Add improvised pizzazz to the easy rhythms found in beginner tunes by asking your students to identify “dot spots.” These are places where students can substitute dotted rhythms in place of quarter notes.
Listen and Play
It’s not necessary for students to know how to read dotted rhythms prior to exploring their use in improvisation. Part of the genius of Shinichi Suzuki’s innovative teaching was his realization that young musicians can play more complex music than they can read if they know how it is supposed to sound. Take advantage of this by teaching your students to play London Bridge by rote.
Next, help your students figure out how to recreate the sound of the dot spots in measures 1 and 5 in another simple quarter note based-tune.
For example, Yankee Doodle could be transformed from this…
With apologies to Beethoven (who in the name of creativity, probably wouldn’t mind), here is one possibility of how Ode to Joy could be re-imagined with dot spots:
It’s Their Choice
Next, ask your students to find additional places where dotted rhythms might sound good. If they happen to choose measure 4, take advantage of the teachable moment by pointing out that Beethoven himself wrote a dotted rhythm here that is often simplified in beginning arrangements.
Help your students substitute dotted rhythms on several tunes for the next few lessons. In addition to enjoying the creative exploration, when your students encounter a written dotted rhythm, they’ll already know how to play it.
It’s so important for students to understand that they have choices; that music is a flexible, living art form. As with any creative idea, if students dislike the sound of an improvised dot spot, help them find another or go back to playing the rhythms on the page with a new understanding of why they were written that way. The simple, creative experimentation you work on together now will eventually lead to more expressive performances down the road.
Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey.
(This article first appeared in my Create and Motivate column in Clavier Companion magazine.)