Our beating heart provides our first sense of beat. As musicians, we develop beyond our beating heart to sense tempo, sometimes felt as groove. I frequently tell my students that as musicians, beyond playing in tune, with beautiful tone, and being able to play technically difficult music, our first and foremost job, responsibility, mandate is to express the beat and hopefully a steady tempo. You need not only experience it in your head but also feel it in your body. I feel it in my solar plexus, my third chakra. This may be a personal thing but I think a lot of people feel it this way.
The current seven chakra system dates back to 11th century Hindu texts which were translated in the 20th century by Sir John Woodroffe who was also known as Arthur Avalon.1 The third chakra which is located in the solar plexus, just above the navel, is associated with the sympathetic nervous system, personal power, the color yellow and it “relates to self-esteem, warrior energy, and the power of transformation.”2 In yoga, the third chakra is the center of prana, the breath of life.3
Learning how to feel the beat and maintain a steady tempo may lead you to employ a metronome. However, a metronome is really only helpful as a reference to verify whether your tempo is steady. It really cannot teach you how to feel beat or tempo. The beat, pulse, tempo, or groove, needs to be an internal wanting, a longing. Playing with other musicians, especially ones who have a well developed sense of beat can be helpful. Ask them for their feedback. Ask them to play with you.
When I was a senior in college, I studied with jazz pianist Paul Barringer. About once a month, he would hold jam sessions with some of his colleagues and invite his Wellesley College students to participate. Although I was really intimidated by the “real” jazz pianists in his studio, it was an important learning experience for me. I learned that the beat is music’s north star. It is an avenue to a spiritual connection in your music.
“Relate to your music more deeply by feeling an internal pulse.” Over and over again I have experienced this in my own playing and that of my students. When you fully connect to the beat, the music makes more sense and everything else, the rhythm, notes, and phrasing start to fall into place. Therefore, your steady, authentic beat, should always be your starting point. The architecture of the music depends on it.
“Groove with the rhythm of of your life” is especially challenging and important during this time of global pandemic and radical disruption. I think that many of us feel at a loss for what to do next. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have experienced this as well. My suggestion is to keep moving forward pursuing your fulfillment. Search out and follow your own north star.
- ‘Chakra’ (2021). Wikipedia. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra (Accessed: February 7, 2021).
- Allison Michelle Dienstmann. ‘Chakra Healing: How to Open Your Solar Plexus Chakra. Realize your personal power by opening the solar plexus chakra’ (2019). Goodnet.org. (Accessed February 7, 2021).
- David Frawley. ‘Understanding Prana.’ yogainternational.com. (Accessed: February 7, 2021).