New practical means to cope with very difficult rhythms

Jan Vandenheede

Ghent, Belgium

This paper presents notation techniques which allow to represent rhythms that many judge very difficult, in a much more readable form and secondly a system for internal counting that may help in augmenting the resolution in the time domain while reading music.

It is a well known fact that some rhythms in contemporary music are beyond the capacity of many performers. Henry Cowell and Karlheinz Stockhausen even abandoned a chromatic durational system they found important and attractive, because they thought the rhythms were too difficult to play. A lot of rhythms of certain post-serial composers are known to be extremely difficult and are by many considered impossible to perform the way they are notated. I have even heard remarks in that sense by the distinguished composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.

Many musicians have a tendency to perform these difficult rhythms by doing something rather approximate. Basic to my approach is to notate difficult rhythms relative to much simpler ones and to specify where necessary the deviations relative to these simpler rhythms. An important notation technique is to specify these deviations by means of grace notes used in a unconventional way. Most professional musicians are very familiar with grace notes and have a clear feeling of the differences in their durations. Frequently, however, they do not know very well how long these small notes last, e.g., in milliseconds. With current music technology this problem can be solved quite efficiently.

In order to increase the time resolution during reading, a system for internal counting that exploits what one usually calls double and triple tonguing is proposed. By changing the vowel during successive subparts of these patterns (e.g., ti-ki-ta-ka-to-ko-tu-ku-t-k) a musician can know more easily where he is in a beat.