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I'm an adult beginner piano and harp player and the thing I struggle the most with is rhythm.

I have the most difficulty in songs in which the beat is a quarter note and there are eight or dotted quarter notes. In those cases the only way I can get it close to correct is to convert for example a 4/4 to 8/8 and count like that.

One thing that helps me improve my timing is to generate a MIDI file with the score and try to follow that as a play. But my former teacher strongly advised me not to do that. He said I sounded robotic and that I wouldn't improve my sense of tempo if I did that.

IMO I sound robotic anyway therefore if I could sound robotic while playing the song correctly that would be preferable to being robotic and incorrect. :) I think it's easier for me to first learn the notes, then the rhythm, and then try to add some expression on top of that. But I wouldn't want this strategy to become something preventing me to develop my own tempo.

My new teacher recommends me to use a metronome, but that is much more difficult in particular for cases when there are subdivisions of the beat.

So I'd like to hear more opinions regarding the use of a MIDI file as a tool to help practice.

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I haven't noticed a difference in MIDI vs Metronome. Try clapping (or using claves or rhythm sticks) to beat out various rhythms. You need to develop a good sense of rhythm to be able to add expression. You can learn both at once.

It does take quite a bit of repetition to get rhythm patterns into muscle memory.

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I think it's easier for me to first learn the notes, then the rhythm...

I've seen people struggle when they seem to be doing that - it should be possible to think about them together (e.g. as a whole melody) so that you're thinking about one thing rather than two. Possibly you want to have the piece as a whole (the right notes, with the right rhythm) in your "mind's ear" before you play.

One thing that helps me improve my timing is to generate a MIDI file with the score and try to follow that as a play.

There's nothing particularly wrong with playing along with a recording, and playing along with a MIDI file would be similar, but if it becomes the only way you practice, it might stop you developing that "mind's ear" ability. I'd recommend using a mixture of tactics:

  • Trying to play cold from the sheet music (so that the written notes are your only guide)
  • generating a midi file, listening to it a few times, and then try to play the piece (both with and without the score in front of you).
  • perhaps later on, play along with the full MIDI version to check your interpretation. (You might want to double check with someone that your MIDI file is right, as well!)

In those cases the only way I can get it close to correct is to convert for example a 4/4 to 8/8 and count like that.

I think I know what you mean, but you don't have to think of it as converting to 8/8 - it's just a question of hearing the subdivisions between the four beats. Sometimes people count 1 - and - 2 - and - 3 - and - 4 - and -, for example.

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Is the problem with READING the rhythms or with getting your fingers to play them?

If I was teaching you I might approach this by getting you to sing the melodic line - reading the notation would be good, imitating ME singing it would be fine. Then tap out the rhythm on the table-top. Finally try to play it. If it fumbles, was your hand in a position so it COULD play it? Or maybe you have to start the routine over, but S..L..O..W..E..R.

I see little point in practicing the piece with the wrong rhythms.

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