How to Solidify Rhythms

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to solidify rhythms. I did a video a while back called What Is the Most Important Aspect of Music? I identified rhythm as the most important part. Of course, it’s hard to say one aspect of music is the most important, but rhythm is an intrinsic part of music. What can you do to solidify rhythms in your music? There are many things you can do! I’m going to outline them for you today to help solidify your music.

The essential way to figure out and solidify any written score is to count the rhythms.

Count them out loud. First, you can simply clap the rhythms before you even play them, so you can solidify the rhythm without being encumbered by fingering, phrasing, expression, and notes. The important thing about counting is to count consistently. In other words, if you’re counting a piece in 4/4 time that has eighth notes, you want to count with the “ands” even if you don’t have eighth notes on those “ands.” So you want to count, “one – and – two – and – three – and – four – and.” Count all the beats and just fit in the notes where they land, even when you aren’t playing eighth notes. If you don’t count all the “ands,” the rhythm can go haywire.

Your counting must have the same divisions throughout.

This is also true if you have a piece that just has occasional 16th notes. It can be really cumbersome to count, “one – uh – and – uh – two – uh – and – uh – three – uh – and – uh – four – uh – and – uh.” It’s hard to get up to speed counting that way. Initially, you might want to do that, but then soon you might just want to count with the “ands.” But again, you want to be consistent. Keep your counting style consistent throughout a piece, or at least a section of the piece, for it to really have value for you. What else is there other than counting?

The metronome is invaluable for solidifying rhythms.

You can use the metronome to solidify rhythms as well as tempo. You might have the rhythm solidified, but then your tempo fluctuates in different sections of the piece. For example, a piece that has mostly slow notes in one section and then faster notes in another section. How can you possibly have the same pulse unless you use the metronome? For example, in Farewell by Burgmüller, you have eighth notes at the beginning, then it goes to triplets. You even have a ritard thrown in there in the transition. Take out the trusty metronome so you know how to justify the beat when you’re going from two divisions of the beat to three divisions of the beat. This is a great way to solidify your tempo and rhythm. The metronome is an invaluable tool, as I’ve talked about before. Is there anything else you can do?

Believe it or not, there’s something you can do away from the piano!

You have a piece of music, and you’re having trouble really feeling the pulse of the beat. The metronome isn’t working for you, so what do you do instead? You can go marching! Take a walk and play in your mind, or sing the part that is giving you trouble to the beat of your stride. That’s something you can do to literally feel the beat.

Dancing is a tremendous way to feel the beat.

Just feel the music and make motions to it. There’s a whole field of study about this called Eurythmics. It enables people to get a sense of rhythm by clapping, moving, and improvising, all of which utilize the body as part of the process of learning and becoming comfortable with rhythms. Move parts of your body, particularly when you’re away from the piano. You don’t want to get into the habit of moving around when you’re playing the piano because it’s distracting to the audience and can become a habit. If you need to tap your foot, a little trick you can use is to tap your left heel. If you tap the toe, it can make noise. You can even tap your heel while you’re using the soft pedal, and it won’t really get in the way of the music or the audience.

So those are some tips for you! Once again, counting out loud is important; using the metronome is a vital part of any serious classical player’s practice; you can master music while singing or thinking it in your head; and you can dance to your music. These are all ways you can solidify your rhythm on the piano or other instruments! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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7 thoughts on “How to Solidify Rhythms”


 
 

  1. Hi Robert:
    I am currently working Shubert serenade D957 #4 in D minor, arrangement by Liszt, and there is one section (bars 62 and 66) where we have 2 beats/4 eights notes on the LH and 9 sixteens on the RH.
    Could I ask you to share some advice on how to handle these?
    Many thanks in advance.
    Best
    Dom

  2. While clapping solidifies the onset of each note, it doesn’t solidify the duration, and rests are indistinguishable. An approach I use with my students is to have them — while counting and/or using a metronome — play the rhythm using just one finger on one note — including holding each note for its entire duration, and being sure to release for rests. This way the count is synchronized with both notes and rests. Just a thought …

    1. That’s a good technique! It could be used in conjunction with clapping (which is a bit easier), first identifying the start of notes, then dealing with the duration of notes with the method you described. Then they should certainly be ready to play the music in rhythm!

      1. The “traditional” way is to vocalize the rhythm — i.e. “tah” — which accounts for the initiation and duration of the notes and rests (I’m aware that there is a “tah .. ti ti” system as well). But a number of
        students (especially younger ones) find it uncomfortable to “tah” — so I substituted having them effectively “tah” using the key instead. For later students I definitely have them learn to “tah” as it engages a different part of the body.

        For more variety (I also play percussion) I sometimes have them play the rhythm on a snare drum or wood block — and for even more fun, play quarter and half notes (and doted) on the snare, and eighth and sixteenth notes (and dotted) on the wood block.

      2. Whatever works! Clapping is useful even though it doesn’t account for how long notes are held. But it’s a good first step in figuring out rhythms.

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