Speed in playing piano songs is gained incrementally by practicing in short sections, learn to project artistic image by listening and learning technique
Moderately paced is how I would describe Canon in D. Getting up to speed to match its required tempo was a challenge I looked forward to. Knowing my awful habits all too well most likely I would end up playing it too fast. So, to be on the safe side I started practicing at the slowest speed possible. For example, as shown in Image 1 playing every note in the bars below as breves instead of the quavers that they are.
Continuing to practice this way for several sessions to familiarize myself with the notes. Another reason to practice slow is to determine the most natural fingering best suited in rendering a phrase. Once familiarity is gained and fingering determined, I could start to build up speed. The most obvious thing to do is pick up the pace just a little bit by playing the bars as minims.
Alternating the pace by playing a bar as breves followed by playing the next bar as minims gave me a sense for shifting tempo mid-phrase. Without being too extreme or sudden with the shift. Speed is built up incrementally, therefore a small increase in speed from a bar played as breves to a bar played as minims is sufficient in the beginning.
Later, when ready, I would increase the pace up a notch by playing the bars as quick, quick, slow in cells of 4 notes. Use crotchet, crotchet, minim to get the desired effect as shown in Image 2 below for example.
Another variation is playing them long, short, long. Using minim, crotchet, minim to get the desired effect. Practice as such in cells of 4 notes which later can be extended to cells of 8 notes. This method allows the piano student to gain speed incrementally in small sections as opposed to attempting to play a whole phrase fast.
Benefits of practicing piano songs very slowly in the beginning besides gaining familiarity with the notes involved include absorption of rhythm and understanding the songs' central themes, their musical ideas. Because one influence the other; success in assimilating them results in the conjuring of the correct mood of a song, putting you well on the way towards articulating it as it was intended.
Rhythm, theme, and mood properly executed project an accurate artistic image of a song – the goal of a piano performance. To accomplish this task, I took the approach of studying Canon in D as whole as well as in microscopic detail.
Studying it at first, as a whole I listened to the song from start to finish dozens of time before I even went near the piano. Hearing the rhythm, subtle changes in the tone and flow of the tempo to absorb their intricacies.
When I was studying under a teacher, I would pay close attention to her fingering, the way her hands and arms moved with every execution of a phrase and copied her in practice. She would correct every wrong move I made. In addition to the quality of sound I was hearing from her, I pilfered the technique needed to play directly from her. Learning Canon in D on my own I did the same by watching videos.
Mentored by a great teacher, I have been able to continue to grow as a pianist years after. For she has embedded in me the principals required. Although it was difficult to capture visually the swift movements of the fingers by watching videos alone, listening to the tone produced and the rhythm they danced to, aided by the careful study of the written score I have been able to play the song to satisfaction.
Progress had been slow and I dread the thought of the increase in the level of difficulty as enter deeper into the composition, but I am assuaged by the thought that I can break it down into short sections, shorter than a bar if necessary to study it in detail slowly. And as evident thus far enjoyed the process.