The complete guide to dealing with tempo rubato

Rubato is a tricky beast to tame.

In many ways, it is a bit of an oxymoron. It must be planned, yet seem spontaneous. It must be subtle, yet noticeable. It must be clean, yet blurred. It must be unpredictable, but it must not be erratic.

It’s such a tricky beast to tame, I need 2400 words to tame it. Buckle in for a read.


So what does “tempo rubato” mean?

The dictionary says that rubato is:

the temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening, usually without altering the overall pace.

but that doesn’t really mean anything to me. Let’s go a bit further.

Rubato comes from the Italian word “rubato” (surprise!) which means robbed. This, in turn, comes from the Medieval Latin term “raubare” meaning “to rob” (again, surprise!). Together with “tempo”, we get “tempo rubato”, or robbed timeRead More »

How did Vladimir Horowitz get away with the flat finger technique?

If you read the last post, you’ll probably agree that curved fingers are generally touted as the way to go – but wait! Vladimir Horowitz, one of the greatest pianists of all time, played with flat fingers, and nobody’s telling him off? How did he get away with it?

Well, Horowitz’s technique was developed especially to account for his playing style, and his flat fingered technique was a stylistic choice. Click here to go to the previous post and explore the difference in tone and texture between playing with curved and flat fingers.Read More »

The difference between curved fingers and flat: tone, technique and texture.

Every piano player (or at least any one with a teacher worth their salt) would have had curved fingers drilled into them from a very young age. I remember all the metaphors – tennis balls, oranges, claw shapes, the whole shebang (I can never look at one of those claw machines anymore without thinking of piano).

But although I learnt to play with curved fingers, I never really understood the reasoning behind it until I swapped teachers and my new teacher actually explained it to me. (It was a pretty life changing moment for me. I was just following blindly up until then!)Read More »