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Originally Posted by keystring
Supposing you're learning a new piece of music and for whatever reason the notes are difficult for you in a passage. You work with those notes, in that passage - it could be several measures, a single measure, or half a measure. You don't care about rhythm or anything else. You just get a good handle on those notes. When you have a good handle on those notes, then you can put your full attention on the next aspect.

You might have a tricky thing going on where maybe the LH plays something in between the RH notes, that you need to work out more finely. To begin with, you might simply want to get this "in between" thing. Maybe both of these things are happening in the same passage, so you work on the one thing .... you've got a handle on the notes .... then you work on the next thing. And after that, with a good handle on both, you can refine into rhythm.

Conversely, if you try to do all of that at once, you can find yourself in a muddle of tension, and a semi-muddle. There is a principle, "You can only focus properly on one new thing at a time."

I have seen this taught at one level, for students close to beginners. I have also applied it at my level. Anyone who has heard me play a practised piece will not say that I have poor timing or lack rhythm and flow. However, had you heard me play some years ago, the music was always running away on me. The conclusion that these approaches will lead to something bad are not correct. But it depends on how it's implemented.
It depends upon how long you practice just the notes without regard for the rhythm. A day or two--probably not a problem. For a week--then, along with learning the notes, you've also learned a rhythm, an incorrect rhythm, and you have to unlearn that incorrect rhythm and replace it with the correct one.


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Originally Posted by keystring
Supposing you're learning a new piece of music and for whatever reason the notes are difficult for you in a passage. You work with those notes, in that passage - it could be several measures, a single measure, or half a measure. You don't care about rhythm or anything else. You just get a good handle on those notes. When you have a good handle on those notes, then you can put your full attention on the next aspect.

You might have a tricky thing going on where maybe the LH plays something in between the RH notes, that you need to work out more finely. To begin with, you might simply want to get this "in between" thing. Maybe both of these things are happening in the same passage, so you work on the one thing .... you've got a handle on the notes .... then you work on the next thing. And after that, with a good handle on both, you can refine into rhythm.

Conversely, if you try to do all of that at once, you can find yourself in a muddle of tension, and a semi-muddle. There is a principle, "You can only focus properly on one new thing at a time."

I have seen this taught at one level, for students close to beginners. I have also applied it at my level. Anyone who has heard me play a practised piece will not say that I have poor timing or lack rhythm and flow. However, had you heard me play some years ago, the music was always running away on me. The conclusion that these approaches will lead to something bad are not correct. But it depends on how it's implemented.

I will often do this in my practice. Like keystring says, you do it for discrete sections in music to figure it out. Stripping down the musical elements to the most basic - doing things like blocking chords, or playing outside of rhythm is a good way of focusing on the basic notes. You don't necessarily need to do this 10 times even, sometimes once or twice is enough. As long as you know this is not the rhythm, then your mind doesn't commit that sound to memory.

Of course, this is a very hard thing to do at first, but the more experienced in piano you get, the easier it is. Same goes for hearing music at a slow tempo vs. up to speed. Beginners especially struggle with being able to understand music at any other tempo than performance or near-performance speed. But out of necessity, we can't always play up to tempo right from the start so we learn to perceive the music slower and gradually increase the tempo as we get accustomed to it. The point is, you know it's not the right speed, but you have to learn it slowly at first. It doesn't ruin your ability to play it faster, however, in fact it helps that along.


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Originally Posted by Morodiene
. Stripping down the musical elements to the most basic - doing things like blocking chords, or playing outside of rhythm is a good way of focusing on the basic notes. You don't necessarily need to do this 10 times even, sometimes once or twice is enough. As long as you know this is not the rhythm, then your mind doesn't commit that sound to memory.


That's the crux of it -- the problem is that instead of two to ten repetitions, people go on practicing arhythmically for weeks or months. That's how they dig holes for themselves.


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I have to say that, even when I'm having to practise a short section very, very slowly to get the notes right, I still stay in the right rhythm.

