The "rushing" syndrome : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

My almost 9 year old daughter has been studying piano for almost 3 years. She has played in about 12 recitals and competitions. She loves to play, does not need to be coaxed to practice, and can sit for hours at a time. She is playing at intermediate level (e.g., Bach inventions, and now a Mozart sonata). But she has a few problems that her teacher and I have a hard time curing. I have to deal with them one at a time, so I am hoping someone can help with this first one, the "rushing" problem. She almost always starts a piece at tempo and by the time she has reached the end, is playing way above tempo, like a speeding locomotive. The metronome is an integral part of the practice, but when she plays without it, she speeds up. What can be done to get her to feel a constant beat?

-- Stewart Weiss (, May 06, 2001


When I was that age, I had the same problem. The cure? Ensemble experience! As many duets as possible so she'll have to play in time. If there's no one around for her to play duets with, have her practice at home with accompaniment CDs. When she gets older, have her accompany vocalists or instrumentalists.

-- Music Educator (, May 07, 2001.

I believe that one of the secrets to overcome rushing is breathing. Make her take deep breaths between phrases (exxagerated). This will allow more spacing and a more relaxed playing. Of course you don't want to hear someone breath during a performance, but through doing it you gain a feeling for it. Anton Rubinstein used to breathe a lot and loudly between phrases (Leschetizky and Liszt learned from that).

-- Christian (, May 07, 2001.

Don't breathe like that on the fast pieces, though. You might hyperventilate! HEHEHE

-- wow (, May 08, 2001.

I remember having a similar problem when I was around that age. What cured it was when I was in junior high school, I joined the choir, and the choir director asked me to be the accompanist once she realised I could play the piano (and sight-read whatever she put in front of me). Once I had to conform to someone else's direction, then I was able to keep the tempo consistent throughout the whole piece.

I hope this helps!

-- Lyn Francisco (, May 08, 2001.

I think you are correct when you state that your daughter does not FEEL a steady beat. Abby Whiteside, in her two books on piano playing, recommends rocking in time on the piano bench from side to side until the beat is really FELT. Then she introduces the outline of the piece, which is to be played as the student continues to rock in time from side to side. Then the details of the piece are gradually filled in, always maintaining the feel of the pulse.

It is my own belief that rhythm is one aspect of music that must be felt. All the metronome work, all the counting and clapping, don’t produce a musical rhythm in the player if they are just an intellectual exercise. The advantage of Whiteside’s rocking is that the player can continue to rock, to feel the beat, while playing – not true of clapping or marching to the beat which you can’t do while playing.

Once the student is in the habit of playing with a strongly felt rhythm, the rocking can be minimized more and more – while maintaining the feel of the pulse – until it is not observable.

-- Alan (, May 08, 2001.

It would make me seasick to watch that rocking.

-- wow (, May 08, 2001.

Playing along with other musicians certainly helps, but it is also possible to all speed up together. I play piano in our church along with two guitarists and a bass player. We very often all speed up together. I attended an acompanyist seminar several years ago and the seminar leader suggested the pianist sing along as they play. This is not as easy to do as it looks, but it has a tremendous stabilizing effect. (It also does not help if the music you are playing has no words.) In any case, if one is accompanying a choir or vocal group, sing along; your tempo will be much more stable. If you want to really stretch your musical skills, try singing a harmony part such as alto or tenor, rather than the soprano melody line. If you can accomplish this it is very gratifying.

-- Jerry Van Ee (, May 09, 2001.

I was active church pianist for many years & had to play for choir, with an orchestra. Fortunately, I learned how to play piano without looking down at my hands (AN IMPORTANT SKILL TO LEARN, BTW), so I could keep my eyes on the music & occasionally glance at the choir director so I could follow his cues (sometimes he'd decide to rit. or whatever--I had to watch or I'd be lost!). We had a drummer, so that made things a lot easier, too. I found it helpful to sing to myself if there were words, but if I was accompanying a vocalist, I would just follow along with the vocalist. If the vocalist got off track or skipped a few measures (YES, IT HAPPENS!) I'd just follow right along. Most of the time, no one knows that mistakes are made. When playing in an ensemble or for choir or accompanying a vocalist, it's better to follow, not lead. You can cover up a multitude of "sins" that way. Besides, music is flexible, & it's not always good to keep the tempo so rigid. Depends on the type of music, of course. But I still say that ensemble experience is a good way to learn how to keep in line with everyone else--not get ahead & not fall behind.

