaques-Dalcroze wanted to train students to be able to “put the completely developed faculties of the individual at the service of art and to give the latter the most subtle and complete interpreters—the human body.” This enables the student to realize a “wholly instinctive transformation of sound movements into bodily movements.”

In practice, the rhythmic portion of the method involves showing time, including tempo and beat, with arm movements, and note durations with feet and other body-part movements. For beat and tempo, the students march, accenting steps where needed, and contracting the arm muscles on metrically strong beats. As students become more advanced, they are able to suddenly stop, discontinue accenting with one or both arms or with one or both feet, substitute an arm movement for a foot movement, insert an extra accent either with the arm or foot, or do other similar things the teacher might direct.

For rhythms, individual movements are learned for specific durations, and then are sequenced into a series that 101together form a rhythm. The movements are first practiced alone, and then in groups. Students later learn to decode a rhythm the teacher plays on the piano or a drum into movements, or a rhythm they see another student do. The learning sequence is the same as that recommended by Gordon and Feierabend for aural learning, but with the student audiating physical movement from sound. Eventually, the student learns to arrest movement abruptly or slowly, to move alternately forwards or backwards, to move suddenly on cue, to lie down or stand up to precise time, and all with a minimum of muscular effort and all with continuous feeling for each time-unit of music. The student also learns to silently count time in accordance with movements he is making, resulting in a stronger feeling for the movement.

Students learn to divide the beat into various subdivisions. The teacher calls out a number, and the students divide the beat into that number of subdivisions by taking that many steps to each beat, while moving to the beat with the arms. Independence between arms and feet is further developed until the student can move to counterpoint by moving the arms to each note of the melody while taking a step to each note of the counterpoint. This is possible from a solid grasp of beat and rhythm understood as movement, and performed with the body in motion. Expressive gestures are added to indicate dynamics. Apart from rhythm and beat training, there are times when the formal movements for expressing rhythm are abandoned, and free movement is used to show what is being expressed in the music and/or the musical form. Students may practice making movements to sounds the teacher provides, or may reverse the process and practice making sounds to movements the teacher makes. Jaques-Dalcroze was adamant that all of this training must take place before a child is given formal instruction on an instrument, such as piano. Without eurhythmic training, playing will be an intellectual exercise, and the student will be unable of playing expressively because the whole body will not be involved in presenting the music. For more information on this subject, please refer to The Eurhythmics of Jaques-Dalcroze.

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