How to Play Extreme Rubato

Piano Lessons / how to play piano / How to Play Extreme Rubato

We’ve covered the basics of rubato before. But to summarize: Rubato is a give and take of the tempo; a speeding up and a slowing down without ever gaining or losing time. This is a technique used mostly in Romantic period music – like Schumann, Liszt, Chopin and others – which adds emotion and character to music. It’s only appropriate for some music and many compositions written in the Romantic era can benefit from the expressive use of rubato.

The idea of practicing with extreme rubato is to see how far you can push your music before it becomes grotesque. It’s hard to tell if you’re doing too much unless you can create a distinction between too much and just right. We recently discussed the benefits of practicing your music too fast to gain insights that you wouldn’t necessarily discover otherwise. This method of extreme rubato is very similar in helping you uncover expressive possibilities in your performance.

With many Romantic period pieces, rubato can add a great amount of emotion to your playing. Much like going up and down hills quickly in a car can create feelings of excitement as you crest over the peak and relief while descending, rubato can provide similar emotions in your music.

I encourage you to take rubato to its limits and beyond to discover how far you can go. Once you get a good idea of where the peaks and valleys are in the music, you can scale back the rubato to a tasteful level. If you never experiment, you may have trouble even discovering where rubato is possible!

One essential element of rubato is keeping the beat of the music. Listeners should be able to tap along never losing the pulse of the music.

It’s also important that you never gain or lose time when utilizing rubato. No matter how far off you go, you must maintain time. My father would demonstrate this technique by playing with the metronome using rubato. Sometimes he would get ahead of the metronome – sometimes behind – but he would always end with the correct number of beats.

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