Article by Clayton Haslop
Over the past two nights I was treated to two very
special musical performances. The first courtesy of the
Manhattan Beach California Middle School string
ensembles, the second featuring the MBMS bands and
percussion ensembles; all led by Denise Haslop and her
gifted second, who also happens to be my next older
Not only was the playing consistently excellent through
both performances, the deportment of the 300 plus young
musicians was absolutely professional, from the
sound-check before each concert right through to the
final burst of applause.
It was quite something to behold, let me tell you.
Now one thing I did notice at times was the
all-too-familiar tendency, by a few, to ‘push the beat’.
Indeed without the firm and steady presence of Maestro
Haslop there might have been some dicey moments out
As it was, however, the little rushlings were kept nicely
Anyway, these little rhythmic infidelities served to
remind me of a powerful lesson in ‘time awareness’ I
received as a sophomore at the USC, back in the day.
The Symphony Orchestra had been engaged by the
composition department to record the score to a student
film. Not your typical college production, upon
completion ‘Fraternity Row’ was actually picked up and
distributed to theatres by Paramount Pictures.
And when it did, why, we all picked up a nice check for
services rendered. It became my first paid scoring gig!
In any case, I was the concertmaster for the sessions.
And when I sat down for the second day of recording I
found a cue on the stand with an extensive solo part to
play. It was fast, rhythmic, and moved back and forth
from 1st to 6th position.
Immediately my pulse began to pound.
Now, as with much under-scoring, the cue was recorded to
a ‘click.’ The click is a metronomic beat delivered
through headsets to the ensemble. It keeps us absolutely
married to the onscreen action.
So there I was, in a new environment, playing to a click
for the first time, with a bunch of young ‘guns’ about me
thinking they could probably do it better.
As you might imagine, on the first run through I was so
possessed with getting the notes bombs could have gone
off in those headsets and it would have made no
difference to me. When I finished I was startled to find
the ensemble playing on for several seconds after me, in
Oh yea, I’d had done more than ‘push’ the beat. I’d laid
some serious rubber with that solo line.
Needless to say, I was DEEPLY chagrined, and I resolved
right there never to let that happen again.
After all, common agreement on the flow of time is the
single MOST IMPORTANT ingredient in ensemble playing.
After that you have dynamics; after that, the specific
rhythms. Indeed the actual pitches can ONLY MATTER when
the former are first seen to.
A valuable lesson.
Now a couple days ago I was asked to comment more on
sub-dividing. Naturally this skill has tremendous
usefulness in developing time awareness; especially so
when dotted rhythms are present.
Take the famous ‘funeral march’ from Beethoven’s 3rd
Symphony. It is written in 4/4, a broad 4/4, and begins
with a dotted eighth plus sixteenth pickup. Usually a
conductor will give a one beat preparation – beat 3 in
this case – before the music begins.
Now even as the conductor gives this indication I will be
subdividing the beat in my head into 4 subdivisions;
‘three-ee-and-ah.’ When he or she arrives at beat four,
where I begin to play, I do the same; four-ee-and-uh.
These syllables, by the way, are conventions for
subdividing in sixteenth notes. Eighth note subdivisions
are simply ‘one-and, two-and, etc.’
Now, you may be surprised that I sub-divide the prep
beat. After all, how am I to know EXACTLY how fast it
Yet doing so gets me immediately involved, ‘proactive’ is
the newly coined word, in the flow of time. As I follow
the baton through space I make minor adjustments to the
flow of subdivisions, if necessary.
And by the time I enter with my first note I’m as dialed
into the time flow as the conductor himself; I know
precisely where to place the sixteenth within that fourth
I do recognize that ‘verbalizing the beats’, and
subdivisions of beats, whether in your head or out loud,
is a challenge. And it can be frustrating to do it AND
to hold yourself to a proscribed flow of time,
particularly when you are first learning a piece of
This is why I teach, in the practice room, to first play
WITHOUT regard to tempo. The most important thing in
this practice is to put a verbal LABEL to each and EVERY
beat. If you need to stretch a beat way out of
proportion to get it out, by all means do so.
And keep doing it until you know how the music lays on
the time-line like you know the back of your hand; even
Once you’ve made a habit of knowing time this way, why,
you’ll have a connection to the flow of music you can
‘take to the bank’ all day long.
All the best,
P.S. Again, with ALL my programs and courses you will
find me encouraging and encouraging you to this habit.
Clayton Haslop made his professional solo debut at age 20
under Sir Neville Marriner and the Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra touring six major cities of the western
United States. These critically acclaimed performances
not only lead to numerous engagements with orchestras,
they also resulted in his being appointed founding
violinist of the Los Angeles Piano Quartet at
Haslop is active in the motion picture industry as solo
violinist and concertmaster on such films as Avatar, Up,
The Matrix films, Titanic, Ratatouille, The Curious Case
of Benjamin Button, Star Trek, The Incredibles,
Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, and The Perfect Storm.
As a student Clayton Haslop was coached
extensively by the legendary Nathan Milstein.