American Music Teacher

October/November, 2002

You've Got Rhythm: Read Music Better by Feeling the Beat

One seldom encounters a book of interest to all musicians—this may be one of those unusual books. The concept of the Slap/Clap/Tap approach to rhythm appears to be appropriate to teachers and students of all ages, abilities and instruments. The authors, soprano/composer Anna Dembska and pianist/educator Joan Harkness, have created a unique approach to developing rhythmic skills and awareness by combining the rhythm of the spoken-word (Talking Music) with the kinesthetic experience of Slap/Clap/Tap patterns. Through mastering the material in this book, students will "gain a comprehensive understanding of meter and rhythm, struggle less when playing music from notation, develop a strong internal pulse, and more fully experience and express the music."

Slap/Clap/Tap is exactly what it says—a slapping on the thighs for the downbeat and a clapping of the hands or tapping of the fingers for the remaining beats in a measure. Diagrams are provided for common meters, making it easy to understand and fun to feel the flow and pulse of the patterns in one's body—to get into the "metric groove."

The Talking Music compositions in the book were chosen to inspire and amuse the reader and come from such diverse collections as the Grays' Anatomy (1901), The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), The Wizard of Oz (1900) and Burpees' Farm Annual 1888, in addition to original texts on music and composers by the authors.

The step-by-step approach to combining Slap/Clap/Tap with the Talking Music pieces starts with the introduction of basic note and rest values and simple meters. It quickly progresses to syncopation, eighth and sixteenth notes and rests, compound meter, and even explores double dots, odd tuplets, and irregular and shifting meters. Explanatory material is clearly and concisely written, and the Talking Music is printed in easy-to-read notation.

The rapid pace of the material and the humor in the Talking Music compositions obviously are most appropriate for the older student—high school, college or adult learners of any instrument, in either group or individual instruction. However, the basic concepts of this method can be adapted easily to younger learners, which I have already done with good success. If one incorporates a greater repetition of drills by creating additional text appropriate to age abilities, this approach is most appealing to preschoolers and special learners. As a prior reviewer stated, "It's hard to be too rich or to have too much rhythm." The advanced Talking Music compositions will challenge even the best musicians. I dare you to perform Stravinsky on page 116 without a mistake!

Reviewed by Sue A. Steck-Thurner, Lafayette, Louisiana.

book with optional CD set