Piano songs - A sense for Fur Elise

To play piano songs well, a good sense of timing and recognizing patterns in a musical composition is helpful. Explained further in this article using Fur Elise as an example.


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We have explored the methods available to a piano student in accomplishing the goals of playing in the right tempo, clarity and expressiveness (articulation) in her quest towards playing piano songs well. Another goal remains; gaining smoothness.

In an excerpt taken from Fur Elise shown in Image 4 below, notice there are tonic triad chords, slurs, long rests and accidental notes. Having the musical sense to interpret and translate them into sounds goes a long way in gaining smoothness in one’s playing of piano songs.

IMAGE 4

Musical sense in conquering piano songs

To an aspiring pianist, someone who makes music - what is sense anyway?

‘A way in which an expression or a situation can be interpreted; a meaning’ [reference: Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 2010, 2017]

In Image 4, the tonic triad chord of C major played in the LH accompaniment consist of quaver notes, to be played in half a beat, you would have to time the chord precisely as such.

Therefore, an accurate sense of timing in striking the keys and lifting off of them is required. Furthermore, the three notes involved would have to be pressed simultaneously with evenly distributed force to create a synchronous sound.

An accurate sense of timing can be developed by counting the beats out loud when practicing - as in ‘One!...’ when a crotchet beat is played, ‘One…two!…’ - a minim, ‘One…two…three!…’ - a dotted minim and so on for instance.

It is possible to absorb a fairly good sense of timing by practicing without counting out loud, but since we are on a mission to develop the senses, by voicing them out the sense of hearing is also stimulated as a bonus - catalyzing the absorption process.

The descending harmonic scale of C major in bar 1 of the first  line in Image 3 must be so plainly obvious to a piano student she might even chuckle at its sight, saying to herself “That’s easy, I can play that !”. She has recognized a pattern the group of notes made.

A piano student who takes the time to study a composition should be able to recognize not only such immediately identifiable patterns, but others too in a group of notes’ pitch, intervals and key signatures. When you have developed a keen eye in recognizing them arpeggios, chromatic scales, Alberti bass and etc, you play them smoother because the process of analyzing note by note one at a time is skipped.

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there” – Miles Davis

I do realize he probably meant it in a more philosophical way when he said it, but taken literally the quote is still good advice. Especially so when playing the phrase shown in Image 5 below taken from Fur Elise.

IMAGE 5

There are 5 slurred pair of notes in the phrase. They are to be played devoid of any breaks between them resulting in a smooth and seamless effect. But what happens between each pair of the slurred notes? Transitioning from one pair to the next, they are not connected to each other by phrase marking (slur line) above them. Does it mean it is fine to have a break during this time?

The answer is yes..sort of. Though not exactly ‘having a break’, at the end of the slur the last note is detached from the subsequent note, here is where you raise your arm high before playing the following note causing a short detachment in the flow of sound production. It is done intentionally and should be done well.

Why? Because Miles Davis said so, executing the slurred phrases with such grace that the short silence between them and the following note radiates its own musical quality amplified further by the silence in the LH accompaniment which remains at rest the whole time. Playing what is not there is playing the silence, rests included.

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