Piano songs - Canon in D

Play piano songs as wholesome entities instead of as bumpy sections haphazardly stitched together by studying the written score on paper and listening to recordings


Canon in D by Pacheibel stretches over 4 pages in length, while not appropriate to be considered as an enormous piece of a composition, I still had to acquire a sense of the whole song were I to play it well. And 4 pages is not really a walk in the park. A lot of work went into perfecting its execution. The more extensive the song in its length the bigger the challenge. I had to ensure my rendition of the song turns into a unified entity, wholesome in its standing – like a perfectly designed and erected building that inspires admiration.

Rightly so, I had been taught to learn a new song in short sections at a time. Then put them together to complete the song. Having done so for several years, there is no doubt about the soundness of this method. The problem is, because the ‘short sections’ were practised separately sometimes when put together they do not align with each other harmoniously - with regards to the tempo, rhythm and tone.

The perils of breaking piano songs
into short sections in practice


A section here could be faster compared to another section over there, even though they should be played at the exactly same tempo. A phrase in one section could have been played in forte while another in fortissimo although they were intended to be evenly fortissimo. Subtle mistakes, one might be forgiven for ignoring them.

KEY POINTS:

  • What? -  See and hear the whole

  • Why? - Flow harmoniously
  • How? - Study the written score on paper. Hear inside head

Therefore, my goal had to be to iron out wrinkles in the performance so that the sections of the songs are unified into one harmonious flow in sound – with even tempo, balanced tone and accurate rhythm.

The pianist has to be able to see the song as a whole and hear it as a whole, before he even begins to practise it in short sections separately one at a time.

Effective but with its own limitation because I could not see what I was hearing. By studying the written score I could see the notes, rests, pitch and detailed markings adding dimensions to the learning experience. Combined with the recordings I sourced from the internet they become powerful tools to accelerate my mastery of the song.

Piano songs unified into
their wholesome entities

IMAGE 1

Let us look at the phrase shown in Image 1, taken from Canon in D. It is a phrase that flows evenly. No signs of any crescendo or diminuendo are visible. Tone is also even, not a hint of a forte or pianissimo anywhere. Yet when I played it I could not help myself to play the 3rd bar slightly faster than the first bar. Why is that?

KEY POINTS:

  • What? -  Mistake in tempo
  • Why? - Tend to play bars with short notes fast
  • How? - Adjust perception

It has to do with my inclination to play a phrase consisting of short notes faster relative to a phrase with longer notes. The 3rd bar consists of quavers whereas the first bar consists of crotchets. The beats in the 3rd bar do move faster compared to the first bar but the overall tempo of the bars should have been the same. I had mistakenly taken the difference in rhythm between the bars and played them as different tempos.

Not a technical problem, more to do with perception. My mind was not fully prepared for the change in rhythm going from the first bar to the third. Another reason is momentum, once the rhythm beats faster it takes more focused effort to keep the tempo under control. Studying the written score of the composition prepares you for this and listening to recordings complements it.

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