Piano songs - Canon in D

Polyrhythmic piano songs played better by isolating the rhythm within the rhythm and practising them separately, counting the beats, and in small sections

Nowadays I count the beats to the notes of a composition I am learning silently. The counting process has been so well programmed, the heart and mind do it unconsciously. Occasionally I stumble upon a section I struggle to get through such as the one shown in Image 1. In these instances, I am forced to back to basics. Play it very slowly and count the beats out loud.

Rhythm of piano songs

The characteristics of rhythm include the count of the beats in a group of notes and each individual note’s pitch. Being aware that factoring these 2 elements is what determines how well you execute a rhythm, relieves the learning process of frustration.


  • What? – Correct duration of notes

  • Why? - Capturing rhythm
  • How? – Count the beats

For example, the duration of the crotchet in the first bar should be correct therefore, counting the beat is necessary. It leads to getting the duration within the crotchet correct, as in the quavers and semiquavers which also occupy the bar.

High density of notes and varying intervals between pitch make the rhythm more difficult to execute.

What I would do is simplify such difficult phrases by prolonging the count to the beats of the notes. Meaning to say by playing the notes longer than what they really are. Playing a crotchet as a breve for example. The phrase could also be divided into smaller, shorter sections so that I could manage reaching all the varying pitch between notes.

As I become familiar with the rhythm I would start to play as written. Do it gradually by playing the crotchet as a minim from a breve. And only later as its intended crotchet. This method could be implemented on the rest of the notes in the bar and throughout the composition.

Knowing the basic principles involved in capturing rhythm, I could now apply them to performing polyrhythmic phrases. Any song with a melody and an accompaniment is considered polyrhythmic. Piano students are taught to practise them hands separately one at a time. Melody with the right hand and accompaniment with the left hand. After they are played well hands separately, combined they produce a textured homophonic sound when played with both hands together.

Rhythm within a rhythm within piano songs

In a polyrhythmic phrase, there is a rhythm within a rhythm in the melody. Unlike the rhythm of the melody and accompaniment which are separated into the treble clef and bass clef for our convenience, a rhythm within a rhythm is not as obviously presented.


  • What? - Polyrhythm
  • Why? - Produce textured melody
  • How? – Isolate each rhythm

It has blended in with the rest of notes in the melody. It takes a conscious effort to look for it to find it. Experienced pianist should be able to spot it by reading through a composition, I still need to play a polyrhythmic phrase to hear the rhythm within a rhythm. Having done so I would isolate them into individual rhythm and practise them separately. As shown in Image 2 for example.

Practise the blue circled rhythm. Then practise the red circled rhythm. Listen to how each sound individually when it is isolated from the original melody. Notice how you can (or cannot) hear each distinct rhythm when they are inserted back into the melody and played together as a whole entity.

A rhythm within a rhythm can be played with its own expression, tone, and dynamics on top of the other rhythm’s expression, tone, and dynamics. As a result, a richly textured melody endowed with elements of musicality is produced.

It is extra work to be doing this. I could just practise the melody as one entity without considering its polyrhythmic nature. But then, I would not be able to appreciate the artistry in the craftsmanship of such piano songs. I would merely be mimicking without understanding. To my regret, the approach I had taken in learning how to play the piano. I am amid rerouting the course of my piano playing journey wishing to experience its music without missing the subtlest nuance.

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