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Q&A: Answering your piano-playing questions



with Pianist contributor Tim Stein


I find counting aloud while playing my pieces to be very difficult. Can you suggest a way in which I can improve this?

First of all, what is the importance of counting out aloud? Counting aloud helps to keep you playing in time. It is a bit like having your own external metronome. When we count inside our heads, we end up following our own internal rhythm, and this is very unreliable unless your rhythm is rock solid. Most of the time you end up playing certain passages in time (if you are lucky) and out of time (if you are not). What you want to do is to make sure that you can train yourself to keep in time whenever you practise.

As I’ve said in previous columns, counting ‘1 & 2 &’ aloud can be a little clumsy. I would always suggest counting out ‘Ta-aa’ (for minims), ‘Ta’ (for crotchets), ‘Ti’’ (for quavers) and ‘Ti-Ke’ (for semiquavers) and so on. For example, a single line of crotchets would be ‘Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta’, and a line of quavers ‘Ti-Ti-Ti-Ti’.

Always practise separate hands first, counting out individual bars very very slowly, tapping or clapping out the pattern at the same time. Once each hand can be counted in time correctly, you can bring the hands together. Practise sight-reading exercises and your pieces in the same way, developing your sense of rhythm all the time. Try also playing different patterns from your music on the piano, playing the same notes one octave apart.

When the timing is accurate, you can then start to play the music as written. When you’re timing is more confident, you can continue to keep it in check by putting on your metronome making sure that you are always counting in time.

Watch Tim Stein's beginner videos lessons on the Pianist TV channel

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