How to play with a good sound


By Robert Estrin


In this article, we will be discussing the single greatest challenge in playing the piano. There are many aspects to playing the piano, such as playing with bothhands, playing multiple parts, playing fast, and playing scales, arpeggios and repeated notes. However,
there is one aspect that is the Achilles heel of piano playing, and that is the envelope of the sound produced by the piano.


The Piano’s Sonic Characteristics

If you listen to just one note played on the piano, what do you hear? You hear a sharp attack, a quick decay and a slow, quiet sustain that gradually decreases in volume. This presents a major challenge for playing the piano since it is difficult to play melodies which imitate the human voice. After all, the humanvoice is the original musical instrument of all time! Wind instruments have the benefit of using breath to create musical lines. Violins and many other string instruments have bows to sustain notes. But on the piano, in order to overcome this limitation, you must master the art of illusion!

How to Create the Illusion of a Continuous Line on the Piano
One of the techniques for creating a singing line, or sustained line, is to use the weight of your arm. The arm has weight and, by using it as an analog to the breath, you can create a smooth line. You can transfer the weight of the arm smoothly from note to note, rising and falling like the breath, with more arm weight in the middle of the phrase, and less arm weight in the beginning and end of a phrase. This technique can be enhanced with the use of the pedal. But before we discuss this, let’s talk about something I refer to as, “The Phantom Pedal.”


The Phantom Pedal

The Phantom Pedal refers to the use of finger technique to hold down notes with your fingers instead of relying upon the pedal. This allows you to sustain notes with your left hand while adding emphasis to the melody notes in your right hand with the pedal. This creates a much more sustained melody, without the risk of creating clashing harmonies or muddy sound.


Bonus Tip

As a bonus tip, we will discuss the use of the una corda, or soft pedal on a grand piano which is the pedal on the left. Una corda means, “one string” because in early pianos, there were 2 strings on each note. Depressing the pedal shifted the hammers so that the hammers only struck one string on each note. Modern pianos have 3 strings on each note in most registers. The hammers still hit all the strings, but not directly. This results in a softer initial attack. Yet the sustain is just as rich because of sympathetic vibrations. By combining this pedal technique with the use of the arm, as well as the other techniques I described earlier, you can overcome the inherent limitation of the piano’s sonic characteristics.

In conclusion, the single greatest challenge in piano playing is the envelope of the sound produced by the piano. However, by mastering the art of illusion, and combining techniques such as using the weight of the arm and using your fingers to hold notes (phantom pedal), you can overcome this limitation and create a beautiful, sustained sound. This is the secret of artistry in piano playing.


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