What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

Frequency is probably a term more commonly associated with 80′s synth-pop artists and electrical sound engineers. However, it’s not to be underestimated or underutilized as a viable word in other situations.

I worked with one of the more difficult teaching challenges in my experience yesterday at my drum circle. A gentleman joined us with a peculiar short-coming – he had no current musical interest and an unclear memory of the interests from 30+ years ago when he called it (music) quits. I see many people that claim to have “no rhythm.” At face value, it’s true. However, everyone has rhythm whether they recognize it or not. Your heart beat has kept a rhythm for your entire life; surely one can learn to keep one externally for a few minutes. As it turns out, there are some people that this may seem even less possible for. This guy that I worked with seemed to have a real mental block to rhythm, or to something even more fundamental – frequency. In his words, he had trouble with numbers in that they held no relevance. I believe the problem was actually that he assigned no frequency to numbers. In order for counting to assist you in musical timing, one must use a consistent spacing between the numbers. Without it, counting does us no good. I attempted to teach this concept in many styles; visual, tactile, and aural. Each of them seemed to provide a glimpse of what he was missing, but none of them resonated completely. Having thought about it more sense the drum circle, I have some additional ideas of how to get this message across.

For one, utilizing the old method of counting seconds may be helpful (e.g. one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc.). Forcing yourself to say one thousand between every second counted manages to keep many of us attuned to a consistent frequency. There is also the issue of matching patterns, which I think people can more easily grasp than timing. My five-year-old is learning about patterns in kindergarten as an introduction to math. Following this course, I may be able to explain frequency in terms that a potential drummer can understand. In the end, I want this guy to grasp the concept of the wave. Hear the noise of each crest. Feel the silence at each trough. Of course, the goal is anticipation. Without that – and this is something that he struggles with – one can never ride the wave!