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Conference Morsel: Rhythmic Roots

(An excerpt from the interest session “Singing in the Groove: Connecting with our Rhythmic Roots,” presented by Brian Tate during the 2014 ACDA Northwestern Division Conference)
       Rhythm is energy. When you have your singers clap a simple pattern (clap, rest, clap, rest), usually the first thing that happens is, they speed up! Why is that? Rhythm is energy. And energy wants to move! Controlling rhythm is like holding the reins on a team of horses: you need to let the energy move, but you must also be grounded and “pull back on the reins” to control the pace. Have your singers mime holding the reins, feeling the horses run, and leaning back to feel the resistance. Go back to the clapping, if it starts to rush, remind them “pull it back…”, and invite them to notice when they collectively fall into a groove. Rhythm is not about counting, it is about feeling the pulse in your body, and - like all good singing - making music with your whole body. And our voice can be used as a rhythm instrument as well as a lyric instrument.
       Clapping on 2 and 4.   In gospel and similar genres, singers are often asked to clap on 2 and 4. This can be challenging! Why? One reason is that we can erroneously think that the clap is the main beat. The strong beats - 1 and 3 - happen in the feet. Listen to a drummer - the bass drum is on 1 and 3, and snare on 2 and 4. Have your singers walk in place slowly, feeling gravity grounding them. The step has the sensation of “down”. The clap has the sensation of “up”. Clapping on 2 and 4 uplifts us!