closeup of piano keyboard“There must always be a sense of progression or movement towards definite landmarks.”
–Tobias Matthay, pianist
The Musician’s Way, p. 23

Rhythm comes alive when it propels listeners forward through a phrase.

Aside from choosing a suitable tempo, two ways to create forward motion are to steer shorter notes into longer ones and move from upbeats toward downbeats.

Creating Forward Motion in Music

In the following excerpt from Mozart’s Sonata K. 333 for piano, the gravitational tug of the downbeats pulls the melody notes forward to the longer notes that conclude each bracketed group.

Play or sing the melody multiple times, and experiment with driving the shorter notes toward the longer ones.

Mozart, Sonata K. 333, 1st movement, measures 1-4

When the note values in a composition are more uniform, one way to create forward motion is to slightly extend the durations of prominent pitches and then push the subsequent ones forward.

Repeatedly vocalize or play the next example, and propel the sixteenth notes following a strong beat toward the strong beat to come. For example, you might extend the duration of the sixteenth notes on the first beat of each measure and do so minutely on the third beat.

As you play, take care not to distort the baseline pulse. Ensure that the first and third beats in each measure coincide with the pulse of a metronome (the second and fourth beats might or might not line up with the metronome).

Bach, Suite BWV 1007 for Cello, measures 1-2

If these rhythmic inflections seem subtle, they are.The Musician's Way book cover

Yet expressive timing forms the backbone of artistic music making, so it’s a crucial area for aspiring musicians to study and refine, especially with the aid of a personal recorder.

Recommended audio recorders: Zoom H4n | Zoom H2n | Tascam DR-22WL

See Chapter 2 of The Musician’s Way for more ways to bring vitality to your rhythm and interpretations.

Related posts:
7 Essentials of Artistic Interpretation
The Art of Spontaneity
Refining an Interpretation
Rhythmic Precision
When Every Note Vibrates with Life

© 2015 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from p. 31-33 of The Musician’s Way