Robert Estrin - piano expert

Rhythm: The Most Important Element of Music!

Back to basics: the important of rhythm

In this video, Robert talks about rhythm and its importance in music making.

Released on April 7, 2021

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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

You're watching and I'm Robert Estrin. Today's subject is the most important element of music, most important element of music is rhythm. Rhythm and you might think what about the notes? Well, sometimes I describe it this way. Let's say there was a party and you knew where the party was. You knew what it was about, it was a birthday party. You know who it was for. It was for your friend. You knew everything about this. You knew whether you're supposed to bring presents or not, what they liked, what your activities were going to be but if you don't know when that party is, guess what? No party. You need to know the when. It's perhaps the most important element of music, is rhythm.

I can demonstrate that for you in a very simple fashion. I'm going to play a very famous piece with no rhythm. I'm just going to play all the notes equally and see if you can identify what it is. You may be able to only because it's Uber famous, but listen to it and how drastically different this sounds without the rhythmic component. Now, many of you probably got that. What was it?

Same exact notes with a rhythmic context and it's an entirely different ballgame. Rhythm is so intrinsically important. Pitch of course is important, texture. There are many elements that are important, but without rhythm, what do you have? You really have nothing unless you put it in some context of time and it's really human nature because our entire experience is based upon the element of time. We go through life in a linear fashion after all, moment to moment. It's the way we relate to everything and once you take rhythm out of the equation, I mean, you could play all the notes of a piece. There they are.

It's meaningless, if you don't have a rhythmic context, they come in one order after the other, in certain amount of time. So that's why it's so vitally important in your practice to count out your rhythm. Composers weren't haphazard about rhythm, note rhythmic notation.

Things were written precisely for a reason, because as you could hear in that first example, a drastic example, without the rhythm, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony doesn't sound like much of anything does it, and this is true of all your music. I encourage all of you in your practice to count carefully in rhythm, measure your rhythm with a metronome and double and triple check the note values because that's what brings music alive and give it its meaning. I know this is a short video for you, but such an important topic and I'm curious how all of you feel about that and how many of you got the musical example right off the bat, and how many of you were surprised at that? That was the most famous piece. One of the most famous pieces in the world.

Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is Your online piano resource. Thank you for subscribing. Ring the bell and thumbs up. It makes YouTube algorithm share this with other people. I'd love everybody to be able to enjoy the piano and music as much as you do for tuning in which I thank you for. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Steve Borcich * VSM MEMBER * on April 10, 2021 @11:19 am PST
That is absolutely true, Robert! Years ago my friend Willie and I went to hear jazz flutist Dave Valentin (who sadly passed away) at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. He was not playing with his regular trio and was playing Latin jazz. Willie commented that he rhythm was playing the rhythm wrong and that they were straight ahead jazz musicians, not Latin jazz musicians. I asked him what he meant by this. He pointed out that in Latin jazz you're pushing the beat, as in rock and roll. In straight ahead or traditional jazz you're laying back on the beat. That's what makes it difficult to get the rhythmic feel in jazz. Most musicians have a tendency to "rush" the beat. You have to discipline yourself not to do this. If any jazz musicians are reading my comments feel free to add to them!
Robert Estrin on April 11, 2021 @9:16 am PST
In jazz and other music with Afro-Latin roots, the feel of the beat is another essential element. This is also true in many Classical styles, particularly those which are based upon dance rhythms such as Waltzes, Minuets, Mazurkas, Polonaises and others. Those are all examples of music written in 3. Yet they all have completely different rhythmic feels.
Steve Borcich * VSM MEMBER * on April 9, 2021 @11:39 am PST
As usual you gave a great demonstration of rhythm and its importance in music. It reminded me of when my friend was playing a famous swing era tune called "Limehouse Blues" on alto sax. It took me awhile to figure out what he was playing because his rhythm was off!
Robert Estrin on April 10, 2021 @8:22 am PST
Interesting that you brought up swing rhythm. Because rhythmic feel can also dramatically change the sound and feel of a piece of music!
JJK on April 9, 2021 @7:09 am PST
Love your example of the party!
Also, Beethoven’s Fifth—I didn’t get it without the rhythm!
Would you agree that the importance of rhythm is why, when beginning music education with young children, it is essential to highlight and develop their rhythmic sense from the outset, (and tap into their intrinsic love of movement to do so)?
As always, thx for another succinct video!
Tseng, Li-Chun * VSM MEMBER * on April 9, 2021 @6:34 am PST
Could you demonstrate the practicing tips of Liszt’s “La Chasse”. Thank you so much.
Robert Estrin on April 9, 2021 @10:23 am PST
This is a full on virtuoso piece that has many elements which are found in other pieces of Liszt. If there is a certain technique you are interested in learning more about, I am happy to share with you.
Tseng, Li-Chun * VSM MEMBER * on April 9, 2021 @6:30 am PST
Dear Robert:
Cause your piano’s hammer didn’t hit any strings, is it real traditional piano or electronic one? So curious 🤣
Larry on April 9, 2021 @4:16 am PST
Your clever example had me completely fooled. I was sure it was a Bach etude versus the theme from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
I loved when you flattened down the centre section of piano keys.
What good are all the notes without rhythm?
Brilliant demo.
Tosh Hayashi * VSM MEMBER * on April 8, 2021 @4:25 pm PST
Another piece that requires the correct rhythmic ebb and flow is Pachebel's Canon. It one just plays the notes, it becomes relatively meaningless. I believe it's the interesting rhythmic ebb and flow from phrase to phrase that gives this piece its unique charm.
Robert - host, on April 8, 2021 @5:54 pm PST
Pachelbel Canon is essentially a theme and variations. The note values start very slow and progress to faster and faster notes which makes the repetition of the theme compelling.
Paul Spence * VSM MEMBER * on April 8, 2021 @4:18 pm PST
My first saxophone instructor, Patricia Wheeler, stressed the importance of rhythm. I loved the way she phrased it: good time can cover up a multitude of musical sins. The first thing listeners will notice is when the rhythm is off. As Duke Ellington famously put it: it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

As you demonstrated in your example, all music has to occur in time, without it, the theme of the Beethoven 5th becomes unrecognisable. I did not figure out what the piece was when you played it. That was an excellent example.
Robert Estrin on April 8, 2021 @5:55 pm PST
It's amazing that such a famous piece can be unrecognizable without a rhythmic context!
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