To play piano songs well, they have to be studied as a whole. The whole is the sum of its part, one of which is the streaming of its phrases in flowing time
It has always made me feel insecure that as much as I enjoy music making especially on the piano, I’m not able to thoroughly enjoy every single classical composition I come across. Am I not cultured enough? Lesser in sophistication?
Then again, does anyone really like every single song he hears, even among the contemporary modern pop songs?
Put into such perspective, my spirits are lifted. Now I am all fired up to dive into my practice of Rondo Alla Turca with renewed rigour because this is one classical song that has me stimulated...intellectually.
Now that I have one classical song that I like, how do I play it at least once amazingly well?
A few years ago, I read a quote that loosely said something like this, “Actors can be geniuses once in a blue moon, surely better once in a blue moon then never at all”. I forgot the exact words, but the point is; in possession of a wonderful song such as Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, even if not every time I should strive to play it at the very least once, amazingly well.
Rondo is a musical form referring to a piece of music that repeats the main tune several times and often forms part of a longer piece [ref: Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press 2019].
I figured if I could master everything there is in the main tune, the remainder of the song would nicely fall into place. The biggest challenge is getting it to flow in a smooth continuous stream of well-timed musical ideas.
Musical ideas refer to phrases in the composition, rendering them smoothly means to instead of playing one note at a time which amounts to making sounds in discreet time, I need to play a phrase, each musical idea in flowing time. Discreet time is bad, flowing time is good. Flowing time is alive, flexible and breathes with the music.
How to acquire flowing time?
It is difficult for me to send a phrase flowing smoothly if it is too long, so I cut it into shorter parts. Focusing on getting the rhythm, and dynamics right. After I am comfortable enough with my progress only then, would I proceed to the next cut.
Sewing them together to complete a phrase by connecting the last note of one short part with the first note of the next. In doing so, I would alternately play them fast and slow mixed with soft and loud. Better explained in Image 1 below. Flowing time is acquired by sewing together shorter sections of a phrase that has been perfected in terms of their rhythm, tonality, dynamics and tempo.
Despite seemingly the ones doing all the work, the piano is not played with the fingers but with the wrists. Flowing time is acquired through focused, loose playing by the wrists’ lateral movement. Well-adjusted use of this movement results in solid connections of one note to another.
Another movement the wrists are capable of is the up-down movement - most helpful in playing staccatos that dominate Rondo Alla Turca. Blend the wrists’ up-down movement with the tips of the fingers to obtain not only crisps staccatos but those that run in flowing time.
To play piano songs amazingly well, even only once in a blue moon, the songs has to be studied as a whole. The whole is the sum of its parts, one of which is the smooth streaming of its phrases in flowing time. It can be achieved by breaking up the phrase into smaller, shorter sections and practising them to perfection. Then, connecting them to make the phrase.
Through the practise of learning a composition in short and small sections at a time, I begin to see that a composition that is beautiful as a whole is beautiful in every detail.