-- Music Educator (, May 09, 2001.

Singing, yes! La-la-la or solfege syllables (it’s never too late to learn them). Beyond not having a strong rhythmic sense, one reason that speeding out of control happens in a learned piece is that the player is playing automatically, without really thinking and/or listening to every note. The piece has been played so many times that it can be played fast using finger memory without hardly even listening – a habit that develops only too easily, especially among those who have “facility.” Singing is an excellent way for the player to be present in every note, to think every note, to listen to every note. Ideally we do not play faster than we listen, which I suspect may be happening whenever someone’s speed gets out of control. (Yes, we can hear a series of very fast notes, but listening to every note is a slower, more concentrated experience.) Besides, you can almost always tell who sings the notes of the pieces he plays – the playing has a melodic quality that is missing from the playing of those who do not sing.

-- Alan (, May 10, 2001.


It seems it was even a problem for Chopin for whom the metronome was a constant companion whilst he practised.

An idea I have is to play a section of the end at the tempo required then gradually add sections in front of it.

eg start with bars 45-48 get used to playing at the correct tempo then add bars 41-44 etc.

I also wonder whether problems with relaxation and staying calm might be factoring into this.

just some thoughts which I hope may help


-- Mark Barry (, May 10, 2001.

I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to help. Some of these suggestions are easy enough to try, others require more discipline. It is certainly true that not relaxing is a part of the rushing, and that playing from finger memory is too. It is also reassuring to know that with time and effort the problem can disappear.

-- Stewart Weiss (, May 10, 2001.

I have a 9-year-old daughter who does the same thing. Patience, patience, patience. It will get better. My daughter showed noticeable improvement when I made her practice with an accomp. CD. She has agile fingers, so I'm sure that makes a difference, too. And as stated in one of the above posts, nerves are a factor. Just take heart & know that, with a little effort, it's not a problem that can't be remedied. Good luck!

-- Music Educator (, May 10, 2001.

In terms of specific practice technique, I find that two things, combined, help with this: 1) Slow practice, slow enough that... 2) You can count out (or listen to) the half-beats between the smallest interval played. This absolutely works for me -- try it yourself to see how it works. (With a metronome, set the metronome to the half-beat between the smallest interval.) If you can train yourself to listen to the half- beat, you become the master of many timing problems.

Rushing is a very hard problem, but obviously very important, and especially at this age. Another thing you can have her do is record and listen to her pieces -- she should be able to detect her rushing problem by herself.

More broadly speaking, I think many young musicians fall prey to a syndrome where they see their music as simply a task to complete -- one they may enjoy, or even love doing, but nonetheless just a task. It is precisely this attitude that can lead to problems like rushing through a piece, and I think you can probably see how -- the familiarity of the piece and the satisfaction of learning become the primary motives, rather than a love of the music itself.

One of the fundamental struggles of true musicianship, both at this early stage and later in life, is getting beyond this approach and understand what, for example, Bach is trying to say in a particular invention. To this end, get her some recordings of the pieces she is playing (or has played in the past), and try to see if she can emotionally relate to the music. Its asking a lot of a nine year old, but then again, you might be surprised at the kind of emotional maturity they can achieve, and music can play a critical role in this.

Others have suggested playing in ensembles -- this is a good approach to curing timing problems, but (if the ensemble is good and well instructed) it can broaden her musical development in many other ways. A word of caution -- if you cannot find an ensemble that you think is good enough, I would suggest that you discard the idea. There are some very well-taught music camps that might be able to help you here.

-- JS White (, May 19, 2001.

I was active church pianist for many years, & played in numerous small ensembles as well as with the adult choir & orchestra. Many of the musicians were not trained professionals. In fact, some of them couldn't even read music! But we all had to play together in strict tempo because usually the congregation, a soloist, or an ensemble was singing along with us. I learned a thing or three from those "untrained" musicians, & I don't agree that you have to seek out a professional group to learn how to keep a steady beat.

-- Music Educator (, May 19, 2001.

Record her! Get a small cheap tape recorder (I use a 9.99 special from Walmart) and let her listen to herself play the pieces. Our piano playing brains tend to acquire their "natural" speed which is directly proportionate to our ability (the better she gets the faster she will want to play it - its boring otherwise) - sounds great to the performer but not so for the audience. In addition to timing, she may also notice other incorrect phrasphing issues (louder, softer, smoother etc).

-- John Hinson (, March 07, 2005.

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