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When I hear another one playing a piece on e.g. a piano I can usually notice if he's rushing or slowing i.e. not "feeling" the beat. But somehow I can't feel it while I'm playing the piano either, so I never know if I'm starting to e.g. rush a bit, which is why I always have to estimate how fast (or slow) I need to play.

I tried to counteract it by first playing my piece with the metronome and then without it. It sometimes works for the beginning of the piece, especially if there's not a big variety of rhythms. But after a while or the moment there's a longer pause or a change in tempo I lose that feeling.

How do I need to practice to start to finally feel that beat?

  • If you can find a beat without an instrument, you can find one with an instrument. Take away the instrument and focus on the heartbeat. – jjmusicnotes Sep 9 at 14:36
7

There are some exercises you can try. I'll share a few that work for me and I'm sure others will add (or even subtract).

First of all, it is natural for people to speed up and slow down during a performance. This a natural part of the dynamics of music and we are not robots. That being said we should be able to keep a steady beat, especially if we are musicians or dancers.

My Bass teacher had two exercises for me. The first was to tap with the metronome until you cannot hear it (the metronome). This is kind of meditative and pedantic at the same time. A lot of people would not like this, but he'd say as a professional this is our job, to keep time. He encouraged me to try and memorize 60bpm as a standard (the average heartbeat). He could actually tap 60bpm pretty accurately w/o help.

The next exercise is to tap a steady beat with a recording of a group, usually a jazz group. The thing here is that often people hear or feel rhythm wrong. Players will sometime syncopate or use ploy-rhythms to the point where it is difficult to hear the downbeat. Some Latin grooves only imply a downbeat and it can be easy to get lost. The idea is to catch the tempo and then tap steady throughout the tune, even during a drum solo or breaks. The untrained player may desperately try and catch a fill or some other temporal marker but have no idea where the measure begins. But if you tap steady even through parts where you feel like you are completely out of time you may be surprised to find everything comes right back together and on a 1. This is especially true in improvised jazz pieces.

Once you get experience with this procedure you will discover that what you thought was steady wasn't and you will be more capable of keeping a steady beat in your head while you play, even when you syncopate. Take for example the half note triples in a 4/4 measure. Do you just play a "kind of quick" half note or a "kind of slow" quarter note? You should be able, with training, to feel 3 over 2 or 3 over 4 and keep the steady 4/4 beat in your head while playing the phrase. Persistence is key to getting it in your head, but once you get it it will likely be there forever (that's the good news).

As for starting, do you count in your head and even quietly go through the first couple measures before playing? This is also a common technique for solo performance.

  • 1
    Do you mean with "tap with the metronome until you cannot hear it" that you slowly turn the volume down? To answer your question, I don't actually count "1,2,3..." in my head before playing. It's more like imitating the sound of the metronome with accenting every "1". With that in mind, I imagine the first few moments of the melody and then start to play. – Eti2d1 Sep 9 at 18:51
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    I think what you are doing is good, hearing the melody for a few bars before you start. It will get better. What I mean is that when you are locked into the beat you will not be able to distinguish it from the sound you are making. I was assuming that you are (1) counting out loud, (2) taping at a noticeable volume, or (3) playing something simple like a scale exercise. Perhaps this only happens with me but when I am really locked in, the m-nome disappears. – ggcg Sep 9 at 19:35
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    Absolutely 100% what I was about to write. I used to have trouble playing drums along to a click track until I did just whjat you said above, especially the first part about clicking in time until it becomes monotonous but strangely theraputic (& you can't hear the metronome / click track in my case) . You get a chance to really concentrase on each strike. – user2808054 Sep 12 at 16:25
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    Worked for me on drums, guitar, bass, singing and now I'm learrning piano I'm doing it then too :-D – user2808054 Sep 12 at 16:33
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One thing that has helped me a lot with metronome practice is to imagine the metronome playing something other than the downbeats. One example is to set the metronome to half the speed I intend to play (120bpm --> 60bpm on the metronome). With that setting, I imagine the metronome clicking on 2 and 4 (assuming 4/4 time signature). Another example is to set the tempo you intend to play, and imagine the metronome on the "&" of every note. These exercises have really helped me to dial in and get funky with my rhythms, but always come back to the right downbeats.

