Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play "Extreme" Rubato

Learn what's "Extreme Rubato" and how play it.

In this video, Robert teaches you how to approach "extreme" rubato on the Chopin's beautiful Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor.

Released on December 7, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi and welcome to I'm Robert Estrin with a really fascinating topic today, "How to practice with Extreme Rubato." Rubato is a give and take of the tempo, a speeding up and a slowing down, without ever gaining or losing time. It's a technique that's used in performance of romantic period music like Chopin, Schulman, Liszt, and other composers from this era, that really had so much emotion to the music. Only appropriate really for certain styles of music and certain periods of music like the Romantic Period and then even old pieces.

And the idea of practicing with extreme rubato, is a way that you can see just how far you can push something. Because after all, how do you know if you're doing too much unless you do too much? I've talked about it in the past like practicing too fast. Sometimes, you can gain insights by taking something to an extreme level.

So I'm gonna take a little snippets of the B-flat minor Scherzo of Chopin. First, I'm gonna play it absolutely straight, metronomically, with no rubato at all. So you can hear what it sounds like in perfect time.


It sounds a little sterile that way. Now, I'm gonna play it with extreme rubato. It's almost like if you're ever in a car going up and down hills, you get that feeling of acceleration and then that, aah, coming down the hill. That's kind of an analogy as to how rubato affects you emotionally. Let's do an extreme rubato further than you'd actually want to go on performance, just to get a sense really of what this is.


So, by doing this, you get a feeling for where the rise and fall of the phrase is. Now, of course, tempering that extreme rubato and playing it in a more musical fashion now. Not metronomically, but not quite as extreme as this, you can get something that's quite beautiful that gives you a nice emotional lift.


So, this can be a really valuable practice technique, to kind of contort your music to an extent. The important thing whenever playing with rubato is, anybody listening should be able to tap along with the pulse. So the pulse gets faster, the pulse gets slower but you never lose the pulse. And that is the secret to rubato, that and never gaining or losing time.

My father would sometimes demonstrate this technique by putting the metronome on and playing with the rubato where you get ahead of the metronome, and then come back down and get back to the beat. Never gaining or losing time and having that sense of the pulse always in your music.

I hope this has been helpful. Experiment with your music. Push it to the limits and then come back to a comfortable level of rubato in your playing.

Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Andre * VSM MEMBER * on June 11, 2021 @11:02 pm PST
Hi Robert, thanks for your great videos! However, this is not the rubato as Chopin describes it in his letters or as described by for example Liszt and Mikuli (a student of a student of Chopin). It's said that Chopin's left hand always kept a strict time while the right hand was doing the real rubato. He compared it with the left hand being the pianist accompaniment while the right hand is the singer who sometimes holds back, then again sings ahead. Would it be possible to make a video about this and about something he called Spianato and the way Chopin phrases his music? I find the way slurs are placed very often totally illogical for phrasing, so I assume they must mean something else as simple legato. Thanks!
Robert - host, on June 12, 2021 @11:02 am PST
It is important to not lose the pulse, particularly in accompaniment parts (which are usually in the left hand). So there is naturally more freedom for rubato in the melody part. Slurs on the piano sometimes delineates phrases, but more often they are there to guide articulations.
Mike Iltshishin on September 3, 2020 @2:17 pm PST
I thought it was a 'new' kind of rubato... you misspelled 'Extreme' ("Etreme"Winky Face in your title. haha
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on September 3, 2020 @2:25 pm PST
That's a mistake on our side... we'll fix it right away, thank you for your feedback!
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on September 2, 2020 @4:53 pm PST
Thanks very much for the clarification and amplification. I gather then that when these indications are used, one doesn't need to keep the pulse as in the rubato you have explained above and that one can even gradually get slower until it is appropriate to pick up the pace again.
Robert - host, on September 3, 2020 @11:22 am PST
Although the music may have an ebb and flow of the tempo, the pulse must never be lost! That way, the listener can feel the beat as it progresses faster and slower.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on September 2, 2020 @4:59 am PST
Question: Is there a form of rubato where in fact you do lose time, or is that called something else?
Robert - host, on September 2, 2020 @11:31 am PST
Sometimes there are indications in the score to go slower. Rallentando, ritardando, ritard, ritenuto and allargando are some of these terms.
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