Learn to perform piano songs instead of just playing them with use of the imagination, inner hearing, emotion, aesthetic and intellectual understanding
“Everyone knows how to play but only a few know how to perform“ - Anton Rubinstein
When a world renowned pianist says something like that, it makes one feel insecure does it not? I have never had any aspiration of becoming a performing concert pianist. But still, knowing that I am not as good as one because I am only a ‘casual’ piano student is depressing.
Then I remembered something I read from a book written by Napoleon Hill, “You become what you think about”.
Although I am a ‘casual’ piano student, when I play even when I am alone or in class performing for my teacher’s evaluation, I think of myself as a performing pianist. Alone I am my audience, in class my teacher is, both deserve to be presented with the best piano performance possible.
Confronted with the playing instruction ‘forte’ in the phrase from Rondo All Turca as shown in Image 1 below, I asked myself “How do I perform forte?”. It means to play loud, everyone can play loud.
What is a performance?
Had there been a set of manual or specifications I could follow that would turn every touch I make on the piano into a brilliant performance, life would be a lot easier. Since there is none, I wish to borrow a statement from one of the best teacher to have ever taught the piano, “The image conjured by imagination, emotion, inner hearing and aesthetic and intellectual understanding becomes a performance.“
The key word is image. One that that is projected through the sound made on the piano. The sound that was eluding its intended image when I played the all the notes fortissimo in the phrase shown in Image 1.
Fortunately, my inner hearing caught on to it. The cause of the problem was playing every note fortissimo. The intended loudness is achieved but merely as noise. Missing is the articulated beauty of a musical phrase.
To get a rounded sounding fortissimo phrase, a counter-intuitive technique is applied – recognizing the strong base note in the phrase and playing only it fortissimo. Less so, on the others in the middle. As illustrated in Image 2 below.
If you do not believe me, try playing all the notes in the phrase fortissimo and see for yourself how it sounds. Make the comparison and I think you will agree that when all of them are played fortissimo the quality of the sound is diminished.
Quality of sound on the base notes played fortissimo is also maintained by pressing the keys down all the way to the bottom and then releasing the effort while still holding them down. It allows you steal a quick rest briefly, before continuing to play the rest of the phrase. As a result, a fortissimo phrase that comes off as distinct is generated without tiring the fingers.
The keybed influence pianissimo sounds as well. Feel the sensation of the wood under the keys when you play pianissimo. Land on the surface of the keys silently prior to pressing them, go on to play with the level of sound you desire. Continue to press on the keys until you make a little contact with the bottom of the keys. The effect is a firm yet soft sound. Not making contact with the bottom of the keybed risks them not sounding at all. Even if they do, they come off as hollow.
Perform piano songs instead of playing them by maximizing the use of your imagination, inner hearing and emotion. Do so on a fortissimo phrase by recognizing the strong base notes and playing only them fortissimo. Instead of playing all the notes fortissimo.