ARTIST FEATURE: From writing for Chicago Sinfonietta, playing on The Voice and Glee, to directing the Metropolis Chamber Musicians, meet Stefan L. Smith – violist, composer, entrepreneur. Here’s a few pointers from him on how to practice rhythm!

1) How do you practice your rhythm and sense of time?

If it’s a section that has complex rhythms, I like to focus on sub-dividing all passage work audibly (In the bow hand) at a slower tempo. Also, setting a metronome to a doubled, tripled, or quadrupled audible subdivision works extremely well in guaranteeing good timing throughout.

2) What are your favorite rhythmic exercises?

As a string player, many of us are trained to practice passage work in rhythms. I start with rhythm A and read my music from left to right using only that rhythm. Then I repeat the pass again using rhythm B, then C, then D, etc. By the time I’ve reached letter F, I can usually play the problematic passage proficiently:

A. One Eighth Note + Two 16ths
B. Two 16ths + One Eighth Note
C. Triplets
D. Sixteenths
E. Sextuplets
F. As written

Tips: Set your metronome to a tempo that allows you to execute the passage well from the start (this may be much slower than performance tempo, and that’s okay).

Take that practice tempo and lower it by 10, and that will be your foundation tempo. Practice the rhythm sequences slowly then increase the tempo using the same exercises to build proficiency and endurance. You should be able to play this in your sleep after doing all of this lol.

I like to read problematic passages backwards, from Right to Left!

3) What exotic rhythms do you like and what can we learn from it?

Besides doing the above, I also like to read the problem passage from Right to Left, using the same rhythms from above (starting from the last pitch of the passage, and reading backwards to the beginning of the passage). This will freak you out at first, but you’ll notice a huge improvement when going back to read the material as written.

By using these rhythms (both forward and backwards with the written pitches), you will train your hands to react without necessarily having to read each individual note in the long run. Muscle memory is the most crucial aspect of having a great performance. Not to mention it lowers your stress when it counts, because you’ve done all of the hard work ahead of time.

4) Can you name one thing that you like about the metronome on

I actually used this site quite frequently when I was younger. It was invaluable to me, because I had a horrible habit of forgetting my metronome in a practice room. We know that’s as good as gone lol. So, this website made it easy to just go online, set my tempo and start practicing. I still use it occasionally for a quick reference while composing or practicing.

VIDEO: Have you ever wondered what a score to Mozart’s Concertante looks like? How about the viola section? Check it out!