Music is built on rhythm

What’s the one thing that all music depends on? The short answer is rhythm, but why? When you listen to music, you begin anticipating the beat and when notes will come, without rhythm music breaks down and becomes more like noise.

Imagine listening to a steady drum beat or a bunch of notes on a piano played with no set rhythm, notes seeming to come in and out completely randomly, which would you prefer listening to more? Chances are you’d enjoy the drum beat more, because you could start to sway, move, dance, and feel in sync with the music. While random notes even if they sound good, would sound very strange if there was no rhythm behind them. The main thing I’d like you to remember here is: Beautiful notes without rhythm sounds bad. Even boring notes with a predictable rhythm sounds better. What this means for your piano playing is that it’s actually worse for you to play with an unsteady rhythm than to play wrong notes. When I’m listening to people play, the first thing that tells me how professional or not someone’s playing is is how strong their rhythm is. If you had to choose between wrong rhythm or wrong notes, it’s better to play the wrong notes. Obviously, if you can get everything right, that’s even better. :)

When I begin training my students, the first thing I do is start training their rhythm. It starts by learning about note values and a tool called a metronome. A metronome is a device we use to measure time, you can think of it sort of like a measuring tape that a carpenter would use, but for musicians. No matter how steady you think you can measure time, a metronome is more accurate and will help you keep time better. The metronome is probably the most powerful tool a musician has and learning to use it will give you HUGE benefits. A metronome is so important that I require that all my students must use the metronome at all times for the first year of piano studies. Why do I do this? Well when I first started in my early years of teaching I wasn’t as strict with metronome practice, but as I taught more students, I saw the students who used the metronome more in the beginning always played much better down the road than those who didn’t. Over time I saw enough to recognize that every student benefited from using metronome, so I made it part of my standard approach for every student and it’s worked very well.

So how do I use a metronome?

Metronome measures time in a term called “BPM” (short for Beats Per Minute). There are 60 seconds in a minute, so a BPM of 60 is 1 click per second, while 120 BPM is exactly 2 clicks per second, 180 BPM is 3 clicks per second. (This is explained in much more detail in the Piano Planet app lessons) To play with a metronome for the first time, turn it on to 60 BPM and listen to it for about a minute, while you try to anticipate when each click will happen. After listening, then try clapping your hands together at the exact moment the click occurs. You cannot clap even slightly before or after the click, it has to be the same moment. A good way to tell if you’re doing this correctly is if the metronome click becomes hard to hear over your own clap. If you interrupt the click with your clapping, it’s most likely close to being what we call “on beat”. The closer you can get your clap to match with the click, the better. If you can get it perfectly on beat, then that’s sort of like hitting the bullseye on a target. When you can clap 30 bullseye in a row you’re ready to move onto some basic clapping exercises so you can practice different note values. Once you’ve got better at clapping you can transfer this skill directly into your piano playing.

Developing your skill in clapping and rhythm is absolutely essential to getting better at piano. There are or will be lessons, trainers and a metronome available on the Piano Planet app to help you master this very important skill.