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#142: Rubato: Secret Sauce for Your Musical Expression

Every restaurant chain, every chef has their “secret sauce.” It’s that unique ingredient that makes their food taste special every time. It's part of their culinary signature.

There is a secret - or maybe not so secret - sauce in musical expression too. It’s rubato. It’s the element of musical pacing that breathes life into music, that keeps it from sounding dull and robotic, that helps a melody sing and rich harmonies unfold with spaciousness.

Today’s podcast is an exploration of what rubato is and how you can use it to add depth and expression to your playing. I’ll explain how to figure out where and when to use it, and equally important, when not to use it. I’ll play some examples for you too, so you can hear exactly what rubato is. I imagine that you are going to have one of those “aha” moments as you are finally able to put a name to that thing that’s been missing from your playing.

I’m not saying your playing is unmusical. But rubato is something most musicians don’t understand, and it is something that is hard for even experienced teachers to explain. Singers and instrumentalists who play a melody line instrument like the flute or violin know a lot more about rubato than we harpists do. That’s partly due to the fact that, unlike a flutist or a violinist, we can’t control the sound of a note after we have played it; we can’t actively sustain it or crescendo as we hold it. As a result, we tend to focus on the coordination of our two hands, on the chords or the vertical dimension of our playing, rather than on the horizontal melodic line, which is where rubato has the biggest effect. 

But music lives in both those dimensions - horizontal and vertical - as well as the dimension of time. Using rubato is a way to use time to allow us to express the other two dimensions of music, how we create freedom and flow. And it’s so much fun.

I hope I have intrigued you, because I really want you to listen to the information I’m going to share today. It will likely change the way you approach playing a piece. It may possibly change the way you practice a piece or what you consider a hallmark of a good performance. At the very least, I’m pretty sure that you will want to try it out with one of your pieces as soon as this episode is finished.

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions and suggestions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected] 


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