“There must always be a sense of progression or movement towards definite landmarks.”
–Tobias Matthay, pianist (The Musician’s Way, p. 23)
Rhythm comes alive when it propels a listener forward through a phrase.
Aside from choosing a suitable tempo, two ways to create forward motion are to steer shorter notes into longer ones and move from upbeats toward downbeats.
In the following excerpt from Mozart’s Sonata K. 333, the gravitational tug of the downbeats pulls the melody notes in each of the bracketed groups forward.
Play the example—or sing the melody—and drive the shorter notes toward the longer ones that conclude each group.
When the note values in a composition are more uniform, one way to create forward motion is to slightly extend the durations of prominent pitches and then push the subsequent ones forward.
Repeatedly play the next example on a keyboard or cello and propel the sixteenth notes following a strong beat toward the strong beat to come.
As you play, take care not to distort the baseline pulse – ensure that the first and third beats in each measure coincide with the pulse of a metronome (the second and fourth beats might or might not line up with the metronome).
If these rhythmic inflections seem subtle, they are. Yet expressive timing forms backbone of artistic music making.
© 2015 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from p. 31-33 of The Musician’s Way