Piano songs - Ballade Pour Adeline

Acquire tempo flexibility in playing piano songs by making good judgment on when to play fast or slow and accurate tone such how loud or soft.

The symbols on the written score signaled me to play the sequence of 2 note chords shown in Image 1 below using my 3rd and 5th fingers. Although still far from perfect, after weeks of practice I am feeling less resistance from the 5th finger while executing the chords.

However, it still lacked stamina and tire soon after. I suspected that I was not using my wrist well enough and relying on the joints of the fingers therefore causing them to tire quickly. Building strength in the 5th finger and skillful use of the wrist’s rotary movement continues to be an ongoing project.

Making judgment in playing piano songs

A more pressing issue lingered - judging how fast and how loud should I play the phrase. Prior to it, the phrase consisted of single notes and were mostly quavers. On the contrary, as shown in Image 1 the chords are not, they are semiquavers. Obviously, entering the phrase occupied by the chords and moving out of the phrase preceding it would demand tempo flexibility.

It did not happen immediately. I took weeks practicing the phrase in a slow consistent tempo. Not even attempting to change speed as I instructed by the symbols on the written score. The priority was first to connect it to the phrase that came before.

Accurate speed in piano songs

Once accomplished, I began to build up speed incrementally. Since the chords were semiquavers, if I were to consider a crotchet as 1 count, I had to be able to complete the phrase 4 counts faster. It is a hint on how to judge tempo – by counting.

Experienced students could do so subconsciously because of the years spent repeating the routine, I still count out loud consciously sometimes when met with a difficult section of a song. It helped to intensify the determination to successfully get over a difficult passage.

Appropriate sound in piano songs

After getting up to speed, the task of producing the appropriate sound is next. How loud or soft should I play the phrase? The written score provided some clues with playing markings such as ‘forte’ and ‘piano’. Individual judgment got involved too when no markings were present such as at the end of phrases where the sound tend to be played softer.

To play loud, press deep into the keys using the strength from the upper body. As if trying to push the piano to the front. At the same time, the upper body was being pushed backwards similar to a recoiling action as a result of the force exerted in the opposite direction. Press all the way down until reaching the bottom of the keybed, then switch off the effort. Meaning to say, hold the key without expending much strength.

A common mistake to avoid is striking the key from a height. Applying momentum do result in a strong loud sound but it is void of musicality, in addition to causing one to lose control over the keys especially when executing chords and octaves.

A soft tone is special because of the impact it transmits to the overall experience of the music listeners hear despite its subdued nature. To play soft, press the key with the level of sound that you wish, then make a little contact with the bottom of the key, ensuring to feel the sensation of the wood beneath.

The tricky thing about playing soft which I often experienced was not making a sound at all. The solution is to press all the way down until reaching the bottom of the key thus eliminating the risk of not sounding.

Get into the habit of counting the beats to acquire a sense for the tempo eventually becoming flexible in controlling it. Build up speed incrementally to arrive at the tempo demanded by the piano songs. Use the strength from the upper body to play loud. Feel the sensation of the wood beneath the keys when playing soft to achieve a desired delicate tone that is also firm.

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