Flat out, standard notation sucks for visualizing rhythms. People do learn to do it, but reading a bunch of flags on ton of notes double stacked on a piece of sheet music is hard.
We keep doing it because it's the old way, but there were better ways (if you ask me) like notes made out of shapes. And even up to the present we've invented many more ways to depict music that does a better job of handling rhythm, but they never caught on. Today I want to show you one of those.
There is a far more intuitive method that ties rhythm more closely to time. And by time I mean seeing rhythm laid out cyclically on a wheel just like a clock or wrist watch. Check out the Rhythm Wheel in the TED-Ed video below. It shows how the continuity of a repeating wheel is far better than darting our eyes back and forth across a linear musical staff, especially since we usually loop beats in 2 bar, 4 bar, or 8 bar phrases.
You'll learn a new way to internalize beats, mentally visualize them, and also hear some awesome music from around the world. And best of all, it's only 5 minutes long...
I feel like I'm really going to have to up my skills in mental spatial manipulation before I can actually apply this clock motif while performing though. It definitely provides insights in terms of understanding though. Especially how you can layer concentric circles to show how various common rhythms build up to produce uncommon ones. It makes understanding how to play them much faster and intuitive. When they start talking about rotating wheels though, I'm out. I'm not smart enough to keep track of all that.
I feel like this would be a simple system to completely get rid of conductors and maestros though. I'm sick of them waving a stick around while getting the lion's share of the pay! I know they do more than just that, but they're an easy target, okay? I'm broke, okay?
And now I know the secret all of you percussionists and drummers have been hiding from the rest of us! You sneaky buttheads have had alternative ways to visualize rhythm this whole time and never told the rest of us.
I decided to start practicing with this concept of wheel-based rhythm, so I tried to buy some bongo's, but I could only afford an egg shaker and a kazoo. I bought Toy's R Us clean out of bumblebee and ladybug maracas though. It's going down!
I've actually recorded with kid's toy instruments before and even random household items. You'd never know after a little mixing. Major recording artists have even recorded jingling the change in their pockets. I've seen nails in a tin can work too. But we can save all that for another time and a different story. Until then, keep practicing and still work on regular sheet music. It's not going any where, hate it or love it!