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Counting: Need to do it, don't want to do it, how to make it integral (Read 1767 times)

Offline bernadette60614

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After two other teachers, I have found my dream teacher.  She's challenging but supportive. She enjoys teaching and, consequently, I enjoy being taught by her.

We've just begun my first piano sonata, one of Beethoven's early sonatas.  I love Beethoven, but I detest counting.  I've somehow managed to take 3 years of piano lessons as an adult without integrating counting as a part of my practice routine.

Any thoughts...preferably graciously put ones, would be appreciated.

Offline didi100

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I have studied piano for many years and its surprising how many teachers are very lax about counting. I have now started with an instructor who is very strict about counting even making me play each hand separately, but I think this discipline will be very helpful for me to advance to the next level.

Offline ted

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I know I have trotted out this observation before, but I shall do so again. For pianists who are steeped in jazz, ragtime, boogie and other strongly rhythmic forms, counting and metronomes are superfluous to requirements. Rhythms and pulses are just felt and played, or in the case of notated music, read, felt and played. So would listening to and playing rhythmic music over time, slowly reduce your need to count ? Worth a try ?
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Offline Bob

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Rhythm study... great.  Push the edge of what you know and are comfortable with.

But unless it's wrong, an error you make in the piece, isn't it just reading?  Reading and playing the rhythm on the page?  Your teacher is having you speak or think the words/syllables when you're at the point of learning a Beethoven sonata?
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline bernadette60614

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What I've proposed to my teacher is that we prepare me to apply to a university program for a B.A. in Music.  I've asked her to prepare me for an audition, if required, so her standards are for me to be very precise and accurate.  I sight read "beautifully" (to use her word), my hands are strong and nimble, but because I can read music quickly and play it quickly, I've never developed the discipline of playing with absolute rhythmic accuracy.

Offline keypeg

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... but because I can read music quickly and play it quickly, I've never developed the discipline of playing with absolute rhythmic accuracy.
This puzzles me, because the ability to read should not impact rhythm or counting. They go hand in hand.  One element in written music is time. (?)

Offline Bob

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I'm not quite following either.

If rhythmic accuracy is the goal wouldn't playing a little slower and feeling the beat and subdivision more be the goal?  Still no word-counting involved.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline outin

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Counting in one's head periodically helps correct reading and playing of note values. It also helps to keep the tempo steady and "feel the beat" when nervous. I'm surprised if not everyone does it every now and then? Sight reading requires taking into account many things at the same time and it requires practice. If the OP got away with reading without rhytmical precision incorrectly for this long, is there any other option but to get back to basics?

Offline mjames

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BOP YOUR HEAD ON THE BEAT

Offline quantum

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Depending on one's stage of musical development, counting can take on a number of functions.  

For beginners, it serves to introduce basic musical structure. It is here at this stage where many obtain the impression that counting is laborious and counter intuitive to the freedom of musical expression.  From the way many students are taught it is not surprising.  Counting as if just reading numbers aloud certainly is boring and unmusical.  More on this later...

For intermediate students it can serve as a reminder that rhythms are not static units with labels such as half, quarter, eighth - rather rhythmic units with duration that take place in a temporal framework which have beginning and end points.  IMO not fully understanding rhythmic duration is one of the challenges intermediate students face.  The problem can manifest itself in those various rhythmic passages that go wonky, when everything else surrounding it seems fine, yet the student remains totally oblivious to the problem.  Counting usually fixes the problem quickly, yet there may be many instances where the student does not know how counting fixed it, and may even regress to the problem practicing at home when not counting.  

More advanced students will learn that certain recurring rhythmic patterns stored in their toolbox ready to use when needed.  The would mean one would not need to work out the rhythm as it is already familiar to them.  Similar to how one learns to read: going from alphabet, to words, to sentences, to paragraphs, to meaning.  For example, knowing how execute a 3 against 2, one could just insert it as a unit within the main beat counts.  

Undergrad students will learn the ins and outs of rhythm and how to work with it.  Counting still plays a large part in developing rhythmic accuracy and learning how to problem-solve difficult rhythmic passages.  For classical musicians, rhythm is often the weakest skill and it will be uncovered and dealt with rigorously in first year foundations courses.  

For 3rd and 4th years and those pursuing advanced music study, one may learn how musical expression is tied into the organizational rhythmic structure.  Instead of making music by simply feeling or being emotional, one can learn how to strategically place expression at certain beat counts a measure.  From this music is not perceived as being merely emotional, but progresses to be coherently evocative with an articulate resoluteness within its execution.  


