Interpret piano songs by playing one note at a time, then connecting them to construct the rhythm, tone, tempo and the language to the story meant to be told
Vibrations in the strings of the piano fascinate me. The broad range of sound the vibrations make is a testament to what a brilliant musical instrument the piano has evolved into since humans first began plucking a string to make noises. Peculiar symbols on a piece of paper are turned into vibrations with the pressing of a few keys, and as if one was witnessing a miracle, they give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
There are not more than 7 fundamental notes in piano music. Placed at different pitch, limitless possibilities in the combination of sounds are possible. The composer has made sure to take care of that business, the pianist is only left to put his instructions into action.
It has been a slow trek across the bars of Canon in D for a couple of months now. When I set out on this journey, I told myself I was going to learn the song 1 bar at a time. To take my time going through each note and symbol so that I can absorb the art in the music. Not merely mimicking the sound I see written in the composition.
While progress has been slow, which is as it should be by design and intentional, I am less overwhelmed by the large number of notes, symbols, and markings I have had to digest. The process has been to my delight an enjoyable one. As I entered a new bar in the song today, having to recognize the rhythm, tone and tempo from scratch all over again made me experience the sense of being a beginner. It made me ask, how do I interpret this bar? Against what benchmark do I compare my interpretation?
For example, the phrase in Image 1 below is not a complicated one. Interpreting the crotchets and quavers that occupy it is not a difficult task because of the simple nature in which they have been arranged. But what is the process involved that eventually led to the manifestation of a melody that has been loved by so many for over a century?
The answer is insight into the composition. Its artistic image, intent and mood are to be internalized by the pianist. From my own learning experience the process began the moment I started to hit the first key to the first note of a song. At that point I had no idea of the sound, rhythm, tempo and tone. Slowly, by playing one note at a time connecting the next note to those before it, an image of the song began to appear in my mind aided by a good sense of hearing.
If the song is a familiar one because you have listened to it before either from a recording or a live performance, the process of internalizing it is faster. The piano student is going to become familiar with the song anyway through repetition in practice, so I have realized that I am still able to learn a song well without the aid of listening to recordings. I still do but only when I am stuck on a phrase when the rhythm eludes me.
Having a teacher around during such times is better, then you shall receive the hands-on demonstration on how it is done and extra wisdom imparted. During those solitary hours at night practising alone when there is only yourself to rely on, put faith in your inner hearing to coax the rhythm out piano guided only by the symbols in the music score.
"Don't play what's there, play what is not there." - Miles Davis
Interpret piano songs by playing them one note at time. Connect a note to those before it and a picture of the phrase shall begin to take shape in your mind. Rhythm, tone and tempo are words in the language to the story the song is meant to tell, stay true to them by remaining faithful to the music score and play what is there, after which you shall be able to play what is not there.