Tone and rhythm of piano songs are absorbed before they are performed well, select familiar songs to learn, develop good sense of hearing, timing and technique
Fascinating is it not how music flows across its peaks of high pitches and valleys of low baritones? It is like a living and breathing entity. More obviously so when you are listening to live a performance. Witnessing in real time how the instrument responds to the touch of the performer.
So fascinated was I, that I harbored the desire to learn the piano for almost 2 decades. Finally doing so a year before I turned 30. Perhaps it was that strong desire that helped me develop my sense of hearing. Specifically, in listening to the tone and rhythm of piano songs.
In sound production, we judge the quality by judging the tone and rhythm. A constantly progressing musical phrase varies in tone throughout. Good hearing is needed to judge accurately whether you are executing the phrase in the proper tone. Especially so when distinguishing pianissimo from piano such as shown in Image 1 below for example. Or when a phrase gradually diminishes in tone into a whisper at the end of a passage such as shown in Image 2 for example.
To ensure of an expressive performance, accurate judgement on the quality of tone is essential. Making accurate judgement on its quality requires the development of good hearing. It means you can pick up on the slightest shift. Noticing not only a generally soft tone but can also make the distinction when it is softer than soft.
Anyone with an inclination towards music should already be in possession of this gift. Only the matter of execution in controlling the touch of the fingers when making contact with keys of the piano remains. I was surprised that very early in starting to take up piano lessons my teacher commented that I could play very well, despite my slow sight reading and occasional mistakes in landing on the correct keys. Most probably she was referring to the well-rounded tone I was producing because of my well developed sense of hearing.
Tone and rhythm compliment each other in solving the problems of delivering an expressive performance. From what I have learned so far, I would say there are three main problems.
The first is absorbing the artistic image of the song. It includes its meaning, content, and expression.
A song tells a story and coveys a message, therefore should be told accurately. It should be understood well before it can be performed properly. I speak for myself when I state that I cannot play whatever song comes my way. I prefer certain songs, those that I had been listening to since as a child and grew up with. I absorb their rhythm quickly and can reproduce the tone effectively when I set out to play them.
There are songs that would not mesh with my spirit, I thought I liked Fur Elise by Beethoven, but struggled to play it. Canon in D however has been a perfect match. Select songs that already occupy your heart. You will be able to absorb them more effectively, understand them better hence project their artistic image well. If you find that some songs do not excite you, do not hesitate to move on to others.
The second problem is conjuring the artistic image. Giving it shape in the form of sounds that can be heard. Because music flows, tone passes through time. The right tone must be produced at the right time to lend the right expression. Counting the beats of the notes while playing is good practice to develop your sense of timing. Practise varying the tone in time by playing the exercise in Image 1 below for example.
The third problem is technique in exercising control over the body’s muscular movement related to piano playing and mechanism of the piano. They are developed by working at the piano. Practise solving problems number 1 and number 2 as described in the paragraphs above often and persistently to render an expressive performance.