I was performing a piece called ‘La petite e’toile’ for one observant and mercilessly critical audience recently. I suppose she has to be, it was her job, as an experienced pianist assigned to me as a peer reviewer during a piano workshop – they were asked to be brutal in their assessment of their peers’ piano playing. The workshop was organized by a music academy situated in the neighbourhood
In one dashing run of semiquavers; as my fingers struggled to keep up with the tempo of the phrase, she exclaimed, “ You should not play the song just on its surface. Play it in whole, delve deeper into the song.”
There is much more to playing the piano than just moving your fingers around on the keyboard.
She proceeded to sit on the piano bench next to me and demonstrated her rendition of the song. Every fine detail, little nuances of the piano song were laid bare by her. She guided her fingers to dance expertly in front of me - coaxing out the softest sound when a finger lands on the first note of a crescendo phrase. Ringing a tiny ornament and exalting an accent with a burst of violent passion as she made her way gracefully through the piano song.
‘La petite e’toile’ is played in the key of A major. Look out for the keys signature at the far left of the staves. Three notes raised a semitone representing the key of A major, F#, C# and G# are indicated.
There shall be numerous black key actions in this piano song, as I have duly found out just by playing the first four bars of the song - which are not even really the real substance of the song. The first line is just a decoration that has to be unwrapped before actually seeing the true romantic essense of this piano song.
Delving deeper into the song I tried my best to bring out the first note as softly as I could - trying to meet the expectation of the music score staring back at me with the words mezzo piano under the first bar. It means to play very softly.
The first four bars in the treble clef of the piano song are made up of entirely of semiquavers. It shall have to be played fluidly with constant forward momentum without pause.
Moreover, notice that every grouping of notes in each bar is marked with a legato line. So the opening phrase is a smooth rapid flowing line of quick beats.
Though it is a romantic song, it is not a melancholic ballad. The song is actually rather perky. For that reason, when you unveil the opening phrase, play it amiably and make the rhythm come off as pleasant.
In the first bar, there are four grouping of notes. Each group has four semiquavers. In the first group, the first and third notes are paired with an E; as in CE, AE . To make my explanation easier to understand, let’s call the C and A ‘front notes’.
A similar arrangement is composed in the second group too as in; GE and AE. Before you play the whole bar try playing just the notes before the Es. You will hear how the melody descends and ascends again.
Hearing the melody this way is important in the first four bars if you wish to play them well. Other than an E, the notes in front will be paired with C, A and G – as the pair descend together. To be able to hear how the rhythm should sound when played correctly, play just the ‘front notes’ first.
Another useful tip; in the second half of the second bar, you shall encounter a sequence of notes that initially is an ascending scale for the first three notes, in then continues to climb upwards the piano but not in a scale like fashion. What is it then? To be precise, an arpeggio in the key of A major, with a C#. Use the middle finger to land on the black key when playing the phrase. Continue reading part 2 of 'Piano Song - La Petite e'Toile'.