Wheel Method – A Different Way to Visualize Rhythm from John Varney

How many of you have ever practiced your rhythm before? Drummers may be nodding but if you aren’t a drummer then you most likely haven’t practiced rhythm or looked at a rhythm sheet with the notation on bar lines. Typical rhythm notation doesn’t stray far from the classical method of notes on staff lines, there are pros and cons to this method. Pros include generalization from sight reading musical notation and familiarity but the format doesn’t often account for polyrhythms in a meaningful or clear way. This can be frustrating. The ‘Wheel Method’ described by John Varney in a recent TEDEd video attempts to mediate that issue with a layered visual approach to rhythm notation.

The Wheel Method involves using concentric circles to represent multiple instruments and their respective timing. Like a clock, imagine a hand or needle spinning around the wheel according to a certain tempo and different instruments play whenever the wheel passes over them. This way you can add layers to the circle for each instruments being played and you’ll be able to see the timing relationships between them. Varney describes how cultures from all over the world use similar base beats and rotating them on the Wheel demonstrates how switching the accents can easily change the context of a rhythm. This method is pretty interesting and the video does it a lot more justice then words could. We definitely thought of a multitrack sequencer that presents information in a similar way – however linear as opposed to circular.

Watch the video and give it some thought, do you think this is a better way to understand rhythm? Well, whatever you think you should dig deeper and take the quiz and find more resources here on the TED website.


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