One of the simplest ways of understanding a steady beat in music is to listen to your heart beat. Even better yet, feel your heart beat. Notice how it pulses at regular intervals?
It moves at a very steady and even beat (or at least it should to ward off the concerns of many doctors).
Ever notice the pulsing sounds of your alarm clock? Yep, that’s a steady beat also.
This is similar to a metronome that musicians use to keep time while playing.
It is a very steady beeping sound that never waivers and keeps you on track.
Many things around us move to a pulse, a kind of web and flow that we might call the rhythm of life. Without going too far off subject here, let’s talk about how it functions in music.
Rhythm is nothing more than sound and silence organized in time. How can it be organized in time? It is played (sound) or recognized (silence) using a steady beat or a steady pulse.
This is the “time” part of the definition. Whenever you hear a musician talking about staying “in time”, this is what they are referring to.
This is especially important if you want to play music with someone else. Everyone has to play “in time” or to a steady beat if you want to stay together. Otherwise, it will just sound like a big mess and not music at all.
Why do you think there is a conductor for an orchestra, symphony or band? So that everyone is able to stay in time together. The arms waving around by the conductor is keeping a steady pulse for the entire group.
Ever notice the foot tapping while playing or singing? Yep, that is keeping time also.
This is one of the most essential things for anyone to learn if they really want to play music well.
Unfortunately, it is not something we are automatically able to do at birth. We all have to learn it, but it can be learned very quickly and easily with practice.
How can we learn a steady beat?
1. Listen to music on the radio, CD, MP3 player, or whatever you have handy. Practice tapping your foot to keep the beat. Try also tapping your hand on your knee or even clapping. The more physically active you are in keeping a beat, the faster you will learn it.
2. Snap your fingers to the second hand on the clock. This is surprisingly very accurate.
3. If you have a metronome handy, set it to a quarter note = 72. Get up and walk around the room to each beat. Better yet, go outside and walk around the block challenging yourself to walk to faster and slower beats.
If you want to be a serious musician, the metronome will become your best friend. I remember attaching an earpiece to my digital metronome and walking at different tempos between classes at college.
Later, when I became more interested in improving my conducting skills, I practiced conducting to a metronome using a very wide variety of faster and slower beats.
Your body has to physically feel a steady beat on the outside (at faster and slower rates), before it can really feel it on the inside. With enough practice, a steady beat can become deeply internalized at a variety of speeds.
After really mastering this skill, you will no longer need to tap your foot to keep things steady. Instead, you have something even better, more opportunity to really listen.