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    Ask Jermaine: “How To Improve My Timing And Rhythm?”

    by Jermaine Griggs · 13 comments

    in Piano,Timing and Rhythm

    This week’s question comes from Sterling about timing and rhythm.

    Sterling writes:

    “Thank so so much Jermaine. You’ve been such a blessing to me. Even though I realise I still have a lot to learn to improve my playing, I’m so grateful to God for the understanding and progress your tips and materials have brought me. I’ve realised lately through your teachings that my main area of weakness is in timing and rhythm, and I would be grateful if you could recommend materials that would help me in this area. God bless you for the great work you are doing.”

    My Answer:

    This is a great question.

    Timing and rhythm is one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the beginning.

    While all the theory can be read and ascertained on a mental level… while you can use formulas to construct chords… timing and rhythm are things that don’t come as easy.

    But here are some timing and rhythm practices you can put to work for you right away…

    Timing and Rhythm Tips

    Timing and Rhythm Tip #1 – Always practice with a metronome

    It’s a simple tool (it simply “clicks, clicks, clicks”) but so important to your learning how to keep consistent time.

    Whether you invest in a physical metronome ($20 bucks or so) or use any of the free online metronomes, you’ll want to make this a regular habit to improve timing and rhythm.

    A site I actually use a lot is www.metronomeonline.com.

    You simply choose how many beats per minute you want it to click at and you’re all done.

    Play your scales with it, your chords with it, your songs with it. In the beginning, you’ll feel the sensation to rush but just be cognizant of the beat, correct yourself, and over time you’ll improve.

    There are also iphone apps that can do this on the go. Just search for “metronome” in the app store and you’ll find some really cool ones that can do quarter, 8th, 16th beats, and more.

    Timing and Rhythm Tip #2 – Start Slower

    I’ve talked about this a lot.

    If you’re trying to tackle something at full speed, you’ll struggle a lot with timing and rhythm.

    But if you slow things down to a manageable speed (using a metronome) and work on getting it at that level, only increasing speed when you’re ready, you’ll find it a lot easier to progress.

    Timing and Rhythm Tip #3 – Practice With Records

    One of the most productive and engaging things you can do is actually practice with records. It will be obvious when you’re speeding too.

    There’s just something about having the full band playing with you. And with our Song Robot software, you can slow down mp3 files without losing too much quality. You can even remove vocals (doesn’t work perfectly but definitely removes most, if not all, vocals) and change the key of an mp3.

    I’ve interviewed and worked with some really nice musicians and what they all have in common is playing with hundreds and hundreds of records when they were first coming up.

    Additional Timing and Rhythm Tips

    Timing and Rhythm Tip #4 – Get Your Limbs Involved

    There’s a reason the band conductor tells you to tap your feet while you play.

    Let the body feel the rhythm.

    In fact, this is a great thing to do away from your piano. Just set the metronome at any given tempo and tap your feet. You can snap your fingers if you want.

    Heck, if you really want to get involved, you can do Michael Jackson’s step and snap move in “Beat It.

    You’ll find musicians like Javad Day (in our Musician Breakthrough series) bobbing their heads. Of course, this is for show when you really get to a professional level but in the beginning, really feeling the music like this can help.

    Timing and Rhythm Tip #5 – Mute Technique

    Along the lines of playing with records (you can do this with a metronome too), turn it into a little timing and rhythm game.

    This involves muting your reference device (record, metronome, iphone app) at a certain random point and then bringing it back in to see if you’ve kept the beat.

    This need not get carried away. You don’t have to be playing a full song.

    You can simply be playing a C major chord on every beat.

    But at some point, you mute the metronome and you keep playing that chord in time. A few seconds later, you unmute the metronome to see if you’re still on beat.

    This is easy on most computers. Just go to the metronome site above, select a bmp (beats per minute) and then let it click for a while. Tap your foot along with it to get the tempo in your system. Then for a good period of time, play any chord along with it. You can play on every beat… you can play on every other beat… it’s up to you.

    Then with your left hand, simply press the mute button on your computer (usually this is near a convenient volume control area on your keyboard) or speakers. But keep playing the chord in your right hand. Then, a few seconds later (don’t wait too long), bring back the metronome and see how far you’re off, if any.

    The longer you can stay on beat without a metronome, the better your sense of timing and rhythm.

    You can also do this with a clock. By nature, the “seconds” hand on a clock moves at 60 beats per minute. Think about it… How many seconds are in a minute? Answer = 60. That’s why some band conductors can simply look at their watch to estimate the beats per minute of a song about to be performed.

    Timing and Rhythm Advice

    At the end of the day, better timing truly comes with “time.”

    I know you get tired of me saying this but “repetition is the mother of skill.”