After all, if there is a double dotted chord followed by a very short chord and then a leap to the next group of notes, it makes no sense to me to 'smooth them out' for practising purposes, because I would then have a false idea of that section's rhythmic profile, not to mention how to manage that leap accurately in that short time.

I expect keeping to time has been ingrained in me since I was ten, from my first lesson.....


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Originally Posted by bennevis
I have to say that, even when I'm having to practise a short section very, very slowly to get the notes right, I still stay in the right rhythm.

After all, if there is a double dotted chord followed by a very short chord and then a leap to the next group of notes, it makes no sense to me to 'smooth them out' for practising purposes, because I would then have a false idea of that section's rhythmic profile, not to mention how to manage that leap accurately in that short time.

I expect keeping to time has been ingrained in me since I was ten, from my first lesson.....

It's worth trying in a section that is problematic: just play the notes in order without concern for beat or rhythm until you "get" what you're supposed to play, then put it back in with the correct rhythm. I had a student do this today and it helped them correct the issue right away.


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Originally Posted by keystring
Supposing you're learning a new piece of music and for whatever reason the notes are difficult for you in a passage. You work with those notes, in that passage - it could be several measures, a single measure, or half a measure. You don't care about rhythm or anything else. You just get a good handle on those notes. When you have a good handle on those notes, then you can put your full attention on the next aspect.

You might have a tricky thing going on where maybe the LH plays something in between the RH notes, that you need to work out more finely. To begin with, you might simply want to get this "in between" thing. Maybe both of these things are happening in the same passage, so you work on the one thing .... you've got a handle on the notes .... then you work on the next thing. And after that, with a good handle on both, you can refine into rhythm.

Conversely, if you try to do all of that at once, you can find yourself in a muddle of tension, and a semi-muddle. There is a principle, "You can only focus properly on one new thing at a time."

Keystring, this is exactly my experience. As you say, I need to get a good handle on certain notes, and then I know I am not playing with the correct rhythm.

After having read your answers, I will change two things:
* Before I start exploring the notes of a piece for the first time on the piano, I will try to clap the notes and hear the rhythm - first hands separately, then hands together (if possible)
* I will watch my teacher's videos in an earlier stage than I have done so far, and sooner introduce trying to play the notes with the correct technique.

Thank you, all of you, for answering!


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Originally Posted by Morodiene
I will often do this in my practice. Like keystring says, you do it for discrete sections in music to figure it out. Stripping down the musical elements to the most basic - doing things like blocking chords, or playing outside of rhythm is a good way of focusing on the basic notes. You don't necessarily need to do this 10 times even, sometimes once or twice is enough. As long as you know this is not the rhythm, then your mind doesn't commit that sound to memory.

I like when you wrote "as long as you know" because I think this must be important. Also, that it is a brief thing - not something you entrench into the music by playing that way for days or weeks on end.
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Same goes for hearing music at a slow tempo vs. up to speed. Beginners especially struggle with being able to understand music at any other tempo than performance or near-performance speed. But out of necessity, we can't always play up to tempo right from the start so we learn to perceive the music slower and gradually increase the tempo as we get accustomed to it. The point is, you know it's not the right speed, but you have to learn it slowly at first. It doesn't ruin your ability to play it faster, however, in fact it helps that along.

This is a really good example! I had not thought of how this can relate. In fact, I know that one of the headaches of teachers is getting their students to practise slowly and speed up later.
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It's worth trying in a section that is problematic: just play the notes in order without concern for beat or rhythm until you "get" what you're supposed to play, then put it back in with the correct rhythm. I had a student do this today and it helped them correct the issue right away.

In the first thing I quoted, you were writing about your own practice as a musician. In this last one, you are writing about what you did to help a student. Maybe folks here can relate to this more. Though the first thing, depending on how it's applied, can also be a beginner thing, in the way I learned it.

