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Aug 01

Curing Unsteady Tempo Syndrome

From an article by Clayton Haslop

A few days ago a gentleman wrote in to say he has a
problem keeping the tempo steady when not actively
counting. Of course he’d like to know what to do about
it. And we’ll get to that.

Yet first let me tell you something, he’s not alone.

Matter of fact, establishing and holding a beat is why
there’s a drummer behind every ‘band’, and a conductor in
front of every orchestra – the Orpheus Ensemble
notwithstanding. A good drummer, like a good conductor
compels us to FEEL the beat.

With a good conductor even the slightest glance up tells
you exactly when, and how, to play.

Now, I’m convinced that ‘time facility,’ the ability to
appreciate and manipulate time creatively, is akin to
pitch facility.

In so far as one is able to match pitches one can refine
the ear to hear all manner of subtlety and nuance within
music.

Our time sense is even more organic. We beat time
whenever taking more than a step in one direction.

The difficulty comes when distractions enter the picture.

In music this takes the form of notes played ‘off the
beat’, string-crossings, sudden changes of dynamic and,
let’s not forget, nerves.

A few days ago I was on a recording session for a film.
The music was not technically difficult, and yet, as it
was ultra exposed, there were a few players playing
ever-so-slightly ahead of the beat on every take.

These are highly trained musicians I’m talking about,
though you’d be forgiven for suspecting otherwise.

Ask these folks to subdivide each beat in their head
while playing and the problem would evaporate in a
heartbeat.

What happens is, in stressful situations we tend to fall
back on our most practiced behaviors. If we don’t
practice subdividing at home we will not tend to do it
when put under stress.

And this is easy to see, by the way. When those unused
to subdividing are invited to do it you will invariably
see heads and violin scrolls moving up and down.

A skilled sub-divider will show no such outward movement.
The real goods will be inside, just certain parts of the
brain lit up like a Christmas tree.

Perhaps those of you with my courses will now object, ‘so
why do you want us to physically VERBALIZE the beat, if
it’s all inside your head?’

Here’s the thing. Calling the speech center into the
picture is consciously creating a distraction, a BIG
distraction.

And it’s good to train against distractions as you hone
your skills!

Master this one and you’ll be able to hold a steady beat
in a category V hurricane; never mind when it’s simply
the annoyance of a time-challenged conductor flailing his
or her arms chaotically in your general direction.

All the Best,

Clayton Haslop

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 Marriner’s recommendation.

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.

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