Robert Estrin - piano expert

Tempo Must be the Lowest Common Denominator

A new perspective to deal with tempo in music

In this video, Robert gives you a new perspective about tempo in your daily practice.

Released on July 22, 2020

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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, I'm Robert Estrin, this is, your online piano resource. Today's subject is tempo must be the lowest common denominator. Now, what am I talking about? Well, you sometimes hear performers and they start off and everything's going great. And then they get the parts and they don't quite know it as well as the other part. And they have to slow down in order to accommodate and maybe they'll speed up again when they get to the part they know better. Well, this is really a terrible way to perform. Now I understand the temptation. If you, for example, you know a piece and you know all of it, at a nice tempo that sounds great. And then there's one part that you can't quite play up the tempo. So you figured, okay, I'll just play everything up to there and slow down. Well, you don't want to do that. So what do you do in order to correct this?

Well, if it's just a few key sections of a piece that you can't quite play up to tempo, work on those sections, zero in on what you can't play up to tempo and work with a metronome. We're doing metronome speeds to get those sections up to the speed of the rest of the piece. Better yet, get them even faster than the rest of the piece. So your weakest parts of your performance become your strongest parts. But if you find yourself ever in a situation where you're really don't have parts of it up to speed, you must take the tempo that you can play the whole piece, including those sections. Now, if this is a piano lesson or something of that nature, that's not really necessary, a teacher will understand that. Yeah, you haven't quite gotten that coda up to speed yet in your Chopin Ballade, but you want to at least play the rest of it up to speed and even the parts of the coda, you can play up the speed.

But in performance, lock in the right tempo. And here's what I suggest for you. How do you do this? Think of a piece that you're playing, that you have a couple of trouble sections, that you really worked hard on and listen to yourself play it. And then find the speed at which you can play those sections and kind of, in your mind, think of that tempo and then make that the tempo of your piece. Because you will make a much more convincing and satisfying performance that maintains tempo throughout rather than changing tempo to accommodate parts you can't play as fast. You might think that it doesn't make you sound as impressive because hey, you can play these other parts so fast. But believe me, it will be much more enjoyable for the listener and there'll be more impressed with you as well for getting a musically, more cohesive performance. That's it for today. Once again, I'm Robert Estrin here at Thanks so much for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Antony E Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on July 23, 2020 @3:41 pm PST
Thank you, yet again, coherent plain talk. Excelleny
Graeme Costin * VSM MEMBER * on July 22, 2020 @8:45 pm PST
Some light, popular music gives more natural scope for speed variations. It took me longer to get to remember (without music) the chord progressions for the bridge section of "Surry With the Fringe On Top" than the rest of it. But if a soloist were singing it, it would be quite natural for the soloist to take the words of that section ("The wheels are yeller, the upholstery's brown,...") slightly slower, and with more expression, than the rest of the song. Eventually I reached the stage of being able to maintain the same tempo throughout, but I still think it sounds better with that bridge a little slower.
Robert - host, on July 23, 2020 @12:52 pm PST
Sometimes there are musical reasons to nuance tempo. But adjusting tempo to accommodate technical constraints is a different story.
Robert Estrin on July 22, 2020 @2:30 pm PST
You are exactly right. If you can play something slowly, eventually you will be able to play it more quickly. But if you can't play something slowly, you can't play at a faster tempo with any security.
Jerome Danoff * VSM MEMBER * on July 22, 2020 @12:02 pm PST
These are good suggestions. I also tell some of the ensembles I work with that it is better to play well at a slightly slower tempo than to force the "right" tempo and butcher the notes.
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