Discover the uniqueness of phrases in piano songs by practicing slow because it allows you to experience the intricacy of the musical writing in them.
It has been about 3 months since I started re-visiting Ballade Pour Adeline. Despite having learnt to play this song well enough several years ago, I am discovering that I am finding some of the phrases fascinating. Those that were plain to me before were intriguing this time around. The phrase shown in Image 1 below in particular attracted most of my attention.
Its glaring uniqueness is, it is the only phrase in the song that has chords in the bass clef, the rest of the song has chords voicing the melody. Perhaps this is the reason its rhythm too is unique, the pattern never imitated at any other time in the song.
The chords are not especially difficult ones, a pair of notes constantly separated by 3 intervals. Keep the distance between the thumb and the fifth finger fixed, hold the wrist in position and move the arm to guide them to the low register on the piano and they should be played fine.
The arrangement of notes in the RH melody too are easy. I found the real challenge to be executing the chords together with the melody in order to get the rhythm right because in this phrase the bass clef and treble clef notes are continuous as if they are one melody, instead of the bass clef notes acting as accompaniment to the melody in the treble clef to produce a homophonic musical phrase. The texture appears to be monophonic.
After days of attempting to perform the rhythm correctly by studying the score without success, I had to go back to using my ear by listening to a recording of the phrase played by other pianists. Having relied on my hearing and once I have grasped the rhythm, I returned to the piano to try and repeat it. It worked!
The rhythm was now correct, but I was still struggling with the tempo and accuracy. Remembering that success only came to those who believed it the most and the longest, I knew I could not rush and so decided to practice the phrase absolutely slow.
It was like taking a step backwards, therefore felt frustrating. However, I had come to understand that in learning to play piano songs, there were times when I had to take a few steps backwards to regroup and re-evaluate my condition before I can make a big leap forward to cross over the hurdle I was confronted with.
It was like taking a step backwards, therefore felt frustrating. However, I had come to understand that in learning to play the piano there were times when I had to take a few steps backwards to regroup and re-evaluate my condition before I can make a big leap forward to cross over the hurdle I was confronted with.
At a snail’s pace my hands hovered over the surface of the keys of the piano while my fingers struck them in slow motion. This approach magnified my perspective of the phrase. At normal speed the phrase would have ended in 3 seconds and my tendency to sometimes over-use the sustaining pedal blurred the sound. Playing it slow, I was able to experience the complexity of the phrase otherwise would not have been noticed - for example its monophonic texture.
Finally seeing the texture in its proper form, I changed my thinking on how to go about playing the notes in the base clef. If they were accompaniment, I would have played them separately from the melody and then place them beside it to make the intended music. Knowing that they too are to be considered as the melody, I blended them with the notes in the RH, treble clef to create one assimilated sound.
Attention concentrated on a phrase played slow meant that I could hear the beautiful details of the music writing. Exhibited through my discovery of the monophonic texture of the phrase in Image 1 and experiencing its rhythmic uniqueness and dynamic contrast.