Beethoven’s sonata and other piano songs sprinkled with playing markings and chords progressions are a challenge to play, get tips on how to do just that in this article.
Closing in on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven it seemed fitting that Elaine had chosen to perform one of his sonatas for her recital. Not just any sonata for that matter, but one that he composed and dedicated to the only woman known to have returned his love. At least that was what the program booklet claimed.
The program booklet also described the sonata as “...a dreamy star-gazing fantasy in moderate tempo that segues into a frighteningly focused agitato of nightmarish intensity...”
Elaine would have had to ponder deeply about the playing markings in that sort of a composition to be able to recreate the music for herself.
Her arms glided over the keys in elegant fashion, so effortless it was if as if the wind was carrying them, yet they made the piano sing Beethoven’s sonata in a sensational voice. Putting to rest any doubt I had earlier whether or not she had done the required in-depth study of the composition.
When asked how she did it, typical of most young ladies possessing grace and humility she just shrugged her shoulders and giggled. Compositions by Beethoven are widely taught to piano students. I learned some of them too, so I could probably guess accurately how she could have adhered faithfully to Beethoven’s playing instructions.
Confronted with a leviathan of a piece such as Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.30 in E Major, the task of playing the notes accurately alone in the specified time signature is already a daunting one. Therefore, I have always taken the liberty to temporarily ignore the playing markings at first, returning to them after I could play through the piece well enough.
By doing so, I am able to study the playing markings in-depth, experiment with varying touch, speed and articulation. I have held on to the opinion that the playing markings are what make a composition ever more seductive, like icing on a cake makes it sweeter. Executing the playing markings to perfection is the all-important intellectual part of piano practice.
Speaking of sweetness, were Beethoven to indicate ‘dolce’ somewhere in his composition, how would a piano student go about playing it?
Since the goal is to produce a tender adoring sound executed in a light touch, what I would usually do is make certain my fingertips sink into the keybed overlapping the legato. While my hands and fingers go through the motions of executing the manoeuvre, I would control the muscles involved; holding back some strength so that the music does not rise above ‘forte’.
Sat two meters away, a scene of intense concentration projected by Elaine up there on stage was no less obvious to me. As she began a gradual pivot from the first to the second movement, the tempo could be heard gaining pace from moderato to agitato just like the program booklet described.
Chord progressions became more pronounced. Despite the difficulties she was pulling the tempos around in what seemed a playful manner. Sonata No.30 has many chords made up of more than 3 notes. The challenges involved in playing this song cannot be exaggerated, however there are tips to make playing chords easier. Play the top note first but keep the fingers in position on the other 2 chord notes without playing them.
Practice this way until you get used to the overall movement of the song and its rhythm. I takes patience to master piano songs, repetition is a big part in learning the piano. After a while, it may take days or weeks depending on how much work your put in, you will know when you are ready to play all the notes in the chords together.