Piano songs - Canon in D

Focus on working to perfect the nuances that exist in piano songs such as dynamic gradation of tone and tempo shifts to discover the pleasure of piano playing


To keep the nuances of a song intact a feel for the whole of a song as one entity is crucial. It is convenient being able to listen to recordings to get this feel, but I have found that listening to another’s performance was also deceptive. I got the false impression of having the ability to play certain phrases with ease and some being beyond my level of proficiency.

A feel for the whole of piano songs


The most accurate method to acquire the feel for a whole song is to play through it from start to finish. Even with mistakes. Time consuming and a painstaking process, minus the pleasure of beautiful music making, but one I had to endure for the purpose of at the very least becoming familiar with the rhythm.  Other elements could be learned and understood later.

KEY POINTS :

  • WHAT? - Feel the whole

  • WHY? - Find the nuance
  • HOW? - Play through start to finish

Then I could judge the song’s features and decide if I was inclined to learn it wholeheartedly. The goal was to succeed in projecting the song’s artistic image, while thoroughly enjoying the process with all the challenges. Not merely playing a song for playing’s sake because it is a famous composition written by a great historical figure composer. Absent a sincere goal one can only fail.

After playing through a few times an image of the whole of the song as one entity started to appear in the mind. The rhythm, tempo, tone, and the arrangement of notes became predictable. For the time being, predictable was good enough. It was sufficient to give an idea on how to decipher a passage, followed by a phrase and down to an individual bar.

Nuances of piano songs
is where the pleasure is


At the individual bar was where I worked to chisel the nuances of a song into form. Its tempo built incrementally. Tone could be experimented with. Rhythm corrected. With these elements in place, I could then explore my expression to arrive as close as possible at projecting the true artistic image of the song.

KEY POINTS :

  • WHAT? - Tone gradation

  • WHY? - Portray artistic image
  • HOW? - Explore tonal boundaries. Develop agile fingers and wrists

For example, the bar shown in Image 1 below from Canon in D should be played with a tone that is firm to reflect the chords’ strong presence. They are the spine of a musical phrase while the single notes flanking them act as padding. However, to produce the tone that portrays the image the bar is meant to project I had to explore its tonal boundaries. Made the notes sound as soft as I could and a tad louder to get a sense of its extreme limits, then I made adjustment to draw out a tone that is demanded which laid somewhere in between.

“It is possible to render one hundred dynamic gradation in between the limits of what may be known as ‘not yet tone’ and ‘no longer tone’“  - Carl Czerny

Finger agility and deft use of the wrist’s maneuverability determined how successful I was in producing the accurate touch when making contact with the keys of the piano to affect the proper gradation in tone. There could be a hundred possibilities of gradation in tone. Therein laid the pleasure of learning to play the piano, discovering the tiny nuances hidden in a composition and challenging myself to execute them well. It raises one’s level from a mere music enthusiast to a connoisseur.

As an adult student with zero background in music, I had to start by learning children’s piano songs. If I was five years young, I may have found them exciting to learn. But I knew I had to grasp the principles of piano playing at the most fundamental level, so I endured the tedium of playing children’s songs for months. Soon I started to learn real compositions, easy ones at first such as Memory which I consider the first real composition I played on the piano. 

From then onwards, there were unique nuances in the tone, tempo and rhythm that made each composition distinct, that made playing the piano a wonderful experience. To discover them feel the whole of the composition as one entity. It could be done by playing it from start to finish ignoring temporarily the mistakes that were bound to be made. The priority is to get a feel of the whole composition and capture its rhythm.

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