Piano songs - Canon in D

Look out for signs in the scores of piano songs and understand their spirit and style to play them in their purest rhythm, tempo and artistic image accurately


In an earlier I article I wrote how to overcome the tendency to rush through short notes. Rushing distorts the overall tempo of a phrase hence distorting the whole song. In that article, I focused more on the mechanical solutions, how to fix it physically with the movements the pianists make when touching the keys on the piano.

The other half to the solution is making analyses on the quality of the sound being produced and judge whether it is correct. If it is, proceed to the next phrase while holding on to the quality of sound already obtained, if not make corrections accordingly.

Tone of piano songs is bound by rhythm


Take the phrase in Image 1 for example. There are no playing instructions marked anywhere on the score. I have been at this phrase for days, what kind of sound is it telling me to coax out of the piano?

Its rhythm offers a clue. Tone is bound by rhythm. Get the rhythm right and I shall be closer to getting the tone right, thus produce the desired sound. There are patterns to each group of notes in a phrase. By Identifying them, then familiarizing myself with them through practice enabled me to absorb the rhythm. The quickest way to absorb the rhythm in a phrase is to practice hands separately. Proficiency in playing the piano is acquired one hand at a time.

Once proficiency has been acquired, it is time to do some thinking. This requires some understanding about the composer’s spirit and style. Not having this understanding makes it difficult to express elements of the rhythm accurately therefore deviating from the phrase’s true artistic image.

Spirit and style of piano songs


For example, there is a note in the phrase shown in Image 2 that should be played with a slur albeit a most subtle one. Looking at the score alone not a soul on earth would play it as such for there are no indications of it. Students of the piano who have come to love Canon in D like myself would because I have listened to recordings of this song hundreds of time thus had become familiar with its spirit and style. I would imagine before the age of the internet; the student would have had to be taught by the teacher in person, who himself learned from someone who understands Pacheibel’s spirit and style or by the composer himself.

Likewise, instead of a single note the focus of my attention was to render the whole phrase shown in Image 1 in its purest rhythm, tempo and artistic image. The signs on the staves that make the score gave me ideas on how to play in the correct rhythm and tempo. As for its artistic image; I set out to extract a rounded cantabile quality out of the phrase.

One may wonder why did I choose to do so? How did I know a rounded cantabile quality was the correct sound?

Here is where analyses and judgment play their role. First, I based them on the clues already in my possession; rhythm and tempo. Both provided to me through the notes and other signs written on the score. Second, cantabile is defined as smooth and flowing [reference WordWeb version 3.71], aware of the song’s spirit and style after listening to it hundreds of times and experimenting with the phrase for several days I was therefore certain that I was not mistaken. Another way to be sure is to sing the melody using your own voice out loud so that you can hear yourself. Hearing myself sing assisted me in making the correct judgment whether I should play the phrase in a smooth flowing manner or its alternative which is to play in a brisk and lively tempo.

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