One can play with magic and artistry at any level by playing the piano songs in legato, controlling the tempo and understanding its musical structure
“You can play with magic and artistry no matter at what level” – Joan Mary Last, piano teacher.
A statement that to me, sounded like it was blurted out mindlessly like an afterthought actually entered my realm of reality when I experienced it firsthand.
It happened when I played ‘Memory’. It was the first complete piano composition I learned to play. Of course, before I even attempted it I was already training my fingers using the basic fingering exercises for piano beginners for several weeks. Weeks of struggling anxiously under the watchful eyes of a sceptical piano teacher. After all was said and done, there I was playing the piano, performing a real song.
Since then I have been exposed to other pianists performing and witnessed their magical prowess. Most recently attending Elaine’s piano recital.
About an hour into the recital, Elaine began to play Scarlatti’s Piano Sonata K9 and K14. The program booklet described the song as “…gently flowing melody, with its pan-flute-like trills and breathless runs up to the higher register…”
Her execution of the trills and accelerated run up to the notes in the higher octaves were admittedly a sight to behold and the resulting music a gem to listen to, I was more astonished by the profound effect the music had on me. It was as if I was transported into a world of fantasy and jaw dropping beauty, losing myself entirely in the music. Magic indeed.
‘Memory’ was a relatively easy song to play. It was perfectly suited for an absolute beginner. Yet, under the tutelage of a dedicated teacher I was able to play a beginner level song with artistry, enough to be satisfyingly entertaining.
Unlike Scarlatti’s Piano Sonata performed by Elaine, ‘Memory’ did not require making distant leaps to reach notes in a higher octave, there were not even chords, executing it in a binding legato was what turned a novice piano student playing a beginners’ level song into an artist.
A binding legato can be achieved by not releasing the key you are pressing until the next key has been struck. This causes the two notes to sound together for a split second producing the intended binding legato.
Elaine brought out the sonorous tones of Scarlatti’s sonatas in an eloquent manner, fully in control of the tempos that his music’s meaning penetrates through. Tempo is a creature that constantly changes itself in piano songs. It moves in soft and slow fashion in certain phrases only to evolve into a speed monster with a boisterous voice in others.
Controlling the tempo when playing the piano in itself is an art form. Because of tempo’s evolving nature, before you can control it you shall need to find it. What I would usually do is to start thinking melodically. I would look at the notes and ask myself how would I sing it. Singing it out loud enables me to hear the rhythm and get a sense of the tempo. Listening to a recording works as well. After that it is only a matter of practicing to get familiarized with the overall movement of the song.
Thoroughly acquainted with the song that you will know to sink your fingertips into the key bed to express ‘dolce’ or play deeply into the keys for a stronger sound at ‘fortissimo’ and my favorite part of playing the piano; during key changes that provide the opportunity to showcase dynamic awareness by initiating a phrase in a hushed tone to gradually increase it to forte playing at an incrementally faster pace as I move towards the end of the phrase.
You can indeed play with magic and artistry at any level by rendering the piano songs in a binding legato, controlling the tempo and obtaining a clear insight into the musical structure of the song. When choosing a song you wish to play with magic and artistry, the K.I.S.S approach is best - Keep It Super Simple.