How To Play Complicated Rhythms

Cassi Falk  /  Rhythm Theory  /  UPDATED Jan 13, 2023

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There’s a lot to learn when you play the piano.

Think about one line of music. You need to know the key signature, the time signature, then you need to read the actual notes AND figure out which fingers you’ll use to play them.

And we haven’t even got to the rhythm yet.

Rhythm is one of those things that can easily derail your playing and demotivate you — if you don’t know how to approach it correctly.

This is especially true when it comes to complicated rhythms. Luckily for us, Cassi is here 🙂

And she has fantastic advice for how to make complicated rhythm sections seem easy.

Write it out by hand

We’re going old-school. But this is an amazing technique to help you get the rhythm into your head.

It’s so easy. 

Simply write out the RHYTHM of the line you are working on. Don’t worry about the notes — we are only interested in the rhythm. 

I’ll show you what I mean.

Look at this line from Ecossaise in G Major by Beethoven:

There’s a lot going on here. We have eighth notes and sixteenth notes, plus we’re in 2/4 time signature.

So for now — don’t even think about what the notes are. Look at the rhythm and write it out by hand. 

I’ll look something like this:

As you can see, it also helps to write out the beats underneath.

Clap it out

Now we have the rhythm written out — it’s time to clap.

This will get the rhythm into our heads, and counting out loud will also help here.

Do this as often as it takes to really remember the rhythm.

Play it!

Now you know the rhythm by heart, it’s time to go back and focus on the notes themselves.

But because you already know the rhythm — it will make it a LOT easier to learn which notes to play.

And the great thing about this technique is that you can apply it for one hand — or both.

Once you have the right-hand part down, take a look at the left hand, and write out the rhythm.

But this time — instead of clapping, tap on your leg while you’re playing the right-hand part.

It’s a fantastic bridge between learning the song hands separately and putting it all together.

Final tip

This is a big one – use a metronome!

You should be using a metronome for all of your practices, but it’s especially important when learning a new piece with difficult rhythms.

The metronome will keep you in time — and will help solidify the beats in your head.

So now you’re ready to tackle that song or section of a piece that you’ve been avoiding.

And as always, have fun!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

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