The Value of Subdividing

The Value of Subdividing

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Subdividing is one of the most valuable skills a musician can have and is the basis for a consistent, reliable sense of time. Keeping good time is crucial for making music with others – if everyone is just winging it, the collective group will very quickly fall apart.  

Subdivision of rhythm is basically just fractions – the small notes fitting inside the big notes. Let’s start with the whole note. We are going to represent the whole note as a pizza. 

  1. Our first cut will be straight down the middle of the pie, splitting the pizza in two halves. Each half is worth a half note.

  2. Next, we cut the halves in half! This brings our total pieces of pizza to 4 quarters. The musical equivalent is quarter note.

  3. You guessed it, we’re cutting these four slices in half again. 4 slices x 2 = 8 total slices of the pizza! (eighth note)

We could go on and on, doubling or multiplying by 2 to create new subdivisions. I recommend stopping at 8 when it comes to pizza 🙂 The list goes on: sixteenth notes, 32nd notes, 64th notes, 128th notes, you get it. 

How do we use subdivision in daily playing? Essentially, subdivision acts as your internal metronome. Identify the smallest subdivision in the piece (or section of the piece) and internalize that rhythm on a loop. Do this for at least 4 counts before playing the section, and then off you go!

Think of this internalized rhythm as your motor for the piece. You should always feel it going in your head even during the rests. This might feel like a lot of work. With practice, this will become a natural habit and make you a strong, reliable, and independent musician.

Marta Perrine, B.M., Violin Instructor

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