I once had a beginning student named Harry, who was 72 years old. He did quite well, generally, but one day I heard him playing a tune all wrong.
The tune had the rhythm of quarter, eighth, eighth, repeated four times. Then there were two quarter notes and a run of eighths.
He had played this tune fine before, but that day, he played all the notes straight through as eighth notes–da da da da da da–regardless of the written rhythms.
I said, “Harry, what are you doing? You know this tune. See the quarter notes, and the eighth notes?”
Said Harry, “I didn’t want to waste time.”
Well, maybe this says something about older students. After all, I have noticed that some of my older students allot a fixed time for themselves to “get good” at the instrument. But it’s true for kids, lawyers, business people–there always seem to be reasons to “not waste time.”
The thing is, music is time.
Sometimes I will play a tune like Happy Birthday to a student, with beautiful tone and intonation, but in all sixteenth notes. They never recognize the melody.
Then I play the same tune with the right rhythm and they light up. I even play it badly, with horrible sound and pitches but in the right rhythm. They still know what melody it is, and they still like the song.
Sometimes people get so focused on pitches and tone that they sacrifice good timing, or destroy the continuity of a passage just to fix the pitch of one note.
But in the end, it seems to me, music is timing.