The Reality of Rhythm

I tend to be the kind of guy who listens to songs over-and-over, especially when I’m really into a tune. When I say over-and-over, I mean like twenty times/day over-and-over at the expense of listening to anything else. So the other day, I was out for a run and one of the tunes I’ve really been diggin’ poped up on my iPod. While I as running, I noticed the song sounded a lot slower than it had on previous listens. I’ve noticed this phenomenon before, songs sometimes sound slower or faster depending on what I’m doing in a given moment, or my environment, or what the energy is in a certain room. Most of the time it has to do with the song I’ve listened to just prior, especially on an iPod set to random like mine is during a run.

It got me thinking about the Reality of Rhythm (I think I’m going to trademark this term). This idea that time is fluid and rhythm is a part of that fluidity. In other words, does the song really sound slower, or is it actually slower in certain situations? I know this sounds like heady stuff, and God knows I’m no scientist. But this idea of perception is a powerful one. Ever count off a tune at gig at the perfect tempo only to hear it later (if you recorded the gig) and have it sound fast? Happens all the time, right? Perhaps it was the perfect tempo in that moment, perhaps everyone in attendance heard it just as you intended, and only later, in your quiet place, did it sound faster (or slower). Maybe everything sounds faster in your quiet place because that’s the tempo at which music plays in one’s quiet place. Maybe it’s impossible to hear the recording as it was experienced live? Perhaps the Reality of Rhythm dictates that in order to hear a tempo the same every time, we must be surrounded by everything that makes up that tempo; the number of people in a room, the day of the week, the weather outside, the song that came before it.

All of this brings up perception. Perception about our sound, our ability, our perceived contribution in a musical moment, even perceptions in the way a stage is set up. The monitor sound may be vastly different for you than it does for the guitarist. Do things sound different on your side of the stage? Is the drummer hearing the tempo in the same place? Is your Reality of Rhythm on the same page as everyone else? Maybe not. Maybe you had Cheerios for breakfast and the drummer had Corn Flakes. Maybe the piano player forgot to eat lunch and all of it is effecting everyone’s Rhythm Reality. This is all to say that there are elements in music that run deeper than our instruments and playing the right note at the right time.

It’s helpful to be aware of these more mysterious aspects when evaluating our own playing. Maybe you don’t sound as good as you think? Maybe what you’re hearing in your head is, in fact, not reality. Maybe this is why we sound better in our rehearsal spot than we do on the gig. It pays to be honest with yourself, because honesty is about as close to reality as one can get, and it will serve you well when determining what to practice next, and what needs work. Keep it as real as possible, is what I’m saying, because you never know, the Reality of Rhythm may just be playing tricks on you.


About the Author

Chris TarryChris Tarry is a four-time Juno Award winning musician and a writer. His debut collection of short fiction, “How To Carry Bigfoot Home,” is out now from Red Hen Press (March 2015). He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with his wife Michelle, daughter Chloe, and son Lucas. Connect with Chris on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.View all posts by Chris Tarry

  1. Richard Routledge
    Richard Routledge04-16-2013

    Hi Chris, what an interesting article! Made me think of “Relativity of Rhythm.” I look forward to reading more.

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