Short notes in piano songs are not always played fast, control reflex playing by slowing down and make pauses heard to project transitions of musical ideas
After weeks of stagnation progress was finally made in practise yesterday. I have begun to play a new bar of Canon in D. A new bar gained is like conquering new territories at war. A great sense of accomplishment washed over me as I moved an inch closer towards winning the battle to complete the song.
Learning a new bar presents a new challenge. An unfamiliar pattern in the arrangement of notes and the rhythm it is a thrill to discover. It so happens that the bar shown in Image 1 below consists of semiquavers for the most part. Naturally, I was inclined to play them fast.
In doing so however it does not fit into the established tempo of the phrase that it is a part of. Reflex at the sight of short notes such as semiquavers caused me to play them fast, the same reflex had caused me to play long notes slow even though the correct tempo to the phrase was otherwise.
No performance can be a good one if tempo cannot be deliberately controlled, if it succumbs to reflex. The fact is, it is one of a variety of elements that the pianist must harmonize fully with the composition.
To do so, I had to slow down. Therefore, I deliberately played the bar as if it were difficult to detach my fingertips away from the keys going from one key to the next as I played one semiquaver after another. Resulting in a sound that did not accelerate. To improve my hearing so that I could judge better the sound produced, I have adopted the practice of listening to good violinist, cellist and sopranos who have perfected their method in drawing the cantabile quality out of short notes. They can slow down rather than hurry over them.
After a new bar has been learnt well, the next challenge is to connect it to the rest of the song up to that point. Compared to my directionless effort before of trying to digest as much of a phrase as I could in one session, I have discovered that connecting one newly learnt bar to the rest of the song to be a more accommodating task. “Never bite off more than you can chew”.
Smoothening the edges at the seams where the bars are joint was what needed most attention. Most of the time the arrangement of a group of notes that construct a phrase in piano songs extends over several bars, therefore they are to be played continuously
There are occasions when a bar is the beginning of a new musical idea becoming the start of a unique phrase. On these occasions the bar although should be connected to the bar before it, had to be separated. How is it articulated as such?
Through a pause.
The bars shown in Image 2 below illustrates the meeting of 2 different musical ideas. The first descends into a diminuendo in a subdued adagio while the latter begins an ascend in an exuberant allegro.
A pause in between is not only proper, but I think demanded of the performer. Were it not so, the completely contradicting moods would have collided into each other ruining an otherwise beautiful moment of transition.
Of course, I had to be careful not to over do it. The pause to highlight the transition from one musical idea to another should not be too long as to mutate into an unwanted interval. Make it a subtle one but unequivocally heard. Pauses too are music. To perform them well, it is useful to play them mentally just like we do when studying a score away from the piano before a performance.