Piano songs - Canon in D

Recognize patterns in rhythm of piano songs to play in flowing time, counting the beats to get the tempo and play with dynamics to express the musical ideas

One of these days I am going to count how many unique musical ideas there are in Canon in D. For now, the priority is to be able to play them well. So, focusing on the task at hand, which is the phrase shown in Image 1 below, I see two unique musical ideas.

In my opinion, they are sections of a song with a unique rhythm. The rhythm to a phrase is of course determined by the arrangement of notes in it. Looking at the phrase in Image 1 the difference in the arrangement of notes between the two sections are obvious. Therefore, each is a unique musical idea.


The musical ideas of piano songs

The importance of identifying the musical ideas in a phrase and consequently in a complete song, is that it helps to guide the pianist to play one complete musical idea in a flexible, flowing time. Resulting in a piano playing that is alive and breathes with the music.

As opposed to the wrong way of playing that is to play one note at a time. Playing one note at a time results in a disjointed piano playing, in which the passage of notes occurs in discreet time. Good piano playing incorporates a sense of flowing time not discreet time.

Group of notes, for example a string of semiquavers inherently carries traits that determine the rhythm produced. Such as a note's pitch, the intervals between them and key signatures. The varying of the combinations, arrangement and rearrangements of a set of musical notes produce infinite patterns of rhythm.

Rhythm patterns in piano songs

Recognizing the patterns can develop the musical sense to grasp and utter the rhythm in a flexible and flowing time. A pianist who works on recognizing the rhythm in the songs he plays, who loves the music those rhythm make will be able to recreate its musical ideas.

Pay attention to the notes’ pitch, the intervals between them and key signatures to hear the beautiful inner voices and the details of a phrase’s writing. Capture the phrase’s rhythmic drive and dynamic contrast to make sound judgment. How fast should this go or how loud should this be? Judged based on three factors – tempo, dynamic range, and a rubato that is musically correct.

Build a routine of counting the beats to the notes in the phrase to acquire a sense for the tempo with the goal of becoming flexible in controlling it. To arrive at the tempo demanded by the piano songs, speed is gained incrementally.

To gain speed incrementally, practice in short sections by playing quick, quick, slow or long, short, long in cells of 4 and 8 notes. If there are not too many notes in the bar, practicing a bar quick and next bar slow is just as effective. Later, extend this exercise by practicing two bars fast followed by two bars slow.


Contrasting dynamics call for creating a mildly loud sounding phrase that can morph into a soft sounding one. The change could be sudden such as when ‘pianissimo’ is indicated at the beginning of the ensuing phrase or gradual such as in a diminuendo. As shown in the example in Image 2 above. A firm yet soft tone can be accomplished by pressing the keys with the level of sound that you feel is appropriate and making contact with the bottom of the key until you can sense the wood underneath.

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