Melodies to piano songs should be played with expression, even the simple ones, to train oneself as preparation to play real compositions.
As tempting as it is to jump right into playing Rondo Alla Turca and being able to perform it well, it is not realistic. I have never been able to do so with any song for that matters. Warming up, conditioning the body and preparing the mind is always necessary prior to performing piano songs.
The all too familiar sound of scales, arpeggios and Hanon’s exercises make warming up an uninviting chore. That’s 30 minutes gone at least, before I get to play the songs I want. Resolving to find a way to endure the warm-ups, I began experimenting by playing in ways not written in the books, changing the speed, tone and touch as I pleased.
For example, Image 1 shown below is part of an exercise taken from Hanon. Normally I would practise it until I can hit all the notes accurately and firmly, free of any hesitation. I consider it a success once I was able to do that, moving on to the next page to play the the next exercise without attempting to include any practise on expression. But even a simple melody such as the one shown in Image 1 can and should be played with expression during practise, although nowhere is it indicated on the score.
Bar 1 in Image 1 can be played in a crescendo followed by a diminuendo in bar 2. Quavers they may be, but for my own development and training purposes I played them in minim then built up speed incrementally, playing them as crotchets, then quavers, semiquavers and triplets too just for fun and to explore the possibilities. Touch can be diversified from legato to staccatos for the same reason.
As a result, from a rather elementary exercise I have begun training on expression which ultimately is what projecting the artistic image of piano songs is all about. For indeed, the artistic image conjured up by the imagination, emotion and our own intellectual understanding is what becomes a performance. Let us take a look at Image 2 below.
The phrase is taken from Rondo Alla Turca. Well, well… lo and behold does it not have the playing instruction telling the performer to play the phrase in a crescendo? By aiming to play even a simple melody such as the one from Hanon’s exercise with expression and while doing so believe in the tremendous importance of doing so, we reach closer to achieving beauty in a performance. Because we acquire the simplicity and naturalness in expression by practising them on the very simple melodies such as those from Hanon’s exercises, scale and arpeggios.
How about the phrase in the following Image 3? It is also taken from Rondo Alla Turca.
Notice how most of the phrase are played in staccato, then suddenly in bar 2 it switches into a legato touch. Mozart intended for it to be rendered in this specific way, I just can not bring myself to betray the wish of such great man who has gifted so much to the world.
Therefore, when practising simple melodies such as those from Hanon’s exercises, scales and arpeggios I had a specific aim of playing them in staccatos out of my own initiative, even though there were no instructions to do so in the score. I was determined to get the staccatos to sound properly to allow me to apply a polished technique in executing a real composition.
The idea, poetry and artistic image of piano songs have to be absorbed by the aspiring piano student then expressed through his performance. Accomplishing such a task requires one to play a particular musical phrase a specific way in terms of its speed, tempo, tone, touch and nuance. Therefore, practising those elements on simple melodies such as those from Hanon’s exercise, scales and arpeggios develops the ability play in such ways.