Piano technique - Listening well

The purpose of improving one's piano technique is to ultimately produce tone that enhances the listening experience of the audience through good listening and slow practise

In the midst of playing a song I have caught myself distracted by the act of trying to read the notes on the written score, reaching for the keys to press and the ensuing strain felt in the fingers. What i should be focusing on was the quality of tone I was producing. Listening carefully to the tiniest of nuance in the tone produced is the first step towards rendering a song with expressiveness on the piano.

It is a habit that needs conscious effort. Even though you think you can hear the sound coming out of the piano, being able to pick out the slightest changes in the vibration of the strings inside the piano requires deliberate concentration.

Only then shall I pay attention to the motions of my fingers, wrists, hands, arms and shoulders in coordinating them so that they may coax out of the piano the ideal tone I desire. To produce good tone, they need to be relaxed, loose and have the freedom to move seamlessly. Relaxed means the absence of strain, motions that do not require forcefulness. The fingertips ultimately are the ones which make contact with the surface of the keys on the piano, therefore have to be flexible and agile. However, the rest of the body, such as the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders determine how well the fingertips touch the keys because they are the ones supporting the fingertips from behind carrying them across space and time. With lesser hindrance in their motions the better the touch of keys made by the fingers producing better tone.

Listening well to improve piano technique

Being able to pick out the changes in the vibration of of the strings inside the piano allows you to make adjustments to your motions in order to pronounce your expressiveness. For it is the intensity in the changes in the strings’ vibrations which are nothing more than changes in the pitch, dynamics and volume of the tone being produced that determines the expressiveness. Therefore listening is one half of the equation the other half is how well can you execute the changes. Which hinges on coordination of the motions of your fingers, wrists, hands, arms, shoulders and the rest of the body in a relaxed manner.

Another advice that can be offered to deliver expressiveness beautifully is to absorb the rhythm properly. The reason being that mistakes in tone inevitably result in mistakes in rhythm. Having a firm grasp of the rhythm would trigger you to look for faults in the tone and make the necessary corrections. The way towards absorbing rhythm thoroughly is by understanding the composers’ style and intent. To accomplish this you would have to spend time by playing and listening to many of their compositions.

Absorbing rhythm and
improved piano technique

Fortunately dedicating ample time to one composition also helps to absorb its artistic image, style, intent and therefore rhythm. For the past few months I have been learning Canon in D by Pachelbel. I have not learned any of his other compositions because I had been obsessed only with Canon in D for quite a while now. In learning it, I have taken my time making progress slowly sometimes only 1 bar a day. It is a deliberate act on my part.

As a result I have been able gain a deep insight into the rhythm, tone and musical structure of each bar. Without the pressure to rush through the composition I could experiment with the tone production. Trying out the  possible shades of tone of notes that sounded as if they would impact the listening experience significantly. Exploring the range in possibilities between piano and pianissimo for instance.

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