Improve tonal quality of piano songs by practising slowly, listening to the vibration of the strings as improvement in technique results in better tone
In my haste to become proficient playing a certain song on the piano I used to think I could take shortcuts. For example focusing on hitting the keys accurately so that I am playing the notes of the composition correctly. Isn’t the notes the only things that make the composition so I rationalized to myself. I skipped putting much thought into rests, subtle pauses between phrases, tonal quality and the artistic image of the composition.
But I did push my body hard during practice. My fingers were made to work on exercises on scales and repeated the bars of a composition I was trying to learn more than a dozen times in a session sometimes. As a beginner on the piano, perhaps it was necessary but even then I knew that I was neglecting the true artistic side of music making. Soon the consequence of the neglect came back to haunt me.
It came when I started to learn compositions that were more advanced in their level of difficulties.
If before, I could still somehow inject articulation and expressiveness in my performance instinctively merely because of the side effect of my rigorous practise on the mechanics; such as playing a bar repeatedly and relying on muscle memory in the hands and fingers to pull me through, now I found myself struggling to do so.
The compositions have become too sophisticated for me to muscle my way through.
A more intelligent approach was required. Since I had already put in a lot of work on accuracy it was not a problem for me to translate the notes written on the music score from paper into sounds on the piano, the problem was the quality of the sounds, as in tonal quality.
While I was not successful instantly overnight, I began to evolve my approach to practise. First by not obsessing so much about finishing a song as quickly as possible. Instead I took all the time I needed and played very slowly.
Many benefits are derived from practising slowly despite being so time consuming, one of which is the ability to study the song at close quarters or in high definition. I was able to penetrate the structure of a song and find meaning in its writing because I was no longer distracted by the requirement to play up to speed. I could always get up to speed later, but the essense of a song, its meaning should always be grasped upfront.
What better way is there to grasp the meaning of a composition than to listen to it carefully. “Of course, don’t state the obvious!”, some might say. From my own experience I felt that I never listened to the sounds I was making carefully enough. I was content with landing my fingers on the correct keys. The richness of a sound, its duration and progressive decay were overlooked.
To be able to conjure a variety of tone I had to be able to detect the slightest changes. So I began to listen more carefully paying close attention to every sound I was making with every press of a key until I could no longer hear the slightest vibration of the string. I expanded this listening exercise to include pressing several notes together such as chords to detect and listen to the decay of a harmony of notes as the intensity of the vibration of the strings diminish.
To improve the artistic side of piano playing such as articulation and expressiveness focus on improving tonal quality. Which could be improved through slow practise and listening the sounds produced carefully. Moreover improvements made in technique through rigorous work on the mechanics of piano playing such as practising scales, arpeggios and chords result in improved tonal quality.