Good tone in piano songs is achieved by playing with relaxed shoulders, arms until finger tips. Fingers need to be flexible to influence touch of the keys
Sound production is a work of wonder I thought. Especially with the piano. Early in my piano studies when I could only play folk tunes for children, despite being an adult student I was struck by a sense of amazement by the music I was making. Being able to make music on the piano felt like having magical abilities at the time even if they were only folk tunes for children. The novelty wore off eventually of course, but as my repertoire grew to include more challenging compositions, I transitioned from being amazed to expecting excellent music making.
What defines excellent music making?
Tone quality. In this article I am going to delve into tone production and the factors affecting tone quality. There are numerous elements that determine excellence in music making which I am reserving for and you can look forward to in future articles. In this article the focus shall be on tone.
Tone is the distinctive property of a complex sound = timbre (reference: WordWeb 4.0). Therefore, the musician does not create tone out of thin air, the tone is already present in the instrument he plays. His raison d’être is to draw out the tone in its purest form at the highest quality, combining and ordering the relationships of tones of the strings that give the piano its voice. Thus, his need for diligent practise to develop technique and pianistic skills.
The process of drawing out, combining, and ordering the tones into a single entity is what finally give us what is judged as good tone. Fortunately, the mechanics behind the process is nothing out of the ordinary. It is a matter of having loose wrists and arms, starting from the shoulders until the tips of the fingers. Keeping them relaxed provides them the freedom to move freely along the stretch of keys situated on the piano.
Supple wrists make their up down and lateral movement smoother, allowing for better hand manoeuvrability resulting in improved control of the fingers. The fingers tips are the ones that finally touch the keys of the piano. Therefore, influence tone quality significantly.
Strong and agile fingers working in suitable fingering combinations that are natural cause them to land on the correct keys accurately, with appropriate force and for a duration deliberately determined produce rich tones. They could be soft (piano) or loud (forte) when performed in a relaxed manner as described the outcome is a well-rounded tone.
Exercises to strengthen the fingers are aplenty. I have been practising Hanon and Czerny exercises ever since I started taking piano lessons. And have found them beneficial and fun to practise with. Having said that there are times when exercises that are more fundamental are more desirable.
Even today after having gone through several rounds of practise playing Hanon and Czerny, I was inclined to stretch my fingers playing chords. I positioned my right hand above any 5-note chord, then with a finger at a time pressed a key and lifted the finger high continuing to press the next notes in the same fashion. Feeling the fingers stretch while ensuring the hand guiding them is loose and its movement stayed effortless.
This simple exercise could be intensified by pressing all 5 fingers down on any 5 note chord with a black key for example A minor holding the 3rd finger at rest at the bottom of the keybed and then playing the other notes around it. Next hold the 4th while playing the other notes around it. Practising this way build independence and strengthen our fourth and fifth fingers which are weakest for playing piano.
Combination of fingers could also be applied to the exercise by holding two fingers down on two keys such as the thumb and the fourth finger while playing the rest of the notes around them. Exhaust all possible combination for example holding down finger 2 and 4 while playing the rest of the notes around them. Or holding down fingers 2 and 5 while playing the rest of the notes around them.
Through persistent practise as the fingers become more agile and flexible, your touch of the keys of the piano becomes more malleable resulting in piano songs performed with improved tonal quality.