The guiding principles for practising piano exercises well

Guide #7 for practising piano exercises well: Acquire a sense of the rhythm

The ticking of a clock, drops of water from an old pipe or the whistles of gushing wind all follow a connected line of rhythm. Rarely do they break away from the rhythm on their own unless influenced by other factors – new batteries, a plumber or a change in the blowing direction.

In a piano piece the grouping of minims, crothets and semiquavers form a melodic phrase. When arranged in the proper way infusing it with rhythm, the melody sings in a beautiful musical line.

The challenge is; can the pianist keep up with the rhythm?  Is she capable of staying true to the rhythm and maintain the musical line throughout the song? Are there piano exercises that can help you maintain the rhythm?

This was the obstacle I have been grappling with for the past few months trying to get Mozart’s Sonata K545 right.

Technically the song is a tough one to begin with. There are scales phrases that demand the rapid finger movements ascending and descending down the keyboard, which are then suddenly followed by staccatoed notes that are distantly separated, like a B and a G. 

The fingering for playing these two staccato notes is 1 and 5, the fifth finger being a weak one makes connecting the bar with the staccatos and the scale phrase that precedes it in a smooth musical line a most arduous task. 

When a piece is stubbornly resistant to come together rhythmically, what are we left to do? 

Go back to the score and study it again in depth. A piece by Mozart is never easy, when I first began playing the sonata I was focused more on getting the notes right above all else. Working on that alone took weeks. 

After I have acquainted myself with the song in total, only then did I begin to acquire a sense of the rhythm, grow ideas on articulation and expression to seam the melodic phrases into a musical line. When you start looking at a piece more closely and practise, you will get a clearer picture of how the song should travel in its musical line. You will see that every rest, staccato and accent contribute significantly to the expressive contents of the piece.

The great thing about learning to play the piano is that you become exposed to the different style of music that could be categorized according to the period they were composed. Five years ago I would not have been able to tell you what Baroque was even if my life depended on it. 

The difference between the music of each period adds richness to my learning experience as the piano becomes a bigger part of my existence. It also makes completing a song assigned to me more difficult, requiring more hours spent on practising piano exercises.

In a modern romantic piece for example ‘Ballade Pour Adeline’ or ‘Mariage D’Amour’ the accompaniment is pretty much predictable after a few lines. The left hand merely plays a supporting role in delivering these soul piercing, deeply romantic songs. 

However, in a classical piece sometimes the LH is tasked with carrying the melody for several lines. In Mozart’s case, since he is so fond of including scales in his compositions, the second movement of Sonata K545 has several phrases of scales descending and ascending the keyboard in the bass clef. Toiling to render them effectively reminded me of my first day of piano lessons – when I could not play at all.

Improvement on technique occurs when practising piano exercises single handed. Stumbling upon this section of the song in its second movement forced me to go back to basics and practise the phrase with the LH first. I spent countless hours adjusting my hand motions while playing the bass clef scales, tried playing them at different speeds and divided the sections into smaller parts in order to execute them perfectly. 

Despite the dedicated efforts the desired results were not forthcoming. My LH fingers did not have the endurance and flexibility to play this particular section of the song flawlessly. It called for further drastic action – by going back to the foundation of building piano technique; practising Hanon’s piano exercises from the beginning again. 

I had not even started on the rhythm, articulation and stitching them together into smooth flowing musical line. 

I can safely say now that all the hard work has not been wasted, what was turning out to be an impossible song to play decently enough has finally been conquered. On Saturday, alone in the tranquilizing silence of the night, rehearsing for my next piano lesson, after months of frustration; the scale phrases, staccatoed crotchets and accented chords fell into place in perfectly articulated musical line.

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