In level 3 you are going to be encountering some more complex rhythms with smaller durations and syncopation. As rhythm is king when it comes to sight reading it is important to develop tactics to handle difficult rhythms, and this technique will help you tackle even the trickiest of rhythms.

It is called ‘subdivision’ and it is the best way I know of breaking down rhythms into bite sized chunks.

To start off, I want you to think of rhythm as duration, not as speed. It is an easy misconception to see lots of stems and tails and think of them as “fast” 16th notes 32nd notes (semiquavers and demi semiquavers) look intimidating, but they don’t have to be.

It is all relative.

If you have 16th notes and the pulse is marked at 30 MM then you are going to have plenty of time to play each of those notes. Likewise if the tempo is marked 250MM and you just have quarter notes marked then you will have to play those notes very quickly! So, start to think of rhythms as durations rather than speed and know that when slowed down enough, any rhythm is possible.

Subdivision takes the smallest duration in the passage (let’s say the smallest duration is a sixteenth note) and creates a click track set at that duration. Normally, we will set a metronome at the quarter note, but by setting the metronome clicks at smaller durations it makes it easier to slot in each note where it belongs.

When I say, “metronome clicks” it doesn’t actually have to be the metronome, you can count in your head or out loud, but you do have to be thinking of the smaller durations as your markers.

Subdividing rhythms

When you subdivide your rhythms, you are creating a grid on which to map your notes. It means that your notes will be much steadier and it also takes the guesswork out of your counting. Eighth notes are often counted as 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &. Or simply 1 + 2  + 3 + 4 +. You can sound out sixteenth notes as: 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 & a.  There are other ways of sounding them out, but whatever works for you is best.

Subdivision very useful for ensemble playing. If you have a very long note and three people are all counting quarter notes beats in their head, there will probably be some very out of time notes. But, if everyone is subdividing, it leaves less room for error (take a look at the third measure above as an example).

Try it out and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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