Tone production in performing piano songs hinges on acute hearing and touch. Use hearing to adjust movement, acquire control over touch through agile fingers
The piano’s attractiveness lies in its versatility. Its broad range of pitch and tonal dynamics give it the ability to simulate other instruments. None can mimic the piano. I have always wondered why the piano is not part of an orchestra,
I think because it alone would have made the other instruments redundant. It is not the eighty-eight keys on the piano that is the source of this ability.
It is in the depth of the tone the pianist harnesses from each of those keys that releases their awesome power. The power of sound that pierces the heart and inspires the soul.
As a beginner an octave of 7 white keys and 6 black keys was already overwhelming. Deciphering the notes and landing on the correct keys accurately were the all-consuming priorities. The skill to execute them could be developed quickly. Once I did, I found the lessons on varying the tone when needed to be most intriguing.
Tone is heard because a string inside the piano is vibrating. Made to vibrate when a key is pressed which triggers a hammer to strike the string. Here is the intriguing part; the vibration will diminish in intensity as time passes, as a result the tone too diminishes. The intensity and duration of the strings’ vibration depend on the force with which the keys were pressed. The pianist determines this with the touch of his fingers, therefore controlling the quality of the tone.
He also decides the quality of the tone that come next. So, he holds the keys he is playing and listens until he can detect the slight changes in the vibration of the string, or shall we say when the tone began to dissipate. Only then will he begin to press on the following keys. The much-loved tonal dynamics are put into effect when the slightest variation in the intensity of the vibration of the strings are detected and the changes in volume are heard. As a result, the versatility of the piano’s tone could be enjoyed.
The skill required to decide the quality of tone is two-fold. First is hearing. From my own experience I believe most piano students already possess good hearing. If not, they would not be drawn to the piano in the first place.
It is more about applying the hearing skill to making adjustment to the muscular movement of your body to coax the desired tone out of the piano. Such as decreasing the momentum of the fingers before they land on the keys to get a soft tone. Or choosing to use the up-down movement of the wrists to lower the fingers towards the piano to get a short and detached tone when a staccato is demanded.
Good hearing is gained through exposure and experience. The sights and sound we absorbed throughout our lifetime to an extent developed our inner hearing. In this modern age, we are exposed to music from a young age, which is why I believe most people already have good hearing skills. Accompanied by formal music knowledge with training, a piano student can be taught to produce good tone.
The second skill required is touch. It directly determines the kind of tone produced. A light touch produces a soft tone. A strong touch produces a loud tone. Practise playing the notes below in Image 1 at varying tone. Controlling the touch is what differentiate one tone from another.
Touch is influenced by the agility of the fingers and how flexible they are. Many exercises have been introduced in earlier articles to improved agility and flexibility in the fingers. Deft use of the wrists to maneuver the hands to land the fingers on the keys from just the right angles also contribute to good touch.