Piano songs practised in a balance manner, emphasizing the sound’s musicality as well as physical movement results in improved technique and gratifying experience.
Improving technique demands lots of practise. It is not however, a purely mechanical process such as landing on the correct keys accurately without mistakes. Technical prowess is also developed when one feels strongly about one’s instrument, the music being created and from experience.
For a long time, I used to focus on the physical sides of piano playing. I saw the white and black keys and the imposing size of the piano. I pushed my body to practise hard, the keys must be struck precisely otherwise the big bad black piano is not going to like it. Its size and price were intimidating.
With time I have learned to shift my attention away from the physical sides of learning how to play the piano and instead prioritized the sound I was making, the emotions accompanying it and the story I was trying to tell with every passage I performed. Time consuming but much more gratifying. Playing the piano became even more pleasurable too.
The challenge was keeping a well-balanced practice session. I had to fix mistakes in my motions which is the physical side while also absorbing the rhythm, sensing the tempo and feeling the articulation by listening with my ears and thinking with my head – a lot to do in a one-hour practise session.
Therefore, I have learnt to prioritize substance over volume. If I could get one bar played properly with emotion and beautifully articulated in a 30-minute session I consider it a great success. Repeated everyday it adds up, eventually leading to a finely rendered composition. As opposed to my older practise of trying to play a whole phrase with every note struck correctly but rushed and lacking enough time to work on its sound - devoid of any musicality.
Paying attention to balance meant that, besides focusing on the physical part of piano playing as in the movement of arms, hands and fingers, I needed to hear the inner voices and the details in the composition's writing. Letting none of the rhythmic drive, as well as the dynamic contrast escape me. “Hearing is an organ of the soul” – Boris Pasternak, Nobel Prize laureate in literature, 1958.
Using my hearing I could then make corrections to the sound I was making yielding it to conform to the required rhythm. There are certain traits carried by the patterns in the arrangement of a group of notes that determine the rhythm produced. Recognizing these patterns help to develop musical sense, including better hearing. Some of those traits are the notes’ pitch, the intervals between them, and the key signatures.
Coincidentally tempo too is judged through hearing. Count the beats out loud until you can hear your own voice to acquire a sense for the tempo. Build up speed incrementally to arrive at the tempo demanded by the piano songs.
To arrive at the required tempo, gain the speed necessary in small increments. Drill yourself to practise quick, quick, slow or long, short, long, in cells of 4 and 8 notes. As you progress, extend the cells into bars. Play a bar fast, the next bar slow then prolonging them by playing 2 bars fast and 2 bars slow.
When playing with emotion is demanded for the story the song tells be told in its purest form, add dynamics. Practise by playing a bar fast and loud (forte), the next bar slow and soft (piano). Use energy from the upper body pushing it backwards as though trying to push the piano forward and play deeply into the keys for a stronger sound.
Play the notes with the level of sound that you want then make a little contact with the bottom of the key to produce a soft tone that remains firm. The stronger sound alternated with the soft tone create contrasting dynamics.