When someone hears the word ‘rhythm’, they might immediately think of hand drums, percussion, hand clapping and they might feel that, as far as they can see, there is no rhythm in piano music, played solo. If we examine the components of any song, vocal or instrumental, we will become aware that rhythm is what guides the song and we will be able to ‘hear’ the rhythm even if it is not ‘played’. This is true whether we play from sheet music or we play by ear.
Though this word is used often, many people don’t know that this is the element that identifies the song. It is a sequence of different pitches that give us a tune. It is the reason why someone next to us can hum, and we can identify what they are humming. It is unique, in that, if someone whistles the melody of a song and we do not recognise the song, it is likely that they did not whistle the melody correctly. A piano is a melodic instrument. This means we can play, accurately, a sequence of notes that identifies a song.
Harmony is heard, when the pianist plays more than one note at a time. Usually the harmony notes are played at a lower pitch than the melody line and further left on the piano. Melody is usually played in the right hand, and harmony can be played with additional fingers of the right, or fingers of the left. Harmony has to be studied in relation to chords which complement the sound, and are arranged to fit the style of music. In vocal performance, harmony is heard in a choir.
Rhythm in music, is a foundation element in music, in that it gives us the duration of each note or chord. If the melody is correct but the rhythm is not in sync with the melody, the songs will sound like noise and confusion. Rhythm is determined by a time signature, where the song is played in beats of four, three or two counts. This beat is determined from the outset and is usually maintained throughout the song.
Rhythm is the element that causes a singer to listen to an introduction and start singing at the right time. It is the element that keeps a band or orchestra in sync. Any musician will tell you that they are constantly counting when they play (look at the foot tapping). An audience will see a pianist is performance and enjoy the music , but they might not be aware that the pianist is counting all the way, even in classical music.
In the old days when people used to hear piano music alone, there was rhythm. With the coming of jazz, drums were added and over the years hand drums and trap sets have become staples of any band. Popular music moved from being ballads by Nat King Cole to head bobbing jazz to rhythm and blues in the 1940’s and rock, which carried a distinct hard-driving beat. Later this developped into funk, pop, hip-hop and many world rhythms.
Although music has grown to become more groove- based in almost every setting, piano music still holds huge appeal. It is the leading instrument of most bands. It is the only instrument that displays melody and rhythm.
There are pianists who play straight regular pieces, but there are also pianists who are able to move their fingers in sequences and in syncopations to incorporate the beats and to keep the vibes of the song. Their performances show the interplay between melodies, harmony and rhythms. Enjoy the expressions of Herbie Hancock as he plays first without rhythm, and then is joined by the other musicians. THE RHYTHM WAS THERE FROM THE START.
When you play your piano, do you only read the notes, or are you constantly counting in a given regular rhythm to make the song sound right ?
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