3 ways to improve your legato playing

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By Frank Huang

13 July 2019

Nail your legato playing by following these three simple steps

As pianists, we often ask ourselves the following: why is my playing so choppy and disconnected? Why are there “seams” and “gaps” in my melody and overall tone? What about the use of the sustain pedal?

Producing a completely smooth and connected tone at the piano (legato playing) is one of the trickiest things to achieve. Read below for my suggestions on how to address these issues

 

1. Rely more on finger pedaling

Finger pedaling is the idea of holding down certain notes longer than their notations (and in many cases slightly overlapping from one note to another) to simulate the effects of the sustain pedal without actually using the device itself.

Some of you might ask: why not just use the sustaining pedal instead to save us from all the hassle?

In short: we don’t want to solely rely on the pedal for legato, but rather our fingers, to create as much independence in tone, dynamics, expression, etc. between the various textures and voices. With excessive and inappropriate use of the pedal, it greatly compromises clarity in the overall tone quality. Think of it this way––the sustain pedal should be used as an aid to playing legato, not as a substitute for our fingers.

Finger pedaling is highly effective as it creates a seamless, smooth, and connected sound. Next time, try using this technique on melodic lines and when you want to keep accompaniment figures more in the background.

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2. Make sure you are free from any physical tension  

The biggest challenge for piano students is to make sure that the knuckles, joints, and fingertips are constantly firm at all times while keeping the rest of the body completely tension-free. By having supple and relaxed wrists and arms at the piano, producing a legato tone will be less daunting.

Try out the Alexander Technique. It will help to reduce a lot of physical tension in your playing. Find out more here.

 

3. Listen carefully and intently

This is probably the most helpful suggestion that I can offer. Make sure that when you are working on a legato tone, use your ears to evaluate and adjust accordingly! If you are hearing slight gaps and seams between each note, then you will need to go back and make sure that you have enough overlap between the previous note. I highly recommend practising slowly so that you can process and evaluate all of the information in a comfortable manner.

Producing a legato tone at the piano is a lengthy and arduous process, but if you want to raise your playing to another level, I think it is completely worth the effort. Best of luck! Keep your learning journey going below.

 

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