3

As ggcg pointed out, changing tempo throughout a piece is common practice. Where people tend to get into trouble is when tempo changes with the difficulty of a section instead of for dynamic expression.

Slowing down and counting as you play (1&2&3&4&...) is a good place to start, but eventually you increase to a speed where counting isn't practical anymore. This is where people often run into trouble because, as we get better and gradually increase speed, the easier parts tend to increase faster than the more difficult ones and it can take some serious discipline to keep this in check.

One successful technique I used with some former students is to slow down and count, but play everything staccato. Continue practicing this way (you can practice it normally too) as you gradually increase speed. The advantage here is that, instead of just trying to play everything a little faster, you only need to focus on gradually reducing the space between the notes. This will make it a lot easier to increase the speed of the easy sections at the same rate as the difficult ones. Once everything is up to full speed in staccato it is very easy to fill the gaps back in with the full value of each note.

3

Try slowing the metronome down (but still playing at full speed). because:

  • It helps you develop your ability to keep a steady tempo;
  • On a faster piece, some brains may find it easier to play with a metronome that is ticking every other beat (or every fourth, etc.)

For example, suppose you are playing a piece that is in 4/4 time and 180 bpm. That's one tick per quarter note, four ticks per measure. But instead of setting the metronome for 180, set it for 90, but still play at 180. Now you're playing two quarter notes for each tick of the metronome, with two ticks per measure.

You can slow the metronome down more. For the same 4/4, 180 bpm piece, set the metronome to 45 bpm. That'll be four quarter notes per tick, one tick per measure. Now it's up to you to keep the time for four notes. When the metronome ticks at the beginning of each measure, you should be playing the next note at that exact same time. Developing the ability to reliably do this is teaching yourself how to play a steady tempo.

The better you get at this, the slower you can make the metronome. You can make it tick just once every two measures, or once every four, and see if your notes are still landing on the now infrequent metronome ticks. It's a fun game to play, and good for learning steady tempo.

I also find that, for me, fast pieces are difficult to practice against a metronome that is ticking every note. A 4/4 piece at 220 bpm is difficult to practice with one tick per beat, but no problem with one tick every other beat. I will suddenly "lose the beat" when playing against the fast tick-per-beat metronome even though I can play at that speed and my tempo is good. But with the metronome at half speed, my brain doesn't get lost.

0

Literally, go with gravity. Rhythm and feeling music is gravity.

Sway to music. Waltzes work nicely. Notice there is an up then a suspension then a down before going up again.

Conduct in two. There is an up, suspension, down with gravity, suspension, up, suspension. Feel the gravity. You don't have to use any muscle to go down. That is where effortless playing and timing comes from.

Walk. Notice as your right foot slightly suspends in the air, the left foot pushes backward then your right foot comes down as your body is pushed forward from backward. Gravity.

Beats are in you and around you. They are the laws of physics. Every motion has an equal and opposite motion. Up defies gravity and down goes with it. The suspension is the turning point. Feeling life in and around you will make you a better pianist.

Go for a walk, swing your arms and hum a tune in two or four. You'll look stupid but that too is part of being a musician: not caring what people think and doing what is within you. I guarantee you will keep a tempo and feel the beat. Music is your birthright. You don't need to do anything to achieve it, just get out of its way.

Bob your head. Tap your foot. All movement has ups, suspensions and downs.

Once you obtain the basic skills of piano playing, quit trying to control it and just let it go. Once you give in to the laws of physics, once you give up control of the piano, you'll gain control of it.

I used to be a stem christie skier and skiing was taxing. Once I learned to unweigh myself and ski in parallel, skiing became effortless and giving up control of the mountain and gravity actually gave me more control. Before I couldn't ski in powder, now I can.

Much like playing from the flexor muscles, playing can be taxing but, if you let the weight of the arm or gravity depress a key and relax the flexor, playing becomes effortless.

Don't confuse uneven playing with entasis. Don't count, feel. You can't feel if you are trying to control it. Any time you use your brain power on something technical, that is less brain you allow to . . . go with gravity. You can't feel if you over think. You can't play if you don't dance. All movement is dance. That too is your birthright. Dance like no one is looking. We are looking, though. The camera on your computer is on . . .

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