Piano songs - Canon in D

Listen and sing the rhythm in piano songs to determine whether a phrase should be allegro or cantabile as a result, the right mood and artistic image are conjured

The build up towards the climax of a song is something to look forward to. The transformation of a phrase from cantabile to allegro is an inspiring listening experience. One of which is shown in Image 1 below taken from Canon in D.

Then, begs the question of how do I decide whether the music should be performed in cantabile or allegro? A piano student always wants to know the “how”. Playing the piano is after all a manual activity. However, “why” is the better question to ask, because it leads to deep understanding of the structure, content, and essence of the music.


  • What? - Allegro or cantabile 
  • Why? – Conjure mood and artistic image
  • How? – Listen to rhythm. Sing out loud

With in-depth understanding the “how” could be figured out and accompanied by a strong sense of conviction in its execution.

Conjure the mood of a musical phrase. Unlike rhythm which is defined by the arrangement of notes that you can sight-read from a score, mood is not so apparent. It is heard and felt. So, I would say that it is determined by tone and tempo.

Allegro in piano songs

Allegro is defined as ‘A brisk and lively tempo. A musical composition or musical passage to be performed quickly in a brisk lively manner’ [reference: WordWeb version 4.0]. In the definition itself, the mood it conjures has been mentioned as lively. The phrase shown in Image 2 is a fine example of a phrase carrying a lively mood. Therefore, should be played as allegro.

Projecting the artistic image of a phrase encompasses delivering its meaning, content, and expression. As close to its most ideal as possible with regards to the composition. As in staying loyal to its original writing.

Cantabile in piano songs

As shown in the example in Image 2, the phrase would send a completely different meaning, content, and expression if instead of the proper allegro, played as cantabile. Instead of projecting an image of brisk and lively, one hears a smooth flowing singing voice. Which is a more suitable manner of playing when performing the phrase shown in Image 3 for example.

From the examples of musical phrases shown in Image 1 to 3, it could be concluded that the piano student must be able to differentiate when to render a phrase in allegro from cantabile and vice versa. A method useful for such a task is to listen to the rhythm a lot. Let your inner hearing sense the suitable style, be it allegro or cantabile. Listen to the playing of others as well as your own. Make a comparison and try to close the gap between yours and the ideal. Working on developing your inner hearing is a craft. In place of a painting or a sculpture, your work of art is sound.

Listening and singing the
piano songs before playing them

Therefore, sing the rhythm out loud to hear which is the most suitable way of playing. Sing it in allegro, then sing it in cantabile. Then, you can tell which should be performed on the piano. While words in a book can be read silently to understand their meaning, notes in a composition must be heard.

I too liked to think that I could just try playing them on the piano and make corrections by listening to the sound produced. But it is a different experience when you sing it yourself. You, not an instrument is singing it. With the touch of the fingers, when you transfer the sound to the piano it is one that first originated from your own voice. A bond has been built between you and the piano shared through sound created by both.

Playing in either allegro or cantabile result in different mood and artistic image. Listen a lot to rhythm produced on your own and by others to develop inner hearing so that you can determine which is suitable when rendering a musical phrase. In your own voice sing the rhythm out loud so that you hear if indeed allegro is suited for the phrase or cantabile is better.

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