Have you ever heard a piece with crazy rhythm and wondered how the pianist was able to even begin practicing it? Rhythm is one of the key components of music, and understanding rhythm is crucial to playing songs the way they were meant to be played. While it can be a tricky component to tackle, there are some specific techniques that you can use to help you understand and play passages that may seem daunting at first.
Practicing rhythm and playing the notes exactly as they are written requires a pianist to first interpret the written passage correctly and then to practice that passage with consistent accuracy slowly at first and slowly increasing speed. It is very important in the initial learning stage to get into the ‘habit’ of playing the correct notes with the appropriate rhythm, because once your fingers are used to making mistakes it can be very difficult to retrain them.
Whether you are a beginner or advanced pianist, using proper practice techniques can save you time and effort in bringing pieces to performance level and help prevent mistakes under pressure.
How do you Master Rhythm in Piano?
Rhythm is relatively abstract since it isn’t something you can see the way you can see the notes and play them. Because of this is important to make sure you understand the rhythm before you practice it so you aren’t just guessing what it might be as you go along. Here are three key points to remember when approaching rhythm in a piece.
1. Listen to a Recording
One of the best things you can do to learn a rhythmically challenging piece does not even involve sitting down and playing. It is simply listening to a recording of the piece on repeat. Find a good recording that you like and keep it as a regular feature of your listening repertoire. It would be a good idea to make a playlist for recordings of pieces you are learning or want to learn. Listening to the song ensures that your brain has the correct version of the piece ‘playing’ in your head. When you first learn a piece it is inevitable that you will make mistakes and hear them as you play them, so it is important that you are used to hearing it correctly.
2. Practice Hands Apart
An important point that should go without saying is to be sure to practice HANDS APART before playing them together! Outside of an initial sight reading of the piece, you should make sure you can play both hands separately with accuracy before trying to combine them. This reduces the chances for mistakes early on and allows you to focus more closely on the details of a single passage. This is especially important pertaining to rhythm because it will be twice as hard to figure out the rhythm of a passage with both hands if you haven’t already done so with one hand at a time.
3. Practice SLOWLY
Identifying potentially difficult passages and engaging in SLOW PRACTICE is crucial to mastering difficult rhythms. A mistake that pianists of all skill levels make is playing a piece too quickly too much for too long. Sitting down and attempting to play your piece at performance tempo or close to it all the way through to the end is one of the worst ways to practice. Not only does it fail to address challenging sections specifically, but by speeding through them without fixing mistakes, you ‘learn’ the wrong notes.
If you make a mistake once and don’t address it, chances are you will make it again. This is why you should only practice as fast as you can without making mistakes, which is often slower than you think. By doing these three things you will be able to stop mistakes before they start, building an accurate foundation for your knowledge of the piece. So take the time as soon as you start a piece to work out any rhythms you may be unfamiliar with, and get used to playing them at a slow tempo before playing full speed.
How to Play Piano Faster with Accuracy?
Playing fast is its own kind of technique. Physically, it is very important to keep the hand and upper body relaxed to avoid tension yet nimble enough to send the hands and fingers exactly where they need to go exactly when they need to. Think of your arm and hand as working together. Instead of your hand pulling your wrist and elbow where they need to go, think of your elbow directing your hand where it needs to be on the keyboard, so your hand only needs to be concerned with playing the notes.
In the first image, the hand is moving up the keyboard on its own. In the second image, the area and hand are aligned. This is the position you want to maintain as much as possible where ever your are playing on the piano.
For passages with several fast notes of the same or similar rhythm, a great way to practice is by playing the passage with different rhythms. Since your fingers are not all the same shape and weight, it is easy to play unevenly. Playing rhythms that emphasize different notes help the passage sound smoother when played with the correct rhythm. It will also make you think more about the notes being played and help you get off autopilot when practicing. Here is an example of a passage from Rondo Alla Turca by Mozart. We will only look at the right hand for now.
