Strong awareness of rhythmic structure in piano songs allows you to sprinkle individualistic creativity, acquired through solid musical knowledge and a good ear.
Rhythm is defined as beat [reference WordWeb version 3.71]. As I tried to come to terms with this definition while I pondered how to describe rhythm to my readers, I concluded that beat is not nearly enough to describe it when we are discussing rhythm in piano music.
Music that I have listened to in my short so-called “musical career” had always carried with them sounds of different pitch that repeat at a regular interval. While they consist of individual beats, I see the combination and arrangement of the beats including the cycles of their repetition as rhythm.
The first time I heard Canon in D by Pacheibel I thought it was nice. A classical piece that sounded like a romantic ballade I felt. It became one of my favorite songs. Then I discovered an arrangement of it by George Winston. A discovery that felt like I had experienced the musical version of shock and awe. The same song but with a different arrangement of notes therefore producing different rhythm.
Far from being a composer myself, but George Winston’s insight into Canon in D can be taken as an example for students of the piano. The deeper your understanding of the structure in the rhythm the more you can be creative with it in your expression. I may not write my own arrangement of Canon in D, but I can express it in my own unique way while performing on the piano without murdering the song by deviating too much away from its original form, were I to have a strong awareness of its rhythmic structure.
Unfortunately, such deep awareness demands a high price. Paid for in energy and time spent practicing regularly. Though still a long way from my ultimate goal, through regular practice I have learned that rhythm is governed by concordance … (big word). It means a harmonious state of things in general and of their properties [reference WordWeb version 3.71].
A fine example would be the harmonious state between the music made by the left hand and those with the right. Take the phrase below in Image 1 for example.
No note in either the bass clef or treble clef may be played out of pitch. They are not even allowed to be played out of time. If they were, harmony is lost completely.
Strictness in adhering to the timing of each beat, coordination of my fingers in my attempts to maintain said strictness and the discipline to consistently execute it uniformly resulted in sureness during performance. I was able to express it in its true unadulterated form with confidence.
And because I had a firm grasp of its rhythmic structure and the properties that govern its harmony, if I wished I could depart from it at times in a logical way inserting my own uniqueness. Such as lingering on a note for a brief moment longer or pressing a note slightly softer as shown in the example in Image 2.
The mind needs information to figure out the solution to the puzzle of bringing harmony into place therefore, solid knowledge of music theory and a good ear help in efforts to summon it into the piano playing. Another piece to the puzzle is the mechanics, the movement of the fingers, wrists, arms and the rest of the body.
Exercises to acquire flexibility and strengthen the fingers are plentiful. Furthermore, with consistent practice the body learns to adapt, correcting itself to play as you want it to. The tendency is to think you need tremendous effort to get fantastic results, on the contrary daily 30 minutes practice alone had shown me astonishing outcomes.