The Art of Subdivision

aural skills Apr 18, 2014

Subdivision of beats is the number one way to keep your inner metronome even and accurate.

How often have you been told by a teacher or a conductor to subdivide the beats? I know I was told more than once when I was a student. Now as a teacher, I find myself giving the same reminder to my students.

What is subdivision, and why is it so necessary?

Each beat is really not the instant the metronome clicks, but the space between the clicks. This space can be divided into any number of equal parts. In a meter that uses the quarter note as the beat, 4/4 for instance, we could subdivide that beat into 2 eighth notes, 4 sixteenth notes, 3 eighth triplet notes, etc.

Good so far. But if the note is only a quarter note, why should we be thinking about subdivisions when we play it?

Because it’s easier to be accurate with shorter spans of time.

Try this experiment: Look at a clock with a second hand. (I know it’s the digital age, but you must be able to find one somewhere.) Feel the pulse of the second as the clock hand moves. When you are confident that you have the pulse, wait for the clock’s second hand to get to twelve. Close your eyes and count to ten. Open your eyes on the tenth count, and check yourself with the clock. Do you and the clock agree? Good! Here’s the second part of the experiment.

Feel the pulse again, and repeat the same drill, but this time counting to 30. Was your thirtieth count exactly with the clock? The longer the stretch of time, the harder it is for us to stay accurate.

I have created a short video showing you how to practice subdividing a beat in two using your metronome. It’s a great way to refresh your rhythm and test your coordination. (The first part is pretty easy; the second is much trickier!)

Try it, and tell me what you think!

How to practice subdividing


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