Have you ever been accused of rushing? Dragging? I certainly have. And it is painful. I remember a great piano player/teacher named John Arnn once said, "If the guy knew he was rushing, he wouldn't be doing it!" It's not like a piano player gets a sneaky grin on his face and says to himself, "I'm gonna rush this phrase and tick off the drummer and everyone else in the band." So how do you fix a problem you never really hear? I decided what better way to fix this than to grab a book about how to play drums. It turned out to be a great decision and I thought I’d share one drum rudiment that has made a huge impact in my playing. This is a focus issue, not a time issue. It is possible to train your brain to keep time a priority, while also making the other musical choices that piano players need to make.
A paradiddle pattern is a wonderful way to make your playing more rhythmic. There are a lot of ways to practice these and incorporate them into your playing.
The basic pattern is R L R R L R L L. or flip it around: L R L L R L R R.
Just put your metronome on something medium slow and beat on the lid of the piano in eighth notes. For now, emphasize all of the down beats. 1, 2, 3, 4. Keep it all even.
Once you get that, go ahead and play one note in each hand on the piano. Then you can try moving around to different notes. Try some chords. Keep the pattern going. Speed it up and slow it down with the metronome. Try and play through a chord progression this way. Try and play a jazz standard this way with just chords.
At this point you can also try to swing it. New Orleans music does this a lot. Have some fun.
Finally, you can change up which eighth note you emphasize. Go through each one and bring it out. Once again there are specific patterns you can try that are found in drum books. And you can make up your own. Pick 2 or 3 or more eight notes to emphasize. Try it very quietly and very loudly.
(Side note: For me personally, emphasizing just beat 1 and nothing else helps the most with getting in that pocket. It evens out everything in between if I am conscious of exactly where that down beat is going to land. I do this for a while until I start getting fancy.)
Play a solo like you usually do but for a few bars play something based on this paradiddle. Try it with a jazz standard as well. Try it with a pop tune. Try it with a country tune.
Other ways you can challenge yourself:
1. Play the pattern as triplets instead of eight notes.
2. Cross your hands on the piano and play it.
3. Play a bar or two of some triplets, or 16th notes, then a bar or two of the paradiddle.
4. Play total nonsense on the piano but keep the pattern going.
5. Play one hand on the piano and one on the lid.
6. Play the pattern with just one hand… divide up your hand into 2 parts. Do this in each hand.
7. Crowd your hands over each other but on different notes. Any finger on left hand is L and any finger on right hand is R. Try it out.
If anyone has ever accused you of rushing or dragging, you’ll be able to hear what they are hearing if you try this. And you’ll be able to fix it. Just focus on that down beat. If you forget about the downbeat and start playing something you thought was cool… you’ll hear where you got ahead of it or behind it. Most of the time it will also point to a technique issue you'll need to address. You’ll have to start to be able to make the time the priority while simultaneously making other musical choices. Eventually this will become automatic and this will make you a much better musician whether you are playing solo or with others.
Obviously, we don't know everything. But we do tend to think differently. Here are some of my thoughts on piano and maybe some on life. I play piano for Tracy Lawrence, produce new artists, write and practice piano.