Preserve the balance between tone and time in piano songs by acquiring a sense for the timing through the counting of the beats, gaining speed incrementally and strengthening the fingers
Practicing is supposed to be messy and ugly. During a practice session is when I bring the worst in my piano playing so that I can make them better. Do my worse in practice to bring out the best in performance.
To do so, the fundamental for mastering a performance should be identified and put effort in absorbing them during practice. While each student has her own weaknesses so attention should be given to remedy them, however for most, mastering a performance boils down to two elements; tone and time.
Balance and harmony between the two elements need to be preserved. Tone varies broadly in piano songs. It can be short such as that of a demisemiquaver or long such as that of a breve. They occur for a unique length of time. Tone could be detached such as that of a staccato and connected such as that of a legato. Moreover, the strength of the tone itself could be ‘forte’, ’piano’, ‘crescendo’ and lots of others.
For example, let us take a crotchet; if I were to time 1 crotchet beat as 1 second, a demisemiquaver beat would occur in 1/16 of a second, and breve a whole 4 seconds. Such is the relationship between tone and time that balancing the two throughout a performance is nothing short of decisive in ensuring success.
The best way I know of to acquire a sense for the timing in tone production is to count the beats. Grow a habit of counting a minim beat, for example by saying out loud “1 and 2…” as you press and hold the key on the piano while the minim is played. Then moving on to the next key and count that note next. You may wonder how do I count out-loud a demisemiquaver in 1/16 of a second? Slowly, is the answer.
Speed is built up incrementally. Play the demisemiquavers as if they were crotchets at first, in cells of 3 notes. Repeat this form of play; quick, quick, slow. As in, 1 note played quick followed by another 1 note played quick and the last note in the three-note cell played slow. Gradually expanding it to cells of 6 notes in which 4 notes are played quick in succession, followed by the last 2 notes played slow. Lengthen the exercise to practicing the notes in two bars quick and the notes in the next two bars slow after you become accustomed to the increase in speed.
Of course, I too struggled with these exercises initially. To strengthen fingers so that I can practice them better, I practiced pressing all 5 fingers down on any 5-note chord with a black key. A minor was my favorite. Holding the 3rd finger at rest at the bottom of the keybed, I played the other notes around it. Lifting high each finger one by one, playing each key at a time feeling the stretch. The 3rd (middle) finger acted as an anchor while the others did the work getting stronger with every repetition. The fourth finger especially gets stronger the most with this exercise.
To strengthen the 5th finger, use a different combination in pressing and holding down the keys. For example, pressing and holding two keys using the second (index) finger and the fourth (ring) finger is beneficial to the 5th finger in building its strength.
With strong fingers that are also agile and flexible, trained using the exercises described above, I was able to better control the accelerations and decelerations in the rhythm throughout the song as well as the tonal qualities. Hence preserving the balance and harmony between tone and time.