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Jun 13 / Greg

Cross Rhythms in Piano Practice

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The value of using cross-rhythms is in developing finger independence, and developing the ability to accent any note/finger at will.
This skill is needed in the realisation of many of the piano compositions of all major composers, and is essential in playing the keyboard compositions of Bach.

A cross rhythm occurs when a group of notes is played in such a way that the accent falls on a different note with each repetition.

Consider the 5-finger note group:

Cross Rhythms 1Click on the image to enlarge

If the exercise is played in ‘two’s’, accenting the first note (finger) of each pair, the same notes and fingers get the accent in every repetition.

Same occurs when playing in ‘four’s’, accenting the first note of each group has only the C and the G (fingers 1 and 5) being accented.

If the group is played in ‘three’s’, the accented notes/fingers change in each repetition.

cross rhythms 2Click on the image to enlarge

This is a cross-rhythm.

Notice that there are three complete cycles of notes before the accent falls on the C again. Every finger gets accented in the course of these three cycles.

Cross rhythms can be used with any cyclic repetition exercise, whether static (i.e. Schmitt exercises), or progressive (i.e. Hanon exercises), to name just two.

In Western Music, all rhythms can be reduced to combinations of 2 and 3. These are the two ‘prime numbers’ of rhythm.

If we consider ‘five’s’:

cross rhythms 5Click on the image to enlarge

Notice the grouping is 3 + 2. The grouping can be swapped to 2 + 3 to get a different rhythm again:

cross rhythm 6Click on the image to enlarge

This time it takes 5 complete cycles to get back to the C in an accented position.

Apart from the benefit to finger control, practicing in cross rhythms adds another dimension to repetitive practice. They add variety, and sharpen mental focus and concentration.


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