I played clarinet in marching band from 7th grade through my first year of college, when I marched with the Penn State Blue Band.
However, that sentence does not accurately reflect my ineptitude at keeping the beat, marching in step, the ol’ “8 to 5” mantra of 8 steps per every five yards on the football field did not keep me from shuffling. Sure, you CAN do 8 similarly sized steps, left foot-right foot, just like all those around you. OR you can take 2 little steps, one giant step to keep up, them shuffle your feet to get back to the left foot-right foot of everyone around you. I was not an asset on the field. In fact, one star achievement, the highlight of my marching band career, was when I was chosen to march (ahem, shuffle) off the field in the opposite direction of the rest of the Blue Band because they only needed x + 1 marchers for the first half of the show, and x marchers for the second half. Exit, stage right. Or was that left?
Let’s just say, no sense of rhythm makes for a very bad marching band member. And let’s just say I practiced and practiced and PRACTICED marching around my room playing “Georgia on My Mind” trying to get it right. I succeeded in driving my parents crazy and wearing a miniature pattern in the carpet of my moves for George Washington High’s marching band half time show. (Yea, me and the famous Jennifer Garner, marched in the same high school band. Here’s proof:
Now, more than a quarter of a century later, NPR posts a report about just why some of us can’t keep the beat. It’s because I have a brain disorder!
” Jessica Phillips-Silver … has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and auditory development, and she says there is such a thing as beat deafness: ‘a form of musical brain disorder’. Something as apparently simple as tapping your foot to your favorite song is, in fact, a pretty complex process.”
“One thing that we know about rhythm in the brain is that it’s managed by a kind of widespread network — which means we can’t just point our finger to one spot on the brain and say, ‘That’s the rhythm center’ or ‘That’s the dance center,’ ” she says. “It really recruits sort of a variety of areas and pulls them together in ways that are beautiful and sophisticated, but we don’t quite understand yet.”
After 8 years of piano lessons, 6 years of marching band, 4 years of private clarinet lessons, 4 years of handbell choir and 4 of church choir, I’m better. And I could have told the researchers there’s a genetic link. Don’t ask my dad to dance, and don’t ask either of us to sing. All those music lessons did teach me how to match pitch, at least. And I can sort of tell when the piano is out of tune. (It starts to sound honky-tonk.) But we should have known there was something not quite right about us! So be kind to your tone deaf – rhythm oblivious brothers and sisters. It’s all in their heads.