Approaching Rhythmic Challenges – Practising the Piano

Many musicians struggle with rhythm from time to time – we pianists are faced with many situations where one hand is required to play in one subdivision of the beat at the same time as the other hand has to play in another. Polyrhythms (2 against 3, 3 against 4, and so on) are commonplace in music from the 19th century onwards.

solving rhythmic problems

To help solve problems like this we need to be able to set a steady pulse and internalise it as we play, pushing and pulling according to the natural ebb and flow that all music requires. This is vastly different from playing metronomically, since no performance of anything is going to conform to an unbending metronomic beat. While a certain amount of metronome practice can be beneficial if you know how to use the tool, too much of it can end up being detrimental.

File:Debussy, the Snow is Dancing, Bars 34-38.png
Debussy: The Snow is Dancing, Bars 34-38

Swiss music educator, Émile Jacques-Dalcroze (1865 – 1950) wondered why conservatory students’ playing was not as rhythmical or coordinated as could be expected given the number of hours they spent in daily practice. He formulated a method known today as  Dalcroze Eurythmics. It has helped many people improve a weak sense of rhythm by showing them how to feel rhythm in their body in a whole variety of different ways. Through whole-body movement in space, we really feel rhythm physically in a natural way. We then experience the same rhythmic vitality and coordination through the smaller, more refined movements involved in piano playing.

Muscles were made for movement, and rhythm is movement. It is impossible to conceive a rhythm without thinking of a body in motion.

Émile Jacques-Dalcroze

Recently I came across a book that will be of great assistance to instrumental teachers – Rhythm One on One: Dalcroze Activities in the Private Music Lesson by Julia Schnebly-Black and Stephen F. Moore. I highly recommend it! You will find tools to help you connect the body, mind and emotions through rhythm and movement.

I will also be dealing with topics pertaining to rhythm in my upcoming Practice Tools workshop. Please see further details below if you’d like to join!


The Practice Tools – Part 3

Online Workshop on Saturday, September 26 at 14:00 (BST)

Following on from my introductory workshops on the Practice Tools, this new online workshop introduces additional tools with demonstrations form the repertoire and opportunities for Q&A. Topics covered will include:

  • How to use the metronome wisely
  • When not to use the metronome
  • How to count aloud to internalise a flexible pulse
  • How to solve polyrhythms
  • Dalcroze-based activities

…along with tips on maintaining old repertoire, gaining speed in difficult passages and assortment of practice suggestions for deep learning and finessing pieces.

Click here to find out more and to book your place or click here to find out more about our online workshops.