Searching for Internal Pulse ~ One Musician’s Quest

JazzyElliAfter a ~27 year break from music, yes work and family took front stage during that time, I returned to music performance. I played alto sax from fifth through 12th grade and then auditioned for marching band at the University of Minnesota. As I practiced my prepared piece for the audition I heard one of the other 20 some alto sax players who were auditioning for one final spot saying something to the effect of, “Listen to that guy. Why are we even trying out?”

I walked into the audition with supreme confidence. Hadn’t I played four solos in the Senior Smash concert at a really decent high school? How could I blow this? The adjudicator handed me a sheet of music and said, play this. “No fair!” I thought to myself. It was friggin’ hard! I didn’t even get to play the prepared piece. They thanked me and called the next candidate in. I was subsequently offered a position as a flag carrier. Sigh… I decided to concentrate on obtaining my degree and worked one to two jobs at a time to fund the expense. Music disappeared from my life for a while.

There were no lessons for me during my short musical career. I did save up my paper route money and went to band camp at the University of Iowa two years running. But for the most part, I couldn’t sight read music to save my life. And I had no concept what internal Pulse was. Rhythms, I thought, could be figured out on the fly. I was self taught from sixth grade on.

When I returned to music, I quickly came to realize that I didn’t have this thing called an internal pulse. Or at the very least, my ability to anticipate and keep rhythm was not very well developed. In a life defined by our circadian rhythms, a 24-hour cycle, I wondered why rhythm is such a a hard beast to master.


So now I work with instructors to obtain an internal pulse. I own a metronome that, btw, you can get for free at I even have a metronome on my cell phone. As I study and use the metronome I start to feel rhythms in everything we do. The sound of windshield wipers, the flicker of a fluorescent light bulb, the pulse of the washing machine. Just like trying to figure the key of a solo heard on the radio, I find myself finding the pulse of the everyday life activities. Ever try to feel your own pulse? Mine is around 70 to 80 beats a minute at rest. When I was younger and more of an athlete, it was around 60. That can be a starting place for figuring out the number of beats per minute for a given music chart. I can get very close to 120 beats a minute by humming most university fight songs. <smile>

I often walk humming complex rhythms or even eighth note to triplets and back. I am slowly getting better which is pretty good for a fellow who only practices around 15 hours a week at best and more often around 10 hours. And that thang called sight reading? Well, let’s say that it is the full emphasis of one of my instructors.

About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Seattle Solid GOLD Big Band (formerly the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra), and enjoy time with family and friends.
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