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The Importance of Rhythm When Playing The Piano

I realize it’s not exactly breaking news to say that rhythm is one of the most important aspects of music. In fact, it’s really the foundation for virtually every style of music, affecting the mood of a song, the lyrics, and how dancers move to the music.

But rhythm is more than just the tempo, or speed, of a song. It’s what  happens between and around the beats that really give a song its unique sound. And the ability to create very specific rhythms on the piano is a skill that can almost instantly improve your playing.

It’s also one of the things that bugs sometimes me when I hear other piano players play.

And it’s not that hard to fix!!

Let me give you an example…

First of all, consider a song like the classic “Country Roads” by John Denver. That rolling guitar riff that starts the song is so soothing, and his classic voice just rolls right in. To me, this song has a very 2-beat or 4-beat rhythm, but a STRAIGHT rhythm. What do I mean by that?

I mean that there’s no “bounce” to the song – the eighth notes just roll along in an even pattern. In fact, here’s a simple way to play that opening riff on the piano:

Country Roads IntroductionNotice how straight and steady those eighth notes are.

Now, here’s how NOT to play the introduction to that song:

Country Roads BouncyThis is a very subtle difference in the written music, but a BIG difference in the actual feel of the song. This small change turns this song into something more like Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Family Tradition” (well, not exactly, but definitely with more of that kind of feel).

Next, I suggest you take a listen to the classic reggae song, “Three Little Birds,” by Bob Marley.

Listen VERY carefully to the underlying rhythm of this song. Notice that it, too, is a very STRAIGHT rhythm! It is NOT bouncy at all. Now, some reggae is kind of bouncy, but this particular song is not. While some people may not notice this subtle difference, I think it’s VERY important to get this right when recreating songs like this on the piano.

In fact, it may be the difference between your listeners loving your arrangement or saying, “There’s something that’s just not quite right about that.”

This is just one of the reasons I put together my Piano Rhythms… FAST! video piano course not long ago – to make sure you have the must-have rhythms in your piano toolbox to create whatever feel you need to on the piano.

And may your beat go on 🙂

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About the author

I've been playing piano for 50 years, and I love showing others how easy it is to make beautiful piano sounds of their own.

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