As a music teacher, I’ve found it increasingly helpful to broaden my palette of rhythm techniques. I think it’s incumbent upon us to dip into an arsenal of different teaching strategies to meet a student’s individual learning style.
To that end, I’ve gradually put together an alternative to the well-established “One-ee-and-uh” counting system, and I’m interested in your thoughts. Is it easy, awkward, useful, or not? This is not intended as a replacement of any method you may have learned. Nor do I want to reinvent the whole wheel. Just the opposite, I hope it can be an enhancement of any strategies you’re already used to.
I’ve found two deficiencies in the “One-ee-and-uh” system. First, the rhythm syllables for each beat subdivision are all vowels, and they tend to “mush” together when said in succession. Say “Three-ee-and-uh” fast and try to keep all those 16th notes distinct, and that’s what I’m talking about. To really feel all those subdivisions, consonants would be more effective because of their percussiveness. I’m thinking of something closer to the traditional Indian system of rhythm syllables (Ta-Ka-Dhi-Mi), particularly the South Indian vocal percussion known as Konnakol. It would be hard to imagine such rhythmic virtuosity with vowels instead of consonants.
Second, when you switch from simple to compound meter, you have to throw “One-ee-and-uh” right out the window and use a completely different system. I learned “One-La-Li” and “One-ta-La-ta-Li-ta” (you may have picked up a different system). It would be great to have just ONE set of syllables that works equally well in both simple and compound meter.
Below is a set of rhythm syllables I like to use, adapted largely from the Kodály method. You have a nice, punchy consonant on each subdivision, and when you begin counting the beat, simply replace the first rhythm syllable with the beat number. It may take some getting used to, but then, so does “One-ee-and-uh!”
And, even better, you can use the same rhythm syllables just as successfully in compound meter. Try saying them all and clapping along with, and let me know what you think. As with any kind of practicing, try saying each one four or eight times before going on to the next, and see if it becomes fluid for you.