There is an addendum to last week’s post regarding rhythms that I failed to mention. It is so important, in fact, that it deserves a post of its own.

Rhythms are basically a multi-step process: get yourself to the first long note, lallygag (as my mother would say–now there’s a word you don’t hear often enough!) there letting go of all tension and anticipation, then—and here’s the important part—as you are preparing to flip through the next set of short notes to the next long note, you must—YOU MUST!!—mentally think through this process first so that you know very concretely where you are about to land. This sounds obvious, but in my experience, both in my own practicing and when monitoring that of my students, it isn’t obvious at all.

In fact, this is the more common scenario:

We are sitting comfortably on our long note, happy as a clam to be there, and then without any forethought whatsoever (except for perhaps a vague, “the next long note is out there somewhere, I’ll know it when I see it”), we go flailing through in hopes that the next place we are supposed to land will mysteriously rise up to greet us. My friends, it usually doesn’t. Or at least it doesn’t in any kind of way we want to rely upon.

So instead of landing intentionally on our next long note, we overshoot it, or fall painfully short, which is, if nothing else, certainly indicative of how compromised our knowledge is of the passage at hand. When I ask students to name the next long note before they fling themselves at it, they often stutter and stumble, which does give us a good idea about what is about to happen with their negotiation of the next set of notes. When they can confidently name the next long note, they can usually always get there safely.

Really it comes down to finding that delicate balance between staying firmly in the present and thinking ahead, which has plenty of implications outside of piano practice as well. But then most things—good and bad—that we do sitting on the piano bench teach us something about how to live once we walk away from the piano. It’s just the small matter of learning to pay attention to the lessons our practice teaches us, which, of course, is the real challenge. In the end, the rhythms and all the steps involved, well, that is the easy part.