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Dance While You Play! (Rhythm’s in your body, not your head)

by Bruce Siegel on September 17th, 2012

Today’s my first day back from vacation, and I want to share with you something that just happened.

I haven’t been playing the piano recently because I know how important it is, sometimes, to get away from my musical pursuits. And this morning, when I sat down to play, I couldn’t regain the excitement I usually feel.

And then I remembered the secret I keep forgetting and re-discovering: playing only feels good when I dance! Immediately, things changed for the better.

By “dancing” I mean allowing my body to move with the music. Encouraging that motion, even. Because when I do that, my playing comes alive.

It works like this: when I dance while playing, I feel the rhythm in my body. It’s no longer just an abstraction in my mind. So my playing becomes more precise. Which sounds great. Which jolts me into being 100% present and playing with more focus. And when I hear the music that results from that, I’m doubly inspired, so I play even better.

And so it goes. By moving with the music, I’m committing myself to being fully involved and emotionally connected.

You’ll find constant references on this blog and site to what I call a “whole body approach” to the piano, like this one:

The concept has many implications. For one thing, in many of my videos, I teach you to use the weight of your arms to produce tone. Besides relaxing you, that sets your arms in motion, increasing your rhythmic involvement.

As a private teacher, I sometimes work with students who complain that they have no sense of rhythm. But as soon as I encourage them to let their body move to the beat, they discover the truth–they have been trying to play with their head instead of their body.

So experiment. One of the reasons I focus on accompaniment in many of my tutorials, is that it gives you easy and fun opportunities to play rhythmically.

You’ll need to discover what feels right to you. “Dancing” can mean gently swaying from side to side. It can take the form of a rhythmic nodding of your head. It can be subtle, or obvious.

I suggest that you observe musicians of all kinds and see how they dance as they play and/or sing. (My own videos are certainly good examples.) Then, sit down at the piano, relax, and allow yourself to taste the same freedom, expressiveness, and joy.

Using a metronome, by the way, is often helpful. But ultimately, you need to be the metronome.

  1. Virginia Larson permalink

    Dancing to the sound of the metronome…now that would be a sight to see. I’d imagine it would be called jerking instead of dancing as that’s the emotion I feel when I try to play the piano with the metronome. :)

  2. Bruce Siegel permalink

    Ahh–but you’ll notice I didn’t speak of dancing with the metronome, but dancing with the MUSIC. The more you do that, the more comfortable you’ll probably feel when you do “test” yourself by using the metronome. Make sense?

  3. Virginia Larson permalink

    makes perfect sense…thanks!

  4. Bruce Siegel permalink

    You’re welcome. Glad we’re on the same page.

    As a side note, as I was practicing this morning (playing and singing), I thought of our conversation, because I turned on the metronome at one point. The reason? I found myself gradually speeding up (as I often do), and the metronome keeps me at a steady tempo. That’s a good reason to use the metronome.

  5. Virginia Larson permalink

    How do you prevent the metronome from distracting you from the music you are playing?

  6. Bruce Siegel permalink

    How does it distract you? My experience is that students are “distracted” by the metronome if they’re not accustomed to playing with a good, steady, beat. Or–as with a student who was just here this afternoon–if they dislike practicing slowly (if that’s how the metronome is set).

  7. Virginia Larson permalink

    The sound distracts. I hear the metronome and the piano at the same time. Its like trying to listen to two people talking to me at the same time and comprehend what both are saying. Maybe the metronome is too loud.

  8. Bruce Siegel permalink

    Unless you’re playing just a melody without accompaniment (which pianists rarely do), playing is ALWAYS about hearing more than one thing at a time. And if you play in a group or with an orchestra, you’ve got a LOT to listen to. :)

    But here’s a better answer: If your rhythm is solidly anchored in your dancing body, you won’t have to listen to every tick of the metronome like you’re hanging on for dear life. The ticking will just be there in the background, and you’ll be neither fighting it nor distracted by it. Instead, you’ll be effortlessly in sync with it.

  9. Virginia Larson permalink

    One can only hope that one day this will be the case….not that I’ll play in a band or orchestra, but that I’ll be in sync. with the exact rhythm of the metronome. Thanks for your help. You give great advice…now its up to me to put it into “action”, I guess.:)

  10. Great article.

  11. Erika permalink

    Oh my gosh! I’m so glad to read this. I thought there was something wrong with me – you should see me – I’m all over the place while playing. lol

    I asked my teacher if it was normal (I’m in my early forties btw) and all he said was that he’d seen someone perform once who did that. (?)

    Anyway, so good to read this post for validation and I think I’ll now take some pride in it. :-)

  12. I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!

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