Learn piano online, articulate your expression in absolute freedom by playing in rubato
Classical music often offers the option to play in rubato. It is indicated as a playing instruction in the music score. When such opportunity presents itself, it would be a grave sin for a pianist not to take advantage by letting loose her musical creativity in articulating the melodies.
Jazz piano on the other hand is music in rubato overdrive. Tempo and articulation can be expressed with absolute freedom whenever. The only limitation is your own wealth of repertoire and energy level.
What is rubato?
The temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening, usually without altering the overall pace. [reference: Oxford Dictionary of English @ Oxford University Press 2010, 2017]
Or an alternative definition: A flexible tempo; not strictly on the beat.[reference: WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University]
A band known as Newsound gave a taste of what it is like to let your musical talents run wild on Sunday eve. They performed songs from their newly released album. We were treated to a smorgasbord of original jazzy tunes such as 'Uncle Junior', 'Bearing Witness', 'Cathedral Cove' and 'Stick In It'.
Jennifer, my lovely companion that evening said that she thought their tunes had an uplifting and cheerful colour to them. The packed auditorium seemed to agree, erupting into an exuberant applause at the end of the performance, apparently entertained.
The Big Band of Penang too was awesome. With the piano leading the way, the string and brass instruments were in perfect harmony. Performing evergreen jazz songs made famous by the likes of Stevie Wonder.
A little known but a soul quenching and heartwarming song popularized by Stevie Wonder at the height of his career is “My Cherie Amour”. A version of the piano score to that song that I keep is six pages long.
The time signature of the song is 4/4. Notes in the bars in the first phrase of the song change from comprising of only crotchets and quavers to including minims nearing its end – a not so subtle indication that the music is meant to evolve in harmony and display a different mood. Changes such as these are the perfect moments to play in rubato.
A piano song that extends up to six pages long usually are broken into two or three parts, each with their own beginnings and endings. Ending phrases are articulated in subdued slower tempos before dissipating like a whisper – best suited for rubato.
Each bar of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” has its pre-determined time signature. If it was a Baroque piece, a pianist would have to adhere strictly to them.
Rubato means you do not have to. Freedom to explore one’s own pianistic creativity through articulation and expression, playing some phrases at a heightened pace at the expense of others is allowed. Spontaneity is mostly encouraged, deliberate calculations renders them dull.
To play rubato well, a pianist need to have good judgment when interpreting the music – when and where rubato should be infused. You are going to need a strong sense of the composition’s soul.
Too philosophical? It is because this is the intellectual part of piano playing – thinking is involved. There are no mechanical solutions to the enigma of rubato.
Having said that though, pianistic skills such as curving your hands, maintaining loose wrists and arms, sitting with proper posture and fingering control – the mechanics of piano playing significantly affects how close your rubato comes to perfection.
Read 'Learn piano online - Curve your hands to play well’ to get advice on improving those skills.
Rubato opens the way for a pianist to have freedom in articulation and manipulating the tempo of a composition. It is most impactful when infused at moments when the music is meant to change its mood, at beginnings and ending of phrases. Enhanced musical and interpretation sense gained through accumulated experience playing a multitude of piano songs shall enable the pianist to execute rubato well.