In Bruce Berr's Starlight Song (Piano Solos, Book 5, Hal Leonard Student Piano Library), a few opportunities arise to teach flexibility in rhythm.
Some of these opportunities are clearly marked, such as the molto rit. e dim. (m. 8) which leads to a fermata at the end of the first A section. We can point out to students that this ritard is preceded by a climactic point in a long phrase (mm. 3-8), and that the big slow-down makes sense because the phrase was also big. The contrast between the fast harmonic movement of the left hand with the long repeated melodic notes at m. 7 also evokes a natural ritard.
Another place that suggests stretching the rhythm occurs at m. 4. This is not explicitly indicated, but can be justified by the fact that the melody has a wide leap (a seventh) and there is also an interesting harmony that merits a bit of extra time. Both of these stretches in rhythm could be modelled by the teacher, who would then lead the student to master the subtlety of the breathing and ritardando.
To hear an excerpt of "Starlight
Song" played as described, click below
507k, WAV sound file
In almost any piece of music, we can find harmonic and other expressive events that may necessitate flexible rhythm from our students. Our challenge as teachers is to be open to these possibilities, and to encourage our students to go beyond the printed notes and rhythm to explore the vitality that lies within. With careful attention to detail, communication with our students about these details, and effective modeling, even our youngest students can learn to play with musical rhythm.
JENNIFER MERRY teaches private piano and pre-piano classes at the Music Academy of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has also taught piano at DePaul University's Community Music School and at Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University. She has a Masters Degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Northwestern University, and is currently a regular contributor to Clavier magazine as a reviewer of new music.
Click to read Richard Chronister's article answering this same question
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