Monday, June 08, 2009

The Seven Best Songs To Teach Yourself How To Clap In Time With A Song

Like many people, I am rhythm challenged. Although that's not exactly accurate, and since I strive for accuracy here, I will try to be exactly accurate.

Exactly accurate. That's fun to say. That should be in the title of a book. Exactly Accurate Zachary. Hey, I just wrote a kids' book.

Anyway, in the interest of exact accuracy (note: it's not as fun to say it that way) I will rephrase my opening thusly:

There are those people who have rhythm, and sometimes rhythm to spare. People like Toni Basil or Edgar Allen Poe, people to whom the musical ebb and flow of language and music are second nature.

Then there are people who have no rhythm, people like Mr Bunches, who tries very hard to dance to the music that's on the advertisement for the Disney Snow White DVD whenever he hears it, but he's just off the beat, just by a little. It's cute, but not rhythmic. (Others who have no rhythm include such luminaries as Grimace and director George Lucas.)_

Then there is me. I am antirhythmic, and by that I mean that not only am I completely incapable of catching onto the beat of a song (any song) but I generally end up completely off the beat -- clapping my hands in exact counterpoint to the beat, and causing much amusement in my car, music class when I was in sixth grade, shower... wherever it is I'm trying to keep the beat.

I can't do it. I will try to tap the beat, quietly, with my foot or fingers or hands (and, sometimes, when I'm alone in my car, I will try to clap along with the beat, but never when I'm actually moving)(almost never when I'm actually moving)(quite a bit of the time when I'm actually moving, actually.)(Exactly Accurate!) and when I do that, try to keep up with the beat, I'm always off, and always exactly opposite.

Or so I'm told, since I'm not really sure what "the beat" is, anyway, which might contribute to my inability to clap along with "the beat." I'm just told, by Sweetie, my kids, the people in my music class in sixth grade, my piano teachers, whoever, that I'm "off the beat."

And it bothers me. Bothers me quite a bit, actually, and more than it probably should because I have a great many other talents, talents like "being able to name all of the members of the Legion of Superheroes, at least through 1989" and like "being able to identify, in any given food or drink, whether it tastes kind of like some orange was mixed in," and so I shouldn't worry about being "off the beat," or "antirhythmic," or "clueless about what, exactly, the beat is in a piece of music." After all, if it didn't stop me from playing piano all these years, and it hasn't, then it shouldn't worry me, right?

Maybe "the beat" is overrated, I think to myself. Maybe, since I can play "Toccata in D Minor" on piano, and can play "I Don't Like Eating Gummi Bears" (an original composition!) on acoustic guitar, without knowing how to "keep the beat," I tell myself, then maybe "the beat" isn't so important. Maybe me and Grimace and Beethoven can get along without it.

But then I hear songs and I want to tap my foot or clap my hands with them and I'm off, everytime, exactly off the beat. Which might make me popular in the Southern Hemisphere, where everything is opposite -- up is down, left is right, "cricket" is a sport -- but I don't want to be popular in the Southern Hemisphere! I want to be able to clap with the beat! (Well, actually, I want to be able to clap with the beat, and be popular in the Southern Hemisphere. I'm just being dramatic.)

So I have devised for myself a little course, and I'm making it available to you, the way Oprah makes quack remedies and foolish pipe dreams available to you. The difference between me and Oprah is that my system actually works, and that me mentioning my system won't make Kentucky Fried Chicken go bankrupt.

So, if you, like me, are rhythm-challenged, don't despair: You can follow my simple step-by-step course, below, and soon you will be clapping and tapping with the rest of the world. (Then, once we've mastered that, we can take over the Southern Hemisphere; what with everything being backwards there, I assume that'll be easy -- their army will yell Charge! and they'll retreat.)

Step One: Basic Clapping. Any good program-- yoga, Reaganomics, Lost --- begins with the basics and mine is no different. Our warm up song will help you limber up with some spoken word intros, histrionic vocals, and only some very minimal handclapping once you're good and ready. Let's jump right in with a little one, one-two, one, one-two, as shown in:

You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth

How's that feel? Good? Loose? Well, tighten up those leg warmers (you did put on leg warmers, right?)(If not, go do that. We'll wait.) On to

Step Two: We'll move along slowly with a slightly-more-upbeat song, but one that features tubas, so you know it can't be too challenging. Step Two also has the handclaps conveniently placed in between the words, so that people like me don't have to think while clapping. That's important. Here's Song Two: Speak To The Sky (Rick Springfield)

Okay! We're moving along. Now, let's mix it up a bit. Keep the tempo low, but I'm gonna' throw a reverse at you: Here's Step Three: Before I Knew (Basia Bulat), and you'll see that the rhythm of the clapping is the exact opposite of the Meatloaf song. But don't freak out -- there's a ukelele in there, so that'll help keep things mellow.

All right! Now we're to the part of the lesson that, if this was a movie which had people in a "spinning" class, would be marked by the instructor telling us to bear down, and the protagonist (Bradley Cooper) grinning and saying I can do this before having his wheel shoot off into a random direction and spilling him on his side in front of the girl he's trying to impress (Scarlett Johannson)

What? No, I didn't get it either. But here's Step Four: Lots of clapping and even some math. (Note: We've reached my limit with this song; I can't do the clapping. Or the math.) Here's Elementary My Dear (Schoolhouse Rock)

Now, those of you who are ready to continue to surpass me and move on to "Intermediate," try, if you dare, Step Five: Whistling and ukelele-sounding instruments and clapping and artsy lyrics that'll have you pondering the meaning of them while realizing that not only are you not clapping correctly, but you've also spilled your Ramen noodles on the steering wheel. (Note: That metaphor is not based on anyone I know.)(Okay, it was me.) Here's 5 Years Time (Noah and the Whale)

What, still here? You are a tough one, aren't you? Okay, one more intermediate-level song to work on. And it's a chick song! See if you don't throw an elbow on this one. I recommend moving some furniture out of the way, first. Step Six: is Sea Lion Woman (Feist). What, you thought she could only do counting songs?

I bet that clapping can only be done if you use a knee, too -- clapping and hitting your knee and probably you'd still need a helper. But that pales in comparison to the Expert Level song, which is Step Seven. This is the last lesson, and before I can let you try it, you'll have to sign a waiver...

... here.

... here.

... initial here.

Okay. If you feel up to it, give this a shot: See if you can mimic the clapping in this song. The first one starts at about 56 seconds, and I'd use that time to warm up/notify your next of kin, because even if you master that, at about 2:19, there's a different clap. In all fairness, I should warn you that scientists have been working for years to try to isolate and mimic this clap, without success... and it's driven some of them mad. Here it is, if you dare:

The Underdog (Spoon)

Me, I'm not trying that one. I'm going to go hang with my buddy Grimace.


Demeter said...

This is funny, original and informative ... (I am one of those without rhytme ;)

Thanks for including seelion woman!

Husbands Anonymous said...

Isn't clapping one of the basic life-skills taught in American schools? You have a problem with shoelaces and shirt buttons?
FYI, I personally couldn't be bothered with cricket.
And I can clap with the best of them, but I've never contracted the clap, which is something of which I can be proud.
My older brother spent months trying to learn how to whistle, and I went to him and whistled perfectly before he got it right.
I have music in my bones, man.
Ooh- ya wanna hear a good clap song- the Richard Cheese cover of the Friends theme tune. Try googling it.