Marking Rhythms (Miss It? Mark It! part 4)

Marking Rhythms (Miss It? Mark It! part 4)

This is the fourth article in a series about “marking music,” providing visual solutions to problems musicians encounter during practice. Our brains cannot remember everything. By carefully and consistently making marks in the music, musicians will learn music faster and with less frustration. This blog post will focus on how using pencil marks can aid in the learning of difficult rhythms.

Rhythms are the analytical, mathematical side of music making.

There is little grey area in interpreting rhythms. They are either right or wrong and learning them correctly from the beginning is critical.

My favorite way to mark rhythms involves drawing lines to represent the beats in a measure. I draw a short vertical line directly over the note that is to be played on the beat. The lines occur in the same place that my foot comes in contact with the floor when tapping the tempo.

rhythms visually organized - vertical lines show beats

Doppler’s Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy

In the above example, a have drawn vertical lines to represent where the beat falls in each measure. Notice that in the syncopations, the vertical line is drawn between the notes. When playing syncopated rhythms, it is important to feel the beat (or the foot hitting the floor) in the space between the notes. In this example, notes are played on beats 1 and 3 but not on beat 2.

Marking the beats can help with complicated rhythms. Consider this passage with a 9/8 time signature:

rhythms made easier by marking the music

from Danse de la Chèvre

This measure is made much more readable by adding in vertical marks over the large beats (dotted quarters). Visually, the organizes the measure into three distinct parts. By tapping my toe, I have kinesthetic feedback to tell me if my notes are starting on the right beat.

This is a simpler example from a student’s etude in 6/8 time:


etude in 6/8

In this example, I wrote in the numbers 1-6 for each of the eighth notes within the measure. This makes it easy to see how the notes relate. We could re-write this measure in 6/4 time with quarter notes and eighth notes to achieve the same rhythm and the same counting.

For the final example, I offer this example from the opening passage of Doppler’s “Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy.” I have added vertical lines to represent where each of the six eighth note beats occur in the measure. You will notice that there are longer lines over the two larger beats – the dotted quarter notes.

wild rhythms, organized

Doppler’s Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy

I am a visual and kinesthetic learner so marking my music with vertical lines to represent beats is essential. It graphically organizes the music into discreet packages that I can see and feel easily. Of course, this is not a new idea, nor is it one I created. In fact, I see these kinds of marks all the time in orchestra music used by professionals. I have developed a system that works for me. Now, go find one that works for you and use it consistently!

More ideas for marking music:


New Ideas for Marking Music (part 5 of Miss It? Mark It!)

Miss It? Mark It! part 5

A new student arrived at her lesson this week with music beautifully colored. Last week I had encouraged Madeline* to write in her music. I suggested that if she missed something twice, she should mark it. (Miss It? Mark It! part 1) We have just started talking about how to practice, and marking the music seems like a good place to start.

Because she owns this book, I told her that it was OK to use color, not just pencil. (The book, my current favorite flute method, is Flute 101: Mastering the Basics by Phyllis Avidan Louke and Patricia George.)marking music

I was delighted to see that Madeline had created her own colorful system to help her with this week’s assignment. In blue, she had highlighted the pieces in the key of F major. The pink circles indicated exercises that were easier and the orange circles indicated more difficult exercises. She told me that it was an easy way to see which exercises needed extra practice (orange.)

Madline’s lesson was well prepared and her practice was focused. I told her that I would take a picture of her colorful music and share it here, on my blog. Perhaps it will inspire others to experiment with novel ways to mark music. There are many creative solutions for marking music, some of which I have talked about elsewhere on this blog. I invite you to find systems that make your practice productive.

Marking Music… again

Update… Madeline came to her lesson this week with an even more sophisticated system of marking the music with color:


Now there are three levels of difficulty: pink, blue, and orange. Key signatures are highlighted in blue and time signatures are in orange. It goes without saying that Madeline was very well prepared for her lesson this week also. Bravo!

For more ideas about marking music, please check out my series “Miss It? Mark It!”

  • part 1 Practical Advice for Music Practice
  • part 2 How To Mark Music
  • part 3 Pencil Marks
  • part 4 Marking Rhythms

How do you like to mark your music? Do you use color? Do you have a system for showing which lines need extra work?

*names of students are changed