I find students always focus on the notes, much less on the rhythm, little about the tempo, and not at all on the PULSE.
It seems especially difficult for piano students who only learn solo repertoire to keep a steady pulse. Anyone – who has experience as an accompanist for players of other instruments, choirs and ballets classes, a collaborative musician in a chamber group, a player in an orchestra (not the soloist) or even a conductor of a choir or an orchestra – will have a much better chance of keeping a steady pulse.
Note that a “PULSE” is a completely difficult issue from “tempo” or “rhythm”. A “pulse” is a strong regular beat in music, like a heart beat. It is STEADY, CONSISTENT and EVEN. Even when the tempo goes faster/slower, the speed of the pulse also increases/decreases in a steady, gradual way (unless it’s a sudden change of tempo in the same piece/movement, e.g. from Andante to Allegro).
A “pulse” is concerned with the duration of each beat, that the length of every beat is the SAME.
Sometimes the rhythm changes, that means e.g. there are originally quarter notes/crotchets, then 8ths/quavers are introduced. Students are usually fine with this. Then 16ths/semiquavers are added, some students get panic. If there are even 32nds/demisemiquavers, oh no, everyone panics. They just want to play these shorter notes faster without thinking about the RELATIONSHIP between the different rhythms. How many 16th/semiquavers are there in one quarter/crotchets? How many 32nd/demisemiquavers in 1 half note/minim?
How fast is ONE SINGLE PULSE / one beat ?
Remember, when the rhythms change, the pulse doesn’t change.
The same thing goes with the harmony. When the harmony changes at a faster/slower pace, the pulse doesn’t change. It remains the SAME.
All these are under the circumstance of no change in tempo in the single movement/piece. But before there is an introduction of tempo change or even tempo rubato, one should always get the basic pulse steady first.
Using a metronome does help at times. And I think students (yes, you, you and you) should use it more often than they do. But eventually you need to develop an INNER PULSE so that s/he can keep a steady pulse without help of teacher/metronome/tapping with feet (the last one doesn’t work!). For example, can you “speak” the different rhythms and interchange them with a metronome? Let’s say, 1 beat = 60, and it’s in 4/4 time. Now, speak the rhythm, starting with quarters/crotchets, 1, 2, 3, 4, landing them ON the beats, for 2 bars. Then, add 8ths/quavers, 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, or simply, use “ta” for each note (i.e. ta ta | ta ta | ta ta | ta ta | etc.), landing the odd number ones ON the beat, for another 2 bars. Then add 16th/semiquavers (ta ta ta ta | ta ta ta ta | ta ta ta ta | ta ta ta ta | etc.), for 2 bars. Now, speak with interchanging rhythms, so it could be 1 bar for quarters, 1 bar for 8ths, 2 bars for 16ths and so on. If you can speak out the interchanged rhythms easily, then you are feeling a steady pulse.
I would add that you can be more creative with your practice with a metronome. You can sing the melody with it, clap the rhythm with it, count the rhythm out loud with it, play with one hand and clap with the other (on the lap) with it, play one hand’s material and sing the other’s with it, etc. etc. With the example I just gave in the above, you can also practice beating the rhythms of the two hands’ materials on your lap (LH on left thigh, RH on right thigh). Because, like it or not, you are almost always playing different rhythmic patterns in both hands, a lot of the times even in the same hand.
Having a pulse is the basics in your playing. Don’t say you can add this after you find your notes. It doesn’t work that way/in that order. It should be: have a pulse, then find the notes AND rhythm at the same time.