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Combining Tonal Patterns and Rhythm Patterns in “Real” Music

Lesson Summary

Up to this point, we have had an introduction to reading tonic and dominant patterns, learned to read macrobeats and microbeats in duple and triple meters, as well as tonic major tonic patterns in two DO-signatures. Reading Benchmarks combine tonal patterns and rhythm patterns into “real” music. That is to say, tonal patterns and rhythm patterns are no longer isolated, but are combined as they would be when coming across music notation “out in the wild.”

We will use a three step process to break the song apart, and put it back together again.


Step 1 - Analyze the song rhythmically.


Step 2 - Analyze the song tonally.


Step 3 - Put the parts together, and read the song in its entirety.
Step 1: Rhythm Analysis

First, identify the meter.
• Is it duple or triple? Are you seeing DU DEs or DU DA DIs?
• If you are seeing DU DEs, the music is in duple meter. If you are seeing DU DA DIs, the music is in triple meter.

In the example above, we are seeing DU DEs, so it’s a pretty good bet that this song is in duple meter. If we look at the time signature, our suspicions are confirmed, and it is indeed in duple meter.

Next, remind yourself of the rhythm syllables representing macrobeats and microbeats in the meter of the piece of music.

• Macrobeats in duple meter are “DU, DU, DU, DU.”
• Microbeats in duple meter are “DU DE, DU DE, DU DE, DU DE.”

Then, look at the notation, and confirm what notes represent the macrobeats and microbeats. In these early examples, there is no variation, but when you read in different time signatures, different notes will represent macrobeats and microbeats.

Scan the entire piece for familiar rhythm patterns. All of the rhythm patterns will be based on previously learned rhythm cells. Isolate any difficult rhythm pattern, and “sound out” the word.

Finally, chant the rhythm of the song using rhythm syllables.

Step 2: Tonal Analysis

First, identify where DO is on the staff. In the early examples, that will be quite easy because each piece will always start and end on DO. The key signature tells you where DO is.

Next, you’ll need to identify the tonality. Since I’ve told you that it starts and ends on DO, you can assume it’s likely major tonality. Play the resting tone for the key of the exercise using a keyboard, ukulele, or a Smartphone app.

Once you know what tonality you’re in, ground yourself in that tonality and key. You can do this in a number of ways.

•A very easy way is to sing familiar tonal patterns. Try singing the tonic chord up (DO MI SO), and the dominant chord down (SO FA RE TI), the DO SO DO.  

Then, scan the melody. Look for familiar tonal patterns. In Reading Benchmark 1, the only pitches you will see are pitches of the tonic chord, so most of the patterns will be familiar. If they are not, you will be able to figure them out through generalization! Later, we will need to do further analysis by circling and squaring chords, but not yet!

Next, trace the entire melody by audiating or humming the pitches to yourself.
• Don’t concern yourself with rhythm; just notice the rise and fall of the melody. You should be audiating the solfege, but not singing it.
• If necessary, track the melody with your finger on your “hand staff” while you are reading.
•If you lose your sense of tonality, use the tonal sequence (SO LA SO FA MI RE TI DO) or the first four harmonic patterns as a problem-solving tool.

Step 3: Read the Song

Now that you have done your preliminary tonal and rhythmic analysis, it’s time to read the song. First, pause and take a full audiation breath.
Then, set yourself a reasonable tempo, and sing the song (pitches and rhythm) with a neutral syllable (“NOO” works well) in its entirety. Don’t stop, even if you make a mistake!

When you are done, if you made a mistake, go back and do further tonal or rhythm analysis to isolate the troubled areas and do some problem-solving. Then, read it again.

Finally, it can be useful to also sing the melody using tonal solfege while singing the correct rhythms or rhythm solfege while singing the correct pitches. When we are reading music out in the wild, we will usually either have words to sing, or be playing an instrument, but this step is a useful thing to do.

Try steps one, two and three on the example below.

Click on the Reading Benchmark resource below to try many more examples. 

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