Day 11: Beat it

When I get hold of a new piece of repertoire, a new operatic aria, I start learning it by breaking it down into its constituent parts. I work on each element – context, language/translation, rhythm, pitch, dynamics, the composer’s intentions – in isolation. In today’s vlog, I explain how I go about locking down the rhythm.

All the best work begins with a pencil and I’m rarely found without one behind my ear. I use it to mark in every beat of the piece. The wonderful Jeremy Silver, who coached me while at the Associated Studios, taught me to draw in marks around the beat rather than where the beat falls. For instance, in a 4/4 bar (containing four beats), rather than four lines, you’ll end up with four spaces. It makes it much easier to see what’s going on within each beat.

Once I’ve marked every beat, I start drumming out the rhythm on my thighs. You can use pencils, click your fingers, clap or tap your feet but I find my ‘leg drums’ most effective. For me, it’s the best way to ingrain the rhythm into the body. It’s muscle memory and it becomes part of you meaning you’re more likely to remember it, even if the piece drops out of your repertoire and you don’t revisit it until years later.

I use the left arm and leg to beat the underlying rhythm, the bass line, and the right arm and leg to beat the melody, the vocal line.

Have some fun messing about on your own leg drums this evening. Try beating a steady rhythm on your left leg and play around with faster or irregular ones on the right.

Stay cheered, stay healthy and lots of love xx


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