Danny Holt

After writing about getting rhythm in piano and mentioning that the piano is a very rhythmic and percussive instrument I found a very interesting pianist thanks to google. His name is Danny Holt, a pianist, composer and percussionist from L.A.

A couple of words that can’t describe him better are INNOVATIVE and INVENTIVE. He definitely is one of the most innovative young musicians ushering classical music into the 21st century. Called “phenomenal” by the late music critic Alan Rich (SoIveHeard.com), and called “freak” (in a good and respective way) by me when I finished watching the first video I found from him – He simply is outstanding!

So what is so good about Holts style? Is boundless energy, wit to unique interpretations, obscure, unusual and neglected repertoire enough for you? I guess it is and I bet you can’t wait to see him in action.

Danny Holt has performed in halls, theaters, music schools and universities across the U.S. He debuted with his “Right Now” album in 2002 which had a lot of good comments and reviews but unfortunately is out of print – “… offers a taste of his offbeat take on the classics and cutting-edge music”, “Eclectic and fun…” – You could contact Danny and in exchange for some fine dark chocolate, he can be persuaded to send a copy, or e-mail some mp3s…

He also performed with Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2006 and has been very active since then, releasing 3 more albums.

More recently, in 2010 Holt unveiled a new project; the one that put the “freak” word in my mouth after watching his performance. In this project Danny takes advantage of his skills as a percussionist to perform new works written for a piano-percussion setup he has developed… Can you believe that? Well, see it and hear it on the video below:

And watch this other video performing “Wed” by David Lang in 2011, it is very impressive:

This guy is truly an inspiration to any musician!

If you like what you see, you should go to Danny´s website.

Getting rhythm on the piano

The piano, believe it or not is a very rhythmic instrument. I have always admired pianists who play it in a very percussive way. Heaps of pianists on the Latin Jazz and Fusion scene do that and that is when you find out how rhythmic a piano can be.

Look at it this way, when you push the keys down you are doing it in a percussive way and the beauty of the piano is that you can hit the keys softer or harder depending on what you are wanting to transmit.

Learning to play the piano is not an easy thing to do and because of this, when we start learning the piano we often focus on getting the chords sounding right and trying to do the nicest sounding melodies and can overlook rhythm and timing, which isn’t so good. We definitely need to balance our attention equally between nice sounding chords and rhythm.

Picture this: You are playing the piano in a band and you are improvising some chord progressions, what happens if you get all the chords sounding beautiful but out of time? Most likely you’ll get kicked out of the band or you might get pushed to PRACTICE AND STUDY rhythm for a week or so if you are lucky.

Rhythm is everything and I am not saying this because I am a drummer. Listen to your favorite song and tap your hand against the table, or your feet against the floor or head bang along with the rhythm if you want, rhythm is always there and the most important thing is that people can feel it!

Have you heard a band playing live, the drummer always counts 4 before the song starts, that is gonna be the tempo so the band knows how fast or slow to play. If you have noticed this and you can keep counting along to the beat of any song, then you are doing great! If you can´t, do not worry, you will get that very soon.

How can you tell when a piano song is very rhythmical? You will notice this very easily, the pianist will place a lot of importance on the timing and the rhythm patterns. A perfect example of this would be the song “Clocks” by Coldplay. Can you remember how the song starts? (Da dudu Da dudu Da du Da dudu Da dudu…?) The piano phrase has a very percussive nature which continues all the way through the song even when Mr. Rhythm (the drummer), starts playing he actually follows that same piano pattern – By the way, this song is also in 4, so try counting that tempo too.

What happens with solo pianists, for example a classical pianist? You might notice that there isn’t any particular tempo through the whole piece of music, this is simply because rhythm and timing is more open to interpretation by the pianist. When playing with a band, this is a completely different story as I mentioned on the example in the 4th paragraph.

How can you practice rhythm and timing? Easy, remember the exercise mentioned before about tapping your hand on a table, that is it! Although, if you can also count aloud the “one two three four” this will help reinforce what your hands or feet are doing.

Then try tapping “one two three four” with just your right hand. Then tap only with your left hand counting only the “one and three”. Your right hand should be tapping four times and your left hand taps every time you count one and three.

Something very important is to keep counting evenly. You have to create a regular pattern just like a metronome.

Be patient, getting the right timing and understanding rhythm will take some time if you’re new to music, but you will get it! As I have always said “rhythm runs through our veins, it is inside us – our heart beats”. So let the Rhythm be with you!

I am now leaving you with one of my favorite pianists, Michel Camilo, this time with a very interesting trio which consists of percussion, bass and grand piano, excellent work! I hope you like it!