Count with a purpose.  Recall an actor reciting Shakespeare.  Are you just hearing words or is there more?  When counting in music, strive to be musical in your counting.  If it is happening in the music, have the inflections of your voice reflect that in the counting.  Count as if you were singing.  I have had some students naturally sing the counting without any instruction from me to do so, and in such case the counting felt and sounded like it was part of the music.  
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline pianocat3

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What I did was work on easier repertoire awhile and count, and stop looking at my hands so much. I did it with my Xmas music last year since so much of it was easier music. My timing is good now. Also lots of metronome practice. I count and metronome my scales and arpeggios.  I notice now, there are lots of piano players who don't keep good time.
Currently working on:

Beethoven Pastoral Sonata (Andante)
Debussy Prelude from Suite Bergamasque
Accompaniment music for cello and piano
Summer project is improvisation

Offline bernadette60614

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Yes, I think that will work for me.  Not to wait till I begin my Beethoven study, but to use a metronome throughout each practice session for every piece.

I think of my development as a little like playing Jenga.  You can get by playing Jenga until you reach a certain height, and then when you reach that height, the fact that the foundation blocks are steady makes the whole thing come down.  (Lots of my analogies have to do with playing games, the influence of parenting.)

Offline iansinclair

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One aspect which has been sort of mentioned is... what, exactly, do you count?  This is not a trivial question!  For example, up above someone mentioned 3 against 2.  Suppose, just for the sake of this comment, that the 3 against 2 is notated as triplet eighth notes in the left hand, and straight eighth notes in the right.  If one were counting eighth notes, one would get terribly mixed up.  If one were counting quarters and feeling the pulse of the subdivision, no real problem.  Or again, suppose that one has one piece in 6/8 time, and another in 3/4 time.  If one counts three beats in the 3/4 time, it won't be too bad.  If one counts three is 6/8, it will be awful.  The 6/8 (with some exceptions!) would get two beats to the measure; the 3/4 would get one or three, depending on the tempo and style (a minuet and a waltz are both 3/4, but the former is counted as three, and the latter as one, for example), with the pulse of the subdivision felt, not counted.

Clear as mud.  I hope you can see what I mean...
Ian

Offline keypeg

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and then there is the factor of the teacher who ought ot be guiding all of this.  But doesn't always.  Or is ignored.  Or not understood.

Offline quantum

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Metronome is fine for working out select problem areas. However, IMO it should not be used as a blanket solution for entire pieces of music.  Counting helps to develop one's internal pulse, and that really is the goal: to make your internal sense of time reliable and rock solid, so one does not need to fall back on a metronome to keep consistent pace.  This goes along with the points made above: how you vocalize your count, and which beats or subdivisons you select for the count.  
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline anamnesis

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Metronome is fine for working out select problem areas. However, IMO it should not be used as a blanket solution for entire pieces of music.  Counting helps to develop one's internal pulse, and that really is the goal: to make your internal sense of time reliable and rock solid, so one does not need to fall back on a metronome to keep consistent pace.  This goes along with the points made above: how you vocalize your count, and which beats or subdivisons you select for the count.  

Counting is ultimately a surrogate and only becomes really powerful when one connects it with actual physical, rhythmic motion. 

And not just any motion, either.  It needs to be continuous, in order for subdivision and "lilt" to be felt, and not only highlight articulation/onset.  This is why conducting or even dance is superior to clapping. 

Another thing that should be noted is that barlines, note-beaming, and the like are NOT your friend when learning how to apply rhythm because they often times distort what actually needs to happen to produce an even and sensitive rhythm. 

Offline quantum

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Counting is ultimately a surrogate and only becomes really powerful when one connects it with actual physical, rhythmic motion. 

And not just any motion, either.  It needs to be continuous, in order for subdivision and "lilt" to be felt, and not only highlight articulation/onset.  This is why conducting or even dance is superior to clapping. 

Another thing that should be noted is that barlines, note-beaming, and the like are NOT your friend when learning how to apply rhythm because they often times distort what actually needs to happen to produce an even and sensitive rhythm. 

Absolutely.  This is part of what I was referring to in the above post about the link between musical expression and rhythm. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline lostinidlewonder

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You count initially to understand what you have to do rhythmically and feel the steady beat of a passage, also can help with coordination of both hands playing together. Counting helps you understand the segmentation of the beats. You'd be surprised how many beginners can't count evenly. I'd never get a student to count and play a whole piece that is silliness but when tackling small parts it is good to use to achieve stict timing if they are playing slightly off, then to abandon counting and listen to the sound instead.

Sometimes doing single hand counting is inefficient and counting between both hands working together is more useful, sometimes counting is just not needed because one hand cues the other (eg counting rests for a hand when the other plays is often useless).
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Offline bernadette60614

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Thank you all for the helpful replies.  I think like most people, when it comes to most skills, I want to do what comes most easily to me and find a million rationalizations for not doing what I need to do (which probably explains my lifetime history of dieting!)

Offline quantum

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Thank you all for the helpful replies.  I think like most people, when it comes to most skills, I want to do what comes most easily to me and find a million rationalizations for not doing what I need to do (which probably explains my lifetime history of dieting!)

You can think of it like this: acquiring a skill enables you to execute a task with greater ease.  In essence by using and developing your counting skills you are approaching your objective: to have music making come easy to you. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline Petter

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http://www.garciamusic.com/educator/articles/improve.groove.html

This is mainly focused on jazz, but it could be applicable to classical as well. At least the first exercise.
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