The piano technique required to express the music effectively involve developing and practising the skills needed to execute changes in pitch, tempo and tone
The symbols occupying the staves of a music score is a thing of wonder when I think about it. Because I took up the piano as an adult, I was never able to read music up until that point. Discovering that the peculiar symbols expressed sounds that could be so breathtaking to listen to was a jubilant occasion. The novelty of translating them into sounds through music making on the piano was a source of immense sense of accomplishment.
As more compositions of more advanced musicality were introduced to me, I learned that translating the symbols into their correlating sound was just the tip of the iceberg with regards to playing the piano. The proportion in which the sounds evolved was what made them pleasurable to hear. As in the changes in pitch, tone and tempo.
Therefore to convey the message a composition was written to deliver, executing the changes in pitch, tone and tempo is crucial. Hence practice should be concentrated on these 3 things.
Changes in pitch are changes in the notes being played. Landing on the keys corresponding to the notes accurately is called for. Where the keys are located influence the accuracy. Wide leaps are more challenging to pull off. Even when the keys are nearby each other, with increased tempo in the haste to keep up with it, accuracy is sometimes compromised. To improve accuracy, what I always do is to practise very slowly. For example if the notes were semiquavers, I would play them as breves and minims until accuracy has improved, then only play them as they are written.
With accuracy firmly secured, you can move on to the next task of improving control of tone. It is matter of how your fingers touch the keys of the piano when they make contact with their surface. A light touch produces a soft tone and a strong touch produces a loud tone. While it is the finger that finally touches a key on the piano, the effectiveness of the touch required to produce the desire tone is influenced by the coordination of the motions of the fingers, hands, wrists and arms.
Improving piano technique to produce the desirable tone means to work on perfecting the coordination of the motions of these various parts of the body. To get started try practising the phrase shown in Image 1 below. The top note is marked ‘piano’ and the bottom noted marked ‘forte’ in alternate sequence.
Tonal control? Checked. Accuracy? Checked. Next get to work on tempo. The challenge is when the requirement is to play fast. However it is difficult for most piano student to play fast suddenly. Speed is gained incrementally in short sections. Practise a small section of a passage slowly, all the notes as minims for example. Then increase the speed by playing them as crotchets. As you begin to acquire a better grasp of the tempo at this rate, practising them as quavers may be considered. Alternating the tempo going from 1 bar to another for example playing a bar as minims and the next one following it as crotchets and subsequently as quavers is a good exercise to improve control over tempo.
What makes music attractive is the evolution of the sounds. In pitch, tempo and tone. From a low pitch to a high one, from fast to slow, from soft to loud and the reverse including many gradation of each in between their lower and upper limits. The better the pianist can develop the skills to execute these changes the better he grows as a pianist. Concentrate effort in practise towards executing the changes in pitch, tempo and tone.