    Some people have a great sense of time and rhythm. Others have to work doubly to produce the same results. But that’s ok — be persistent and you’ll get there.

    What you once had to focus on will become natural over time. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. But you can’t give up early. Good timing and rhythm don’t come over night — but one thing that doesn’t fail is they come!

    Related posts:

    1. 5 Ways To Improve Your Left Hand
    2. Are you using the 6 P’s to improve your practicing?
    3. 12-Bar Blues Chord Pattern
    4. Hear and Play Jazz 101: Exploring Rhythm In Depth (Left Hand)
    5. Ask Jermaine: “The key to proper piano chord fingering”
    6. Hear And Play Jazz 101: How To Play Rhythm and Melody

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    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Fiifi

    Great article, Jermaine! God bless!!

    Reply

    2 Nswana

    Hi bro!! I have had alot of difficulty in getting the song robot because our internet connectivity is very slow. Can you please provide a link which can direct me straight to the software. I really need it.

    Reply

    3 Amalia

    Really appreciate your comment, very instructive and uplifting. I had already given up on keeping the tempo and rythm on the piano, thanks to someone’s comment. I just started recently to practice and I’ve found a bit of a struggle along the way since I tend to speed too often and what I’m playing completely loses its sense. Eventhough I have a very good sense of rythm at singing, haven’t come naturally while in the piano. Thanks for your comment, that’s what I needed to hear to regain the motivation to improve.

    Reply

    4 Julie

    Thank you so much for more than just the technical info. I was beginning to feel frustrated. I am an intermediate player that took lessons for 2 years as a child and am returning to lessons as an adult. I never mastered timing as a child but I have pretty good finger dexterity. I can hit the correct notes just not always in the correct time or get the rhythm right. My teacher is very good and has given me great tools. Writing out my counts, clapping them out before actually playing, slowing down and counting as I play then gradually increase speed. (which is hard when my fingers want to dance on a tarantelle piece). I get to frustrated to use a metronome all the time but areas that are slower I’ll use it some and set a beat and try to stay at that beat throughout. It’s still a challenge though. I am getting better at reading the flow by looking at a piece before hand. I am working very hard when I practice but was getting discouraged and even wondering if there was something wrong with me or if I would ever get “it”. I even thought that maybe I should throw in the towel. You have encouraged me to stick with it and that with practice and time it will come. I’ve only been back at the bench for one month and I have seen improvement. I really do love playing and I want to play pieces correctly. Sometimes we all need some encouragement and reassurance that it will come if we put in the effort. Sometimes it’s a mental mind set that “Yes, I can”. Thanks so much.

    Reply

    5 CEL MENGATA

    I JUST LOVE IT. YOU ARE ONE OF THE GREATEST EAR DOCTOR IN HISTORY.

    Reply

    6 Andre'

    I joyed reading your article

    Thanks,
    Andre’

    Reply

    7 Bernice Gaymon

    Just want to say thank you so much for all the valuable lessons and added tips
    you give to aid me along in my lessons. I have progressed in my lessons to a
    moderate degree because I have been trying to absorb so much information
    really working hard to get rid of some of my not so good habits that I had learned
    previous to coming under your great teaching.

    Thank you so much

    God Bless!

    Bernide

    Reply

    8 gideon

    its so helpful… thanks!

    Reply

    9 comfort

    This is very informative and encouraging. Thank you.

    Reply

    10 andre louw

    thanx jermaine this 1 was really a blessing

    Reply

    11 abel

    Thanks for this post and, indeed, all the others I have had the pleasure to read. They are proving to be a source of inspiration.
    However, regarding timing and rhythm, do you have any exercises to develop left/right hand independence? I am finding it hard to play, say, a synchopated left hand accompaniment along with a steady right hand tune.
    Thanks in advance

    abel

    Reply

    12 lilli lewis

    Hi, i really appreciate your timely article and tips for overcoming the problem of timing and rhythm. I dont know what is wrong w me. I have a great ear but somehow can’t move my fingers fast enough or make the notes long enough. or i can’t start on time or i end too soon. it is something beyond me. I needed to see that my problem had a name and that there are others suffering too. and also that there are practical tips to overcome this situation. i felt so bad as my teacher does not understand a thing about my problem and treats me as if i were dumb. I know I can learn and i am so thankful to GOD for the advice you give about the use of the metronome exercises. thank you

    Reply

    13 Kim Maurice Byrd

    Thanks for the advice Jermaine you know when I was playing the trumpet in the school band from the third until the 12th grade I did not know anything about a monotone because I was used to observing the band conductor.Play the piano or key board I think is a little more complicated than wind instruments.Thanks for the tip about the monotone Ithink it will help my timing a whole lot.

    God bless

    Reply

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