This is the passage with the original rhythm. Below are three examples of the same passage written with different rhythms. Each rhythm emphasizes a different beat. If you practice these a few times, and then play it through again with the original rhythm, you’ll hear that the passage will sound more even and you will have more control over the expression.
The most important method to playing piano faster is first playing piano slower. Use a metronome to find what tempo you can play a passage at without mistakes. Then slowly increase the tempo, making sure that you can play through without mistakes at each tempo. Don’t cheat yourself and increase the speed if you are still making mistakes at a slower tempo. Repetition only counts if it is accurate repetition, so be aware of how confident you are at the current speed before trying to play faster.
Piano Practice Routine for Beginners Pianists
If you are a beginner, you may have to spend more time on the initial interpretation phase of learning a piece. But the same principles apply, no matter what your skill level is. Thoughtful, intentional learning and practice is what will make the difference in how quickly you progress and learn pieces.
As a beginner, if you are still working to read rhythm correctly, you can try using words that have their own rhythm to quickly understand what a rhythm might sound like in music. For example, for a quarter note, we could simply use the word ‘blue.’ For a pair of eighth notes, we could use the word ‘jello (think of jel-lo).’ For a triplet, we could use the word ‘pineapple (pine-ap-ple).’ Using these words to ‘speak’ a rhythm before you play it will help you better conceptualizer what the notes sound like in time.
The basic process you should follow when learning a new piece would begin with finding a recording of the song that you like and make a point to listen to it at least 3-4 times a day.
Then you should sit down and mark any passages in the sheet music that look challenging, and note any rhythms or markings you are unfamiliar with. Once you know the potential trouble spots work through those passages on your own or with a teacher so that you completely understand what is going on in the music.
Once you have done all that you can begin practicing your new song. Here is a basic routine to do this.
- Pick a passage to work on and speak the rhythm to yourself.
- Speak the rhythm while tapping your hand to it. Also try humming the melody while tapping the rhythm.
- Repeat this process with both hands together after doing it hands apart.
- When you have the rhythm down, practice each hand by itself, taking care to play the correct notes and rhythm.
- Practice any difficult passages slowly with a metronome and increase speed as you get more comfortable with them. Do this hands apart first and then repeat playing hands together.
- Once you have repeated this process for all the sections of the piece, you can put them together to play the whole song through. Take care not to play it through too much, and only after first completing thoughtful, focused practice.
Piano Practice Routine for Intermediate to Advanced Pianists
As an intermediate player, you may have to spend less time figuring out what the notes and rhythms on a page are and more time actually training your fingers to play what is written. The basic process of approaching a new piece is the same as for beginners. But as a more advanced players, you will likely need a greater variety of practice techniques to address a broader range of issues.
Here is a general routine to tackle more challenging pieces.
- Pick a passage to work on. If it is very rhythmically challenging listen to the recording while looking at the music and try to ‘hear’ each note on the page.
- If certain passages are physically difficult because they contain leaps or require complex fingering, make sure to address these issues before adding rhythm. Practice leaps separately, and aim your hand so that you are in the correct place before actually playing notes. Work out fingering and make sure it works for you before practicing.
- Once you’ve figured out logistical difficulties, you can very slowly start playing the notes according to the rhythm. Do this hands apart first and then once you are comfortable put them together.
- Start playing slowly with a metronome once you can play slowly with accurate rhythm.
- If a passage is fast, trying playing it with different rhythms as shown above. Be creative and try to think of as many rhythm combinations as possible, taking care to play the correct notes. Then try to play the passage again with a metronome with the original rhythm.
- When you can play a passage evenly without mistakes, increase the tempo. Thoughtfully repeat this process throughout the piece.
It has often been quoted that “Amateurs practice until they can get it right; professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” This is a good mindset to have when practicing. Your goal should be to consistently play correctly. This can be achieved by always being engaged and mentally aware while practicing. A few minutes of careful, focused practice can be more productive than an hour of mindless repetition, so if you want to make progress quickly, practice smarter, not harder.