Investigation into Rhythmic Abilities: rhythmic abilities in children by Rupert Thackray

Music Education Research Papers, 4 and 5. Novello


No.4’s 47 pages about students and no.5’s 116 about school children demonstrate, clearly enough, the existence of a general factor of rhythmic ability, fully formed at about 15, and better indicated by performance than perception. They include an interest­ing but undeveloped parallel between the rhythmic aptitudes of instrumentalists and dancers. These results are progressive if not revolutionary; the testing material has been shrewdly and inventively devised, administered and presented; the bibliography speaks volumes for the author’s background reading.

   But the discovery of all these qualities needs a research project of its own. The basic confusion about what the (or any) hypothesis actually is (see no.4, pp.7, 8, 45; no.5, pp.80, 81) would make a Popper explode. This happens because a quite refreshing first draft has been inflated into “papers”, as if aiming at a definitive report. Papers are nothing if not readable; but here the prose is among the cons. It was decided, it was thought, it was felt, passim; as if anyone could express an active concern in the passive voice. Again: “one of the most frequent observations was the apparent inability of some subjects to make crisp staccato movements. An examination of the test records reveals many such cases”. This entirely typical excerpt takes 17 words to say “often”. An examination of the text reveals far too many such pages, which obviously required radical revision. I see the series has a general editor; but I think it could do with a particular one as well.

   The present apparatus might have been designed to extinguish the author’s very real flair, which shines out whenever the wet blanket of pseudo­scientific jargon is removed – in the rhythms and melodies of the tests themselves, for example, which are eloquent of the born musician and teacher. And he in turn becomes almost eloquent when he tells us simply and directly (no.5, p.51) what he did to help four children over their difficulties. Here the “I” – as  he might have been the first person to see – lights up the page, giving a picture of patience, interest, enthusiasm and affection which could hardly be more vivid or agreeable.

   This evidence suggests that the use of rhythm-therapy in the treatment of handicap, now relegated to the 11th of 13 suggestions for further research (no.5, p.82), should be promoted to the top of the table. I am sure Dr Thackray would manage it admirably; and this is a field in which success can still earn rich rewards and pay handsome dividends, in terms of human gains.          


The Musical Times, Aug. 1973 (p. 798) © the estate of eric sams