In regard to playing the rhythm as written - I learned something which blew my mind initially. Namely that the speed of your hands may not be in sync with the speed of the music. For example, supposing you have an endless series of eighth or 16th notes ripping up and down the piano evenly for a long time, such as the Chopin Op. 10 No. 1. Your hand stays in one place for 3 or 4 notes (not static, but it's in one vicinity), then it zips up to a new spot, "stays there" for a few notes, zips up again etc. The "zip - stay - zip - stay" is an uneven motion, while the notes themselves are continuously even. I learned - and also saw one tutorial teach this - to practise in an uneven rhythm to get that movement in the body, and for some reason, when you go back to the intended rhythm, it is smoother and easier. This was with advanced music, and I was astonished at the idea, at the realization, and that it actually worked. Here you deliberately adopt a wrong rhythm, in order to facilitate, physically, a right rhythm. Morodiene, are you familiar with anything similar?

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Originally Posted by Animisha
Keystring, this is exactly my experience. As you say, I need to get a good handle on certain notes, and then I know I am not playing with the correct rhythm.

I really like what Morodiene said about this --- namely, if doing this, to do it knowingly. I think where people are concerned is a thing that happens too often when a person doesn't have a practice strategy and things just happen. You work on a piece that is too hard, you have to fumble and pause while getting at the notes, and this never really gets better - esp. if you're also playing end to end instead of chunks. This happens all too often probably. But if you're working strategically with some kind of plan and observing, it's not the same thing.

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After having read your answers, I will change two things:
* Before I start exploring the notes of a piece for the first time on the piano, I will try to clap the notes and hear the rhythm - first hands separately, then hands together (if possible)
* I will watch my teacher's videos in an earlier stage than I have done so far, and sooner introduce trying to play the notes with the correct technique.

Those both seem excellent ideas!

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Originally Posted by keystring

In regard to playing the rhythm as written - I learned something which blew my mind initially. Namely that the speed of your hands may not be in sync with the speed of the music. For example, supposing you have an endless series of eighth or 16th notes ripping up and down the piano evenly for a long time, such as the Chopin Op. 10 No. 1. Your hand stays in one place for 3 or 4 notes (not static, but it's in one vicinity), then it zips up to a new spot, "stays there" for a few notes, zips up again etc. The "zip - stay - zip - stay" is an uneven motion, while the notes themselves are continuously even. I learned - and also saw one tutorial teach this - to practise in an uneven rhythm to get that movement in the body, and for some reason, when you go back to the intended rhythm, it is smoother and easier. This was with advanced music, and I was astonished at the idea, at the realization, and that it actually worked. Here you deliberately adopt a wrong rhythm, in order to facilitate, physically, a right rhythm. Morodiene, are you familiar with anything similar?

Yes! I practice in rhythms all the time: start with swinging the rhythm in a long-short pattern, then reverse it and do a short-long pattern. Then I do bursts of 3 notes then pause, 3 notes/pause, etc. Then increase to 4 and maybe 5 notes in a burst. This works best in smaller sections at a time (rather than doing an entire piece in long-short notes) and in sections that have running 8th or 16ths.

This is a common practice in intermediate and advanced repertoire to even out the notes and also help increase speed. This is not necessary in beginner pieces, however.


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Originally Posted by Morodiene
Yes! I practice in rhythms all the time: start with swinging the rhythm in a long-short pattern, then reverse it and do a short-long pattern. Then I do bursts of 3 notes then pause, 3 notes/pause, etc. Then increase to 4 and maybe 5 notes in a burst. This works best in smaller sections at a time (rather than doing an entire piece in long-short notes) and in sections that have running 8th or 16ths.

This is a common practice in intermediate and advanced repertoire to even out the notes and also help increase speed. This is not necessary in beginner pieces, however.

Not for beginners - gotcha. smile

It does highlight, however, a very important principle that the path for achieving the final result --- what we want (an audience to hear) --- we may legitimately use steps where our playing does not sound like the final result we are after. What those steps are will differ according to what level a student is at, and there are even versions for beginners.

This is one of the most important things I ever learned, and it made a huge change in my progress from then on. If you try to make the piece sound the way it is supposed to sound, from the beginning, you may be missing out on means of getting there faster. You may also be putting yourself through a needless guilt trip about "practising the wrong thing". This was huge for me once upon a time.

