New Pieces and Rhythm

It’s the second week of rehearsals here in Hong Kong with the Asian Youth Orchestra. Working with talented cellists from across Asia is a great pleasure. This summer we are discovering Beethoven’s 5th, Brahms’ 3rd and Sibelius’ 2nd Symphonies. For some of the cellists it’s their first time performing these masterpieces. Working with them, I’m again reminded of important fundamentals when learning a new piece.

Before anything else, we need to know and internalize the rhythm of a piece. Rhythm is the foundation of Western Classical music. Without it there is no structure to our phrasing and there can be no necessary tension to the piece. As we all know, music exists in time. Without rhythm and pulse we have lost that framework. If you will, try viewing rhythm as a skeleton on which you add the notes of any given phrase. Having mastered the rhythm by clapping or singing, take a look at the pitches. After understanding the rhythm and pulse it will become more easily apparent which fingerings work best with the ebb and flow of the music.