Friday, May 31, 2013

Rhythm versus Tempo: Golf as a Dance

Rhythm and tempo are two concepts that are easily confused with each other.  In this entry the difference between the two will be explained and strategies will be offered for how to practice playing in rhythm and to find the tempo that works best for your personality and biorhythms.

Rhythm is the steady beat of the drum.  In music this would be represented by the time signature of the piece of music.  In my opinion, golf is best played in a waltzing 3/4 time signature.  That would be 3 beats on the backswing and 3 beats to the finish of the swing.  The emphasis is on the first beat of the measure as we take the club away and again upon impact with the golf ball on the downswing.  Good rhythm is a constant in all great golfers.  When they are playing at their best, you may notice that even the pro's pre-shot routines have the same rhythmic qualities as their regular swing, making the playing of the game look like an artful, effortless dance.

This rhythm, that shows up in everything we do, is a wonderful byproduct of being "in the zone".  When we have gotten out of our thinking mind and have centered in on the trusting, confident, still center of our mind, things tend to fall into a graceful rhythm with a tempo that fits our individuality.

This leads into the concept of tempo.  Whereas all great players have great rhythm, the tempo or speed of that rhythm varies greatly from player to player.  In music we would use the concept of beats per minute (bpm) to determine how rapidly we would tap out the beats in a measure.  To practice a particular piece, a musician might use a metronome calibrated to the correct tempo to help them find the right pacing of the piece. 

In determining the bpm of the swing, it is important to note that we are taking about the space in time between the start of the backswing and the moment of impact.  We are basically measuring the time it takes to get from the start of a measure (the "1" of the counting) to another.

The 1-2-3, 1-2-3 of a professional golf swing can range from 75 bpms (Fred Couples' swing registers close to this tempo) all the way up to 120bpms (Brandt Snedeker comes to mind in this range).  That is a wide range of difference in two of the best players in the modern era. 

This difference can be traced down to biorhythms.  Each of us has an inner drummer that is beating out the rhythm of our daily lives.  We walk and talk and move with this unique biorhythm throughout the day without much deliberation or conscious thought.  It is simply the way we move through the world that feels right to us.

Fred Couples saunters through the world while Brandt Snedeker, for example, struts.

Finding your Tempo

There are numerous apps for the smartphone that offer a metronome feature.  The one I use on my phone is the Mobile Metronome app.  I would recommend downloading an app like this to help you determine the tempo that works best for your game.

Once you have a metronome in hand, try this exercise.  Next time you are out for a walk and find yourself falling into a nice, comfortable stride that feels natural and comfortable for you, pull out your metronome and zero in on the pacing of your steps.  Every time your foot hits the ground, that is a beat.  On the Mobile Metronome app you can tap out the beat of your walk and it will give you a beats per minute calculation.

Have you ever found a piece of music that just feels right to you?  When you hear it, it just feels good in your body.  Next time you notice a piece of music that speaks to you on a rhythmic level, pull out your metronome and see if you can tap out the tempo of the music.  Does it fit into your natural walking tempo?  If it does, you have probably found your ideal golf swing tempo.

Experiment with different tempos in your practice.  Take your metronome to the driving range and putting green.  (Ideally, we would have the same tempo on putting that we do on our driver swing).  Go to extremes.  Try going at 75 bpms and then take it all the way up to 120 bpms.  From there you can zero in on the number that feels natural and most like your swing.

Create a playlist of songs that fit your ideal tempo and listen to those songs with some headphones while you practice.

Once you have found your tempo, practice it in everything you do.  See if you can make your movements in the pre-shot routine fall into the rhythm of this tempo.  Consider each shot to be a song that you play over and over again, just as a musician does to master a piece of music.

Incorporate your rhythm into the space in between your shots.  See if you can stay rhythmic in everything you do, including your walking and talking during the round. 

See if you can incorporate your ideal rhythmic tempo into your life outside of the golf course.  The more we get into our biorhythm, the more we smoothly and gracefully move through our lives "in the zone".  Enjoy the discovery process of finding your tempo and discovering the rhythm of the game of golf.

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