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Btw, the very first time I ran into the swinging rhythm idea was as a beginner violin student rehearsing with the accompanist who of course was a pianist. She suggested that I do that in a section where I was struggling. It worked. But I shrugged it off as in "This has to be wrong, because we're supposed to play the music as written - always." So it took several more years for me to even begin to discover this idea.

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Originally Posted by Morodiene

Yes! I practice in rhythms all the time: start with swinging the rhythm in a long-short pattern, then reverse it and do a short-long pattern. Then I do bursts of 3 notes then pause, 3 notes/pause, etc. Then increase to 4 and maybe 5 notes in a burst. This works best in smaller sections at a time (rather than doing an entire piece in long-short notes) and in sections that have running 8th or 16ths.

If by "swinging rhythms" you mean stop-starts in practicing passages without distorting the rhythm of the 'groups of notes', that's something I do often.

But my take on 'swinging' is that you distort the rhythm of what you're playing (e.g. changing a smooth triplet into a dotted note rhythm), including a group of three notes, so maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean.


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I believe it's an alteration of rhythm, what you are calling "distortion". It is something I learned early on from two different teacher. For example |:| dotted quarter-eighth |:| and reverse it, when that is not the rhythm in the music.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I believe it's an alteration of rhythm, what you are calling "distortion". It is something I learned early on from two different teacher. For example |:| dotted quarter-eighth |:| and reverse it, when that is not the rhythm in the music.
This method is completely natural. Deformation of the rhythm in both directions increases control over it. Similarly, the playing of octaves with both hands, when one hand is ahead of the other, and then vice versa, improves the accuracy of performance.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I believe it's an alteration of rhythm, what you are calling "distortion". It is something I learned early on from two different teacher. For example |:| dotted quarter-eighth |:| and reverse it, when that is not the rhythm in the music.

If that's what you and Morodiene mean, that's something I never do.

When practising a sequence of 16th notes (or whatever), I'm endeavouring to play them as smoothly and evenly as possible no matter how awkward the twists and turns. So, I'll dissect the sequence into manageable chunks and practise them in isolation (like mindless exercises sometimes, while reading War and Peace) before stringing them back together, but always trying to make them smooth, no matter how short the chunks. Otherwise, when they are rejoined, they retain the choppy rhythm they had when I was practising them.

If the passage was in uneven notes in the score, again I'll keep them that way when chunks are chopped off for individual attention.


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Originally Posted by Nahum
Originally Posted by keystring
I believe it's an alteration of rhythm, what you are calling "distortion". It is something I learned early on from two different teacher. For example |:| dotted quarter-eighth |:| and reverse it, when that is not the rhythm in the music.
This method is completely natural. Deformation of the rhythm in both directions increases control over it. Similarly, the playing of octaves with both hands, when one hand is ahead of the other, and then vice versa, improves the accuracy of performance.

Thank you for your input on this. I have found this fascinating. Getting more sides to this is amazing.

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The idea that someone can't do two things at once, one of the arguments given for first just trying to play the notes and then adding the rhythm, is false IMO. If that was true then pianists couldn't play hands together from the start when learning a piece or make an attempt to use reasonable fingering when learning a piece.

I think it's extremely important to make every attempt to play the notes and rhythm correctly from the very first time one goes through a piece. Of course, unless one is playing a piece whose difficulty is far below one's level one will not succeed with 100% accuracy doing this. If one reaches a place in the score that has particularly difficult notes or rhythms one just works that part out separately which may mean hands separately or just worrying about getting the notes in some chord correct, etc.

If one cannot at least play some of the piece with the correct notes AND rhythm without separating those two then one is working on a piece that's too difficult or needs to go back and learn basic things about reading notes and/or rhythm.

The idea that it's inevitable that one learns incorrectly is false.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The idea that someone can't do two things at once, one of the arguments given for first just trying to play the notes and then adding the rhythm, is false IMO.

The principle, which is one in pedagogy, involves learning to do two new things at once. What Morodiene, and Nahum, and I, have laid out are things that work, and they work well. Two are teachers / performers. Nahum has just explained other sides of it. We have different practice devices at our disposal, to apply judiciously where it is apt to do so.

Are you actually writing about what we are discussing, or something different? smile


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I think it's extremely important to make every attempt to play the notes and rhythm correctly from the very first time one goes through a piece.

Why, when learning a new piece of music, would one go through it in the first place? Also, are proposing that this be done a tempo? (I'm thinking of several common principles of practice here).

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If one cannot at least play some of the piece with the correct notes AND rhythm without separating those two then one is working on a piece that's too difficult or needs to go back and learn basic things about reading notes and/or rhythm.

That is probably true.

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The idea that it's inevitable that one learns incorrectly is false.

The idea actually was that when the OP was working on his music in stages, he thought he was practising incorrect things, and thus "incorrectly". Depending on how it was done, it may possibly have been done "correctly" if if in the first working out, the rhythm was not the final desired rhythm. This is similar to the fact that when you do slow practice, your tempo is in essence "incorrect", but nobody would think of it this way. wink

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Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by Morodiene
Yes! I practice in rhythms all the time: start with swinging the rhythm in a long-short pattern, then reverse it and do a short-long pattern. Then I do bursts of 3 notes then pause, 3 notes/pause, etc. Then increase to 4 and maybe 5 notes in a burst. This works best in smaller sections at a time (rather than doing an entire piece in long-short notes) and in sections that have running 8th or 16ths.

This is a common practice in intermediate and advanced repertoire to even out the notes and also help increase speed. This is not necessary in beginner pieces, however.

Not for beginners - gotcha. smile

It does highlight, however, a very important principle that the path for achieving the final result --- what we want (an audience to hear) --- we may legitimately use steps where our playing does not sound like the final result we are after. What those steps are will differ according to what level a student is at, and there are even versions for beginners.

This is one of the most important things I ever learned, and it made a huge change in my progress from then on. If you try to make the piece sound the way it is supposed to sound, from the beginning, you may be missing out on means of getting there faster. You may also be putting yourself through a needless guilt trip about "practising the wrong thing". This was huge for me once upon a time.
I don't think anyone has a problem with working in layers to work through problem areas; few people incorporate everything (notes, rhythm, pedal, dynamics, tempo, etc) from the get-go. But notes and rhythm are so fundamental that they deserve attention from the start. Doing a lot of repetitions of the whole piece without regard to rhythm runs a very real danger of baking in poor rhythm (poor counting). It can be corrected, usually, but routinely and repeatedly neglecting note lengths and rhythm can become a bad habit that can be difficult to undo.
Originally Posted by Animisha
.... So I don't even try, but I start with the notes. I try to also take the length of notes into account, but if I need two seconds each for four eighth notes, I am not going to sit and wait for eight seconds with my finger on the key for the half note. When I more or less can play the notes, I try to integrate rhythm. Only when I can do this, more or less (still making mistakes though), I can start to think about technique.

So when learning a new piece, I do a lot of repetitions with the wrong rhythm, wrong technique and wrong dynamics, before I am able to play the whole piece more or less correctly - and then usually, way too slow.
I think this is unavoidable for beginners. Or am I mistaken?


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Nice posts Keystring.

As a beginner, it is all about incremental improvements/layering of techniques/dynamics/pedaling/speed/rhythm/sightreading. Heck, there was no way I had all these accomplished in first few years. Speed I let go if I can’t play it well. I am okay with this, as I noticed I am improving over the years. And where you are in life. I had a lot of stress/trauma at the start, and that added unnecessary resistance. My teacher likes to use Bach as a teaching tool. I have learnt new techniques with each piece. I laugh at how I was playing in the earlier pieces, and I am a lot happier where I am now. Being honest with yourself and work on those difficult areas: my teacher is great at pointing where I need to focus on. Work with feedback. Ignoring feedbacks and not working on those areas pointed out would be detrimental imho.

As long as you have passion and joy...you are doing great and take some of the advice/insights from here. You are not alone


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