When we hear the word acuity, we might tend to think of it in relation to vision.   Our visual acuity is measured through tests to see if we perceive things at the distance that they reside (think about the “ideal” 20/20 vision).    The word acuity means ‘keenness of awareness’ or ‘sharpness of perception.’

Rhythmic acuity, or the development of a keen sense of rhythm, is not new to the arts.   Music and dance have been using rhythmic acuity in pedagogical circles for some time.   Here is an example of rhythmic acuity in dance assessment. An understanding of rhythm, its nuances and potentials, can play a large role in one’s never-ending development, regardless of the instrument one plays.

In music therapy, one’s developed level of rhythmic acuity can:

  • help to provide and maintain a consistent rhythmic ground, regardless of whatever else is going on.
  • foster a sense of musical independence, so that one can weave in and out of rhythmic grounds so that they may include rhythmic figures, responses to the musical environment, embellishments, and so on.
  • allow one to demonstrate different feels within a particular rhythmic ground.
  • allow one to facilitate simultaneous visual and musical cuing with clients.
  • become a better musician on all instruments, including percussion

The Rhythmic Acuity Measurement Scale, or RAMS, is a tool that assesses one’s current level of rhythmic acuity in eight different developmental categories.  This tool has the potential to be used  for the music therapist’s self-assessment and development, and also has the potential to be used to facilitate client assessment.   RAMS is a component of the Music Therapy Drumming curriculum.

Robbins’ Categories of (rhythmic) Response (1971) describes one’s contextual relationship to the musical qualities of rhythm (i.e. Robbins “pathological beating.”) Bruscia’s rhythm-related Improvisation Assessment Profiles (1987) seeks to analyze the music as a sound object itself (and, in my opinion, the IAP’s do so in a wonderfully comprehensive fashion!).  These two assessment tools of our field are duly noted for their own contributions.

RAMS differs in that is seeks to create a developmental scale, more so based on objective musical skill sets,and less based on one’s qualitative/contextual  relationship with the music, or one’s interpretation of music-as-object.   RAMS initially seeks to play a role in helping therapists to develop our own rhythmic acuity, so that we are continuing our development as musicians, and so that we are better able to work within the four music therapy methods.  Therapists may find that RAMS can also play a role in assessing particular clients, perhaps in conjunction with the above assessment tools, or with other standard assessment processes.

Over the next few weeks, we will be mentioning some of the categories within RAMS, and giving a brief overview.