Piano songs - Canon in D

Identifying the rhythmic patterns in piano songs and layering the sounds of chords are some of the factors that result in melodies singing with expression


The principle of piano playing once mastered allows a person to play any song. After 8 years of lessons only recently had I begun to put this statement to the test. By attempting to play Canon in D by Pacheibel on my own without the guidance of a piano teacher.

Out of misplaced and disproportionate reverence towards a composition, I had been reluctant to take up a song unless it was handed to me by my piano teacher. She has great taste in music and due to her vast experience is always able to suggest songs best suited for me to learn. Putting my faith in her has taken me far in my journey in discovering the essence of music making.

Even simple melodies in piano songs
should be made expressive


Alas, sooner or later a cub must hunt his own prey. Canon in D would be my first. The first principle I applied to it was that even simple melody should be made expressive. To me it meant conveying my music and artistic intention clearly.

Expressions vary depending on the nature in which the notes in a phrase are arranged, the presence of rests and the time signature. The nature of the performance should harmonize with the nature of the melodic content. Let us use the phrase shown in Image 1 for example.

Chords dominate the melodic content. They are the spine of the music while the single notes flanking them act as paddings. To express the significance of the sounds made by the chords, linger on the single note immediately prior to a chord a little longer before playing it.

The chords can be expressed more attractively by layering their sounds. Meaning to say, making one of the notes in the chords more pronounced over the others. The top note affects the biggest impact for such purpose. As shown in the example in Image 2 below, the note E is the top note to the chord consisting of the notes ACE.

With the hand in position over the keys of ACE, play only E strong. Then play AC together softly. Or better still silently; as in pressing the keys without making a sound. Close the gap between the two by bringing the events closer together until you can play them simultaneously – ACE but only the E producing a sound. Add a soft sound to AC later to create a layered sounding chord of ACE in which the E is more pronounced over the rest of the other notes.

Musical ideas of piano songs


Bringing events closer together is an act of connecting notes into a phrase played in one flowing time. A musical passage contains several musical ideas, each articulated through the phrases that grace it. If instead of flowing time, a single note is played individually in discreet time, a phrase would sound disjointed or more bluntly put; lifeless even. It should be alive, flexible and breathes with the music resulting in its ideas conveyed as clear as crystal.

A musical idea is a unique set of an arrangement of notes in a musical passage. A set is usually grouped into a phrase as shown in the example in Image 3.

A musical idea carries a pattern of rhythm that is different from another. It is by varying the combinations and arrangement of musical ideas that infinite works of music are born into existence.

The piano student can learn a song faster by identifying the patterns in the arrangement of notes in each phrase. Each pattern carries traits such as the presence of chords, notes’ pitch, intervals between them and keys signature that determine the rhythm produced. Grasping the pattern well instead of learning note by note one at a time is a more effective learning process.

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