Play piano songs well, seize the opportunity to sharpen your piano technique by taking a shot at this challenging piano song by Daquin. Ornaments, trills and contrasting dynamic changes demanding concentration await you.
Weeks have gone by preparing for this moment. Night after night, I have sat on the piano bench for hours toiling to build the strength needed for my fingers to face Le Coucou.
So much so that I can even play the first seven exercises from Hanon by heart now. All that heavy lifting has transformed my fifth finger - what was once an unpredictable element in the ensemble orchestrating the keys on the piano is now one of its strongest.
As soon as I began playing the first line of the Le Coucou I realized why my piano teacher made such a big deal about practising Hanon’s exercises before learning this song.
Its rapid fluidity requires all your fingers to be nimble to keep up. While moving at high speed, the fifth finger is also required to stretch further to reach the higher pitched notes that lend the song its suspenseful atmosphere.
Daquin composed this piano song wishing for it to start with a light touch - hence he marked leggiero at the top left corner of the music score as shown in Image 1. The lightness is to be maintained throughout the opening line.
As you enter the next phrase, mind that the left hand has switched to the treble clef. Now both hands are playing treble clef - so take the necessary precaution not to read the notes on the music score incorrectly.
More than half of the song has the left hand playing in treble clef, and there is no other warning that it might revert to bass clef except for the clef signs. So keep you eyes opened.
Unlike a relaxed ballad where you can take your time to get settled in, Le Coucou has an impatient time signature of 2/4. As you shall be able to see on the score, mostly quavers and semiquavers fill the bars.
That means you will have to strike more keys with less time. Grace under pressure in the hands and fingers is required here, travelling the keyboard fast with precision is an arduous task.
Three different melodies of delightful trills add to the carnival of rousing music here. Each played with a different pair of fingers. The one employing fingers 3 and 4 is probably the hardest, if you can lift the fourth finger high, independent of the pull of the fifth finger, this trill shall be ringing to your heart’s pleasure.
The pièce de résistance of this song - its defining tune; is the dual note bars of a quaver staccato followed by an accented crotchet, as shown in Image 2 below.
“Cuckoo…!” the piano chirps like a bird when the bars’ first note is struck quick and detached trailed by the second one with a prolonged accentuated resonance. These passages resemble the sound of a flock of birds talking to each other.
By themselves, they are not that hard to play but throw in the right hand melody insisting on a legato touch into the fray, the level of difficulty goes up few notches.
My advise is to attempt them one bar at a time slowly. Once you have the rhythm soaked up, the rest of the chirping passages just fall into place with ease.
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When playing the piano, muscles of the fingers and arms are involved in the action on the keyboard. Underneath it, the feet play its part in conducting the pedal. All other muscles not mentioned here are not contributing to the music making and should be relaxed. Taking piano lessons for beginners should be a relaxing experience.
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A more attentive teacher might also e-mail students’ progress to parents, organize small in-house recitals to boost the students’ confidence or even publish newsletters for distribution to students under her tutelage as part of her efforts to keep a healthy flow of communication.
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As you learn new songs you will develop a taste for a certain style or have a small number of favourite composers that you love, a piano teacher has a duty to let you grow into a pianist with an open mind.
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