It’s pretty common for people to think they have “rhythm problems.” But what do people really mean by this?
Consider how natural it is for us to have excellent rhythm in daily life, and then go figure why people draw a blank when it comes to musical rhythms. For example, if we were to measure our stride as we walk down the street, I’ll bet our steps would probably be so regular as to be milliseconds apart in timing. If we wrote down the rhythms of our daily conversations, they would be much more complex than almost any music we play. In fact, talking is the best example of how rhythmic we are, because music is so closely related to talking and singing.
I recently had a student who claimed he had a “rhythm problem” and couldn’t play with the proper timings. I asked him to pretend there was a servant at the door, and asked him to order his servant to take out the garbage. (I suggested this because we always issue commands with a strong rhythm…but it is amusing, the ideas that pop out in the heat of a lesson, no?)
He said, “Take the GARbage out!” with “take the” as pickup notes to the “GAR” downbeat. In 6/8 time, this would have been written: quarter, eighth (bar line) quarter, eighth, quarter (see example above).
Then I asked him to say it three times in a row. [···]