What is the “Inner Beat”?

Mozart, about 1780. Detail of Mozart family po...
Image via Wikipedia

by Anthony Godlefski

13 October 2010

Mozart once said that “the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves.”

I once thought that he was referring to rests as “the space between notes.”

I now believe that he was referring to what I like to call “the inner beat” — the duration of the note itself, thus the space between the inception of one note and the next.

In brief, the inner beat refers to the idea that, in measured music (as opposed to chant and related styles), every beat is actually composed of an infinite number of  “inner beats”, subdivisions of the overall beat, micro-pulsations within the larger beat, which gives true rhythmic vitality to the music.

Salve Regina in cantus planus & gregorian notation
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On our first piano lesson, we are taught that “the quarter note gets one beat.”  Clump.  Thump. One.  But how long exactly is that one beat?  In practical terms, the inner beat concept says that it is four 16th-notes long, or two eighth-notes at the very least.a quarter-note is not just, “ONE”.  It is, “One-and” or “One-ee-and-uh”.

This is an extraordinarily important concept.  The awareness of it makes the difference between an ordinary performance and an attractive performance, rhythmically speaking.  It applies to singing as well as percussion as well as string playing as well as the piano and organ.  The awareness of the inner beat makes the difference between a rushed performance and a stately performance, and consequently, between an anxious musical experience and a relaxed and engaging one.

For years, my choral group had been making recordings of our performances  I would sit in the studio of the recording engineer after our recording session or performance, and puzzle frequently-occurring musical problem.  In lively pieces especially, there was something wrong with many of our musical performances, (that is, ultimately, with my conducting).  It wasn’t so much the sound of the voices, or the dynamics, or intonation;it was something else that I could not put my finger on.  All I knew was that as I listened to the performance,I felt increasingly anxious.  There was something about the music that was making me nervous.

I recall that as a very young conductor, I was very concerned with making the music “exciting” — that generally translated as “too fast”.  I also probably experienced a big adrenaline rush when performance time came as well, and that pumped tempos up even further.

Sure, music needs to be exciting.  It needs not to “drag”.  What I did not realize at the time was that the solution to both music that was anxiously fast and draggingly slow was the application of the inner beat.  It would cure them both.

I remember how frustrated and dissatisfied I was.  The answer was to come from a member of our group.  We were rehearsing music for Christmas.  The particular piece was “Carol of the Bells“. It was rushing, rushing, rushing.  “Hark how the bells, sweet silverbellsallseemtosaythrowcaresaway…”.  I would fuss and complained to the singers who were rushing, but I could not fix it.  Then a soprano in our group, Barbara ewick, said, “why not sing, Har-rk how the be-lls, swe-et sil-ver be-lls, al-l seem to sa-y, thro-ow cares a-wa-y.” Cleared it right up.

Later, I had the tremendously good fortune of studying with the great Robert Shaw.  He was a strong proponent of the idea that the biggest problem most choirs have is rhythm (how true in my case).  Those of us who studied with him are well aware of his unrelenting use of the counting system, that is, before ever dealing with the text of a choral piece, we would sing all the nodes with, “One-ee-and-uh, Two-ee-and-uh…” etc.  the music had to be precisely right rhythmically and pitch wise before we ever sang a word.

And to think how many choirs just “plow through” pieces, words and notes the first time through.

I now use a modification of the Shaw system, a pulsating neutral syllable like “Dee” for clear intonation plus the awareness of the inner beat.  (As helpful as Shaw’s method is, most choirs find it cumbersome and often confusing.  This distracts their concentration from the key issue, which is listening to the effect of the inner rhythmic pulsations).

Listening to a lively piece by a great symphony orchestra is a good way to appreciate the awareness of the inner beat.  Great conductors and great orchestras are intensely aware of this, and it is transparently clear in their playing.

The awareness of the inner beat has transformed every aspect of my musical life, from organ playing to piano playing and certainly choral conducting.

(It should be noted that there are certain styles of music which are not so dependent on the inner beat awareness.  Gregorian chant especially, and soulful spirituals deal with the stretching and compressing of the length of notes in a very intuitive way. )

The inner beat concept brings both briskness and calmness to fast passages,  and irresistible attractiveness to slow passages.  May the concept be a blessing to your musical life.

© A. J. Godlefski 2010 October 13.

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Happy Birthday to Us!

Then, it was 1995.

On the crisp autumn evening of October 5, 1995, at a table in the Rustic Mill Diner in Cranford [NJ], Tony Godlefski and a small group of talented, dedicated friends decided to establish a new singing group…with the ideal of bringing bright, lively music to its audiences…

Read the rest…

Now, it is 2010.

9 singers and Director Dr. Tony Godlefski of The Starlite Chorale all in white shirts and black pants as viewed from the back of the performance hall

The Starlite Chorale, caught paying attention to our director, Dr. Tony Godlefski

The Starlite Chorale is 15 years old! Our mission was then, and is now, to sing and bring fun, lightness and joy to audiences around New Jersey, especially to people who can’t get out much. One such place is Cranford Senior Housing, Cranford, NJ. We were there to help them celebrate the opening of their brand-new recreation center, a big room with excellent acoustics.

a picture of the choir arranged and singing "In the Still of the Night"

It is named after Adele Gilman, the current director of Cranford Senior Housing, who has invited the Starlite Chorale to perform year after year.

It was an excellent show — everyone seemed in great voice, we were all happy to see each other after an extra-long hiatus, and the sound we made together was beautiful even to us.

Drummer on left, pianist on right, looking out of frame at the singers

The indispensable yet little-perceived performers who give us the power to shine!

After the show, as is our immemorial custom, about a dozen of us wound up at the Windsor Diner for a late dinner. It felt like Thanksgiving dinner for our musical family.

We celebrate the coming of spring with songs of the Great American Songbook, and it makes the cold end of winter feel like spring. For the coming of Christmas and winter, we mark the celebration of the birth of Christ, and it feels like Christmas all the way from September to December.. (I happily practice my Christmas music on Halloween. I am sure it creates just a little incongruity and weirdness for the trick-or-treaters).

It is a great blessing to me to be a member of this group, and everyone from the director on down agrees with me on this. We, the Starlite Chorale are like a family with no borders, bound together with love of music. I hope that my entries here will help bring you, visitor to this blog, to come to a show. You will feel like part of the family, because, my friend, that is what you will be.

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A New Era Dawns

The Starlite Chorale. Blogging. Whoa.

Dance, dance, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, for
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he!

Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!


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