Introduction by Marvin Blickenstaff, Editor
ne of the finest musicians I know, a world-famous teacher/ performer, says, "Flexibility and nuance make music human. Without them, music becomes mechanical." This idea is also expressed when Nelita True speaks of making like things different.
I find that most of my young students are wonderful imitators. They delight in following my example, producing an expressive delay on a high note, a stretching at the end of a section, and the feeling of fade-away at the end of a piece. To them, these nuances mean that they are truly "making music." Indeed, that is literally the case: through those nuances, the music becomes effective and meaningful, and a "message" is communicated. Sound becomes a truly human, personal expression.
Subtle musical nuances are often impossible to notate, and are nearly as impossible to teach via verbal explanation. As music educators, we know the value of experiential learning. We also recognize that much of our musical language (as with the verbal language) is learned by imitating a sound. Is that not the clue to our teaching of expressive rubato? We teachers are the most important musical models our students will ever have. For our students to play expressively, we must provide an expressive model. Perhaps the key to effective teaching of rubato is to instruct less and illustrate (experience) more.
The responses from the teachers below, teachers whose students
demonstrate that the elements of rubato have been taught effectively,
are filled with helpful suggestions. Numerous ideas for the teaching
of rhythmic expression await the thoughtful reader.
Article (1992) by Jean Candlish
lthough definitions vary widely, rubato is usually thought of as the subtle give and take in rhythmic values, the accelerandos and ritardandos, that help to shape and define the structure and meaning of music. The result is what everyone recognizes as an expressive performance. Some say that rubato cannot be taught; a person either "has it" or doesn't. Tobias Matthay disagrees: "Seeing ... the exceeding importance of rubato, it behooves us to teach it as soon as practicable even to the child ... because a rhythmical sense can be acquired with comparative ease while young.. ." 1
Nowhere is it more apparent that the musical elements we teach are not discrete entities, but are inseparably bound together. Rubato is what we do within a structure caused by what we feel in relation to the length of the structure, the melodic movement, the harmony, meter, note values, articulation, tempo, and style. All of these are present to some degree from the beginning.
As we work with meaning and expressiveness for each piece, our concept of how rhythmic units are grouped will influence the temporal placement of beats. 2
With disjunct intervals in measures 1 and 2 (example 1), and a natural organization of 1+1+2 measures, it is possible to feel this melody as marked. The weak beats (2 and 3) are played almost imperceptibly closer to the stressed and slurred first beat.
The third beat, however, could be felt as upbeat to a new rhythmic unit (example 2). In this case, the unaccented third beats of the unit will be placed a little closer to beat one of the following measure.
These examples show how rhythmic groupings produce at least the incipient use of small rubatos and may even satisfy one of the definitions alluded to in paragraph 1: "Taking a portion of the time value from one note and giving it to another note (usually) within the same measure, without altering the duration of the measure as a whole." 3 These minute deviations from a head-on steady beat are not overtly noticeable.
We need to work constantly with the overall shape and feeling of phrases. Children can feel when music is "pulling" toward a goal. That word works very well for me. Sometimes a "pull" has the feeling of moving forward
and sometimes it has the feeling of holding back.
One of the many benefits of playing duets with our students is the ability to introduce changes of tempo. At first this can be just an aural experience when the student's part has long notes at the end a nd the teacher's part is active. Ritard! It is not necessary to explain anything-just let it happen. Students can soon follow the teacher when their own part is active. Usually a child will then begin to ritard the ends of some solos spontaneously, and in pieces where it is appropriate. This can happen long before the word ritardando appears as a directive to be followed in the music.
Pieces abound with titles that invite more flagrant rhythmic alterations Race Horses, Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, A Game, Bicycle Ride, etc. It's really great fun to accompany a piece such as Popcorn, gradually speeding up all the way to the end. If accustomed to playing duets with the teacher, the student can follow and react to the change in tempo the first time, without knowing it's going to happen. This is an instance of changing tempo that makes perfect sense to a child and immediately becomes a favorite thing to do, precisely because the child understands it is a deviation from the norm. Let the horses make a dash for the end; let the ferris wheel or merry-go-round slow down! The student has experienced that rhythm is a powerful means of expression.
Over-attention to steady beat without integrating the other elements of music produces a deadly "squareness" that, once locked in over a period of time, is one of the most difficult of all things to change. Abby Whiteside said, "For the pianist there must be a rhythm somewhere other than in the hitting process." 4 When we tap and count the pieces we teach we cannot be content with the regularity of an up and down hitting process, but must make sure the student experiences the REAL rhythm with its strong and weak beats, its groupings, and its goal-oriented linear progression.
Basic steady pulse, rhythmic flexibility, expressive phrase shaping- all are necessary for the foundation from which rubato can be developed as a natural continuation of musical growth.
1 Matthay, Tobias. Musical Interpretation: Its Laws and Principles, and their Application in Teaching and Performing, The Boston Music Company, 1913. Section 111, The Element of Rubato.
2 Cooper and Meyer. The Rhythmic Structure Of Music. The University of Chicago Press, 1960, Chapters I and 2,
3 Ammer, Christine. The Musicians Handbook of Foreign Terms. Schirmer Books. 1971.
4 Whiteside, Abby. Indispensables of Piano Playing. Coleman-Ross Company, Inc., Now York, 1961, p. 11.
JEAN CANDLISH is an independent
music teacher in Livonia, Michigan, and is on the part-time faculty
of Schoolcraft College. She has served as president and been chosen
Teacher of the Year of two MMTA/MTNA affiliates Livonia Area Piano
Teachers Forum and the Detroit Musicians League. Far many years
secretary of the Michigan Music Teachers Association, she currently
serves on the certification board and the bylaws committee, is
the assistant director of the Ann Arbor Bach and Sonatina festivals,
and is an active adjudicator throughout the state.