I honestly don't know how I got by 3 years (wow, has it been 3 years?!) of playing cello without learning how to play and read rhythm well. I know how to play and count whole, half and quarter notes, but anything smaller and it's kind of a shot in the dark for me!
I know some would say learning how to read rhythm should have been taught from the very beginning, but honestly, I don't think I was ready to learn it then, so it wouldn't have sunk in for me. ...maybe...
Although I have met many beginning adult cellists who are in the same boat as I am. I also don't have a musical background and this is the first instrument I've played. ...yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses...
I currently learn how to play music (and learn how to play rhythm) by listening to audios or other cellists and then mimic them, so ALL my rhythm comes from external sources. And, for the most part, I don't even count! ...yeah, I know, terrible! Although I have recently been working on trying to count more frequently.
So how did I get away with not learning rhythm for so long?
Well, when I'm playing with others, I typically try to find a "rhythm buddy" who is playing the same rhythm as I am and just match my rhythm with theirs. Or if there are other cellists playing my part, I just listen and follow them. Or I just "fake it," which typically takes me 2-3 tries (depending on tempo and notes) to figure out how my notes fit in with others and just get it that way. LOTS of ways to "fake" my way through reading rhythm, and all of them depend on finding external sources!
Anyway, it's getting more difficult to "fake" my way through music as it is steadily getting more complex, so I figured it's time to concentrate on learning to read rhythm - "for real" this time!
My main focus this year is to improve playing and reading rhythm, so I asked Dr. G to spend the beginning half of our lessons on rhythm. We began with clapping out rhythms for 30mins.
Ironically I could have easily mimicked what Dr. G was doing (like I usually do!), but then I wouldn't be learning how to internalize rhythm, so I was trying very hard to shut off my brain (which wanted to mimic what he was doing) so I could FIND and internalize my own rhythm. ...still in the dark with a flashlight...
I have a fairly wonky rhythm in the first place and having an external source, which includes the use of a metronome, helps me A LOT!
Dr. G wrote down some rhythms so we could sight-read and work on it. Surprisingly, I thought I had gotten over being embarrassed about clapping out rhythms, but I was a teensie-weensie embarrassed to struggle through such "simple" rhythms. Being embarrassed made me tense up, which made me clap early for most of the beats too! ...um, yeah, that's what it was - I'm blaming it on tensing up! Definitely not from my total lack of rhythmical abilities! ;)
He patiently went through the rhythms with me, but I could tell that he was really surprised that I was having trouble with them. I seriously could have faked my way through and sounded better, but I was really trying to internalize everything. ...I swear! :)
Clayton had once mentioned that he didn't count in his head, but instead heard "ticks" or "beats" like a steady metronome, and Dr. G mentioned that this is what he did as well. Dr. G explained that once I start to play much faster music it becomes very difficult to count aloud (or count internally), which is why it's extremely important to have a strong internal pulse.
We then went through some music to sightread, which I played better because it didn't have a bunch of weird rhythms that I was unfamiliar to me. We were also playing duets and he was my rhythm buddy (same rhythms as me) throughout the entire song, so it was really easy to figure out how to play all the rhythms.
I also learned that notes played on a beat are typically played "stronger," - but of course, that also depends on phrasing. He mentioned that learning how to play notes stronger on a beat will help me with my sight-reading abilities too because I will always know where the beat is located.
We went through some quick phrasing since I'm still making all of the notes sound "important" so it sounds too march-like. So we practiced on open strings so I could try to figure out how to make a note more or less important, but that didn't click for me during this lesson either. Whew, lots to work on! :)