Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to add color to your music - Part 1

A simple approach to add color and passion to your music playing.

In this video, Robert gives you an easy way to add color to any kind of music. A simple Mozart sonata, like the one featured in this video (Sonata in C major K545), is a perfect place to start!

Released on January 1, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to Virtual Sheet Music. I'm Robert Estrin. Today's subject for the video is "How to add color to your music." This is part one of a two-part series. All right, when I first got this question from a viewer my initial response was, "Well, the most obvious way to add color in your music is with the pedals." Yes, there is so many ways in which you can impart color, so I thought of the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel and I thought of all the potential things I could show you, but then I thought, "Wait a minute, there are other ways to add color, aren't there?" So this video is going to explore all the ways you can add color in your music without using the pedals at all. The second part is going to explore how to add color to your music with the pedals.

So I've chosen a piece that you can play without the pedal, which is Mozart. In fact, Mozart's piano did not have any pedal, so it's a perfect way to demonstrate how you can add color to your music. I've chosen the famous "C major k545 Sonata", but I'm going to be playing the second movement. First thing I'm going to do is play it totally straight and then I'm going to show you several different things you can do to add color even without using the pedal.


All right, everything was accurate there. Pretty much exactly the way it's written, but it's a little lifeless, isn't it? Well, first of all, one thing that you can do is just simply change the balance between the hands, playing the melody stronger than the accompaniment immediately adds flavor and, yes, color to the music. I'm going to only add that one element of balancing the hands with more weight in the right hand.


So already you can hear it's better, because the melody comes through and you don't hear all those notes in the left hand it just supports the melody, but there is still something missing. Well, you know, one of the aspect about the piano is the fact that it is imitative of voice and string instruments, but you know of course that the notes fade out as you play them. Now, I learned a lot from my wife Florence Estrin listening to her play the flute and we perform together and when she plays higher notes she uses more air, takes a little more time, also having a little bit more volume as you play higher is a natural thing when you're playing a wind instrument. And one of my great piano teachers Ruth Slenczynska showed me how you can