Piano Rhythm Exercises to Improve Your Sense of Rhythm

Kevin Castro  /  Rhythm  /  Jan 12, 2024

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As piano players, rhythm can sometimes fall by the wayside. But a good sense of rhythm makes the difference between good and pro-level playing. Having good rhythm is what makes a performance sound “tight”—that confident feeling when the musicians clearly know what they’re doing! So, here’s how to level up your playing using piano rhythm exercises. We’ll introduce several to you in this lesson, from beginner-friendly scale exercises to expert-level polyrhythms.

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Piano Rhythm Exercises With Scales

The go-to way to practice rhythm is by using scales. Start with a simple, one-octave scale that you know well and don’t have to hunt the notes for, such as C major. Then, turn on your metronome and play the scale with a variety of note values.

Quarter Note Scale

Play your scale in quarter notes. Make sure to line your playing up with the metronome exactly.

One octave C major scale in quarter notes. Piano rhythm exercises.

Eighth Note Scale

Now play your scale in eighth notes. This means it’ll be twice as fast as the quarter note version.

One octave C major scale in eighth notes.

Scale in Triplets

Now we’ll fit three notes (a triplet) into one quarter-note beat! This one is much faster, so you may want to practice one hand at a time first.

One octave C major scale in triplets.

Sixteenth Note Scale

Our fastest scale exercise, this one will be twice as fast as the eighth note exercise. That means you’ll fit in four notes in the space of one quarter-note beat.

One octave C major scale in 16th notes.

When it comes to playing the faster subdivisions, emphasizing the downbeat can help keep things organized.

Try challenging yourself by playing all these rhythms in one go. Then, try playing other scales and at a faster tempo!

Piano Rhythm Exercises: Patterns

Practicing scales is helpful, but it’s even more helpful (and likely more fun!) to practice rhythm patterns that you’ll encounter in songs. Here are popular rhythm patterns that every pianist should know.

The Pop Pattern

As seen in: “All of Me” by John Legend

This is a very common pop song pattern that you can apply to any chord progression. The tricky part here is playing on the “and” of the second beat. Start slow and count out loud—it helps!

Chord progression rhythm pattern in standard notation.

Offbeat Pattern

As seen in: “The Scientist” by Coldplay

This is another pattern you can use to practice those offbeats! Our right hand will be playing straight quarter notes, but our left hand will play between.

Chord progression rhythm pattern in standard notation.

Polyrhythm Pattern

Our final and most challenging pattern involves polyrhythms: that means your hands will be playing different meters in each hand!

In this polyrhythm, you’ll play three times with your right hand in the space of twice in your left. You can count 1-2-3 and sync that with your right hand or count 1-2 and sync that with your left—whichever feels more intuitive to you. It may also help to draw lines on the sheet music so you can see where the notes line up.

Sped up, this rhythm sounds really good in 12/8 with a drum track.

Chord progression in polyrhythm pattern in standard notation.

We hope you have fun practicing these rhythms! If you need more help, Pianote has a handy practice-along feature to help you master rhythm fast. Check it out with a free trial.

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Kevin Castro is a graduate of the prestigious MacEwan University with a degree in Jazz and Contemporary Popular Music, and is the Musical Director and touring pianist for JUNO-winning Canadian pop star, JESSIA. As your instructor at Pianote, Kevin is able to break down seemingly complex and intimidating musical concepts into understandable and approachable skills that you can not only learn, but start applying in your own playing. Learn more about Kevin here.

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