Piano songs - Fur Elise

Piano songs played with artistic flair when creativity is applied in interpreting the music and seeing what is not plainly obvious

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

The notes are flowing clearly. They sound sharp, evenly toned and unmistakably recognisable as Fur Elise - enough to get by for my next performance. Yet it lacked persona, after weeks of practice the elusive true essence of the song still escapes me. Frustrated, “What more could I have done?” I asked myself. 

It was then I remembered the quote made famous by Miles. I have been playing what was only in front of me. The time has come to dig deeper so that I can see what was not there, buried between the staves and semiquavers, staying invisible, hidden in the music score.

Pedal powers the piano songs

With not many ideas left, I decided to turn a blind eye to the notes and instead, focused on the markings written outside the staves. Markings, instructing the use of pedals were clearly indicated and I have adhered to them diligently, but the score I was playing did not have beginnings or end of phrase markings.

Proceeding on instincts alone I experimented by seeing certain (not all of them) instructions to use pedals as a beginning or end of phrase markings.

The purpose of stepping on the pedal is to connect notes together to produce a smoother sound. The quick up/down flip of the pedal releases the previously sustained notes and begins sustaining a new one - resulting in the blurring of the two notes for a few split seconds. This blurring of the sound has a pleasant effect when heard increasing the total listening quality of the musical phrase.

When several bars of notes are sustained with the pedal stepped on, usually it means they belong to one musical phrase. The next ‘pedal’ marking that appears signals the beginning of a new phrase, inherently signalling the end of the prior one.

Therefore if I were to begin inserting dynamic changes in my rendition at the start and at the end of the phrases, I would be sprinkling expression into the music, despite no instructions to do so it would not be a crime.

I knew my little experiment was successful because the change in the impact of the music produced was instantaneous.

Using soft touch at the beginning of a phrase, gradually increasing it to forte in the middle and slowing the tempo while also lowering the tone towards the end, I was able to infuse shades of colour to the music. With the sustaining pedal pressed with my foot, the vibration of the strings added a subtle richness to the rendition.

I did so playing the phrase from Fur Elise shown in Image 6 below.


The note above ‘Ped’ in Bar 3 ( 1st line) can be seen as the beginning of a phrase that ends with the note A above ‘Ped’ in the last bar (3rd line). 

In other piano songs that do show phrase markings, usually the instructions to use pedals appear signifying dynamic, tempo and tonal shifts. They often occur at the beginning and at the end of a phrase, so we can safely assume (sometimes) or guess correctly that in Image 6, it starts on A in Bar 3 and ends with the A in the last bar.

Instructions to step on the pedal are almost always editorial additions to the music sheet of the piano songs. They should not be considered as binding rules imposed by the composer, the pianist is allowed the freedom to use the pedal as she sees fit.

Merely repeating does not qualify as creativity. Creativity in interpreting what is seen in the music sheet is what makes the music art, a piano student should look beyond the obvious, strive towards higher goals to breathe life into her music making. Experimenting by seeing ‘Pedal’ markings as signals of the beginnings and the end of phrases is one such example.

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