Piano songs - A bird's eye view

View piano songs from a mile high to spot the difficulties and concentrate on fixing them first.

The London Eye now sits on the banks of the river Thames, England. If you ever had the chance to take a ride in it, at its highest point you would have a bird’s eye view of the whole city of London. Try to spot the Tower Bridge, Saint Paul’s Cathedral.and the seat of the UK Parliament, Palace of Westminster.

Was it a coincidence Brahms’ sonata was playing on the loudspeaker?
As I stood high above the city, it made me think, If I could have a bird’s eye view of a piano song I was learning at the time, would it not make it possible to spot the difficulties and concentrate on practicing them more intensively.

A short one page composition that fits into an A4 size piece of paper is easily doable, it is another story if the song stretches over four pages. Even the much loved ‘Fur Elise’ by Beethoven was composed in 6 pages.

The divide and conquer strategy
Strategies involved in learning piano songs exposed

“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably does not lead anywhere” – Frank A. Clark

The obstacles towards finding the path towards the bird’s eye view of a piano song lay in the length of the song, level of technical difficulty and the piano students’ proficiency. Tackle each of them at a time, incrementally the obstacles will eventually be overcome.

Divide and conquer to gain dominance. A lengthy song can always be divided into smaller sections, even when learning a one page song it is best to divide it into shorter portions making them easier to master.

The human mind when fixed onto a narrow focus area, its rate of concentration increases. We see less notes, they appear easier to play, smaller amount of difficulties seem to stare back at us. They are less overwhelming and we feel confident in surmounting them.

A page can be divided into sections of short phrases, which can further be divided into groups of three or four bars that you think you can play with minimum practice. Once successfully played move on to the next group of bars. Before you know it you have a musical phrase perfected.

The ability to pick out the group bars for practising from a page is in itself a demonstration of seeing a song from a bird’s eye view.

Modesty in learning
Always a student of the instrument and the piano songs

Never bite off more than you can chew. I had a grandmother who constantly nagged me with that sentence when I was a boy, love her to bits though. Certainly, one should challenge oneself to play more challenging compositions but always within an optimum range.

If you are in Grade 5, look for songs with the same level of difficulty or slightly lesser to challenge yourself with. Here, it is most recommended to rely on your trusted piano teacher.  I used to suggest songs that I wanted to learn to mine, it never worked. Her suggestions were always better, more enjoyable to play. It was as if she knew my taste better that I did.

The same can be said of the pianist herself, if you are a Grade 5 level, you are not going to be able to play a Grade 6 level song. Be honest with yourself and strive to bring up your level of proficiency. It is going to take time and a lot of effort. However the musical world, much like the universe is infinite even in the confines of Grade 5 level there are so many piano songs to relish.

In the meantime work on solving the specific problems that are hampering you, it could be the weak fourth and fifth that need to pack more power. Touch can always be refined to make your articulation even more moving. Go back to studying the theory involved deep inside a song to get an insight on why you enjoy it so much, there is much to discover in the writing of music as there is in making it.

Break down compositions into shorter sections, only challenge yourself with songs suited to your level of proficiency and continue to elevate your level by practising fingering, touch and in-depth learning of music theory to acquire a bird’s eye view of a piano song.

Return from 'Piano songs - A bird's eye view' to 'Three exercises to improve accuracy in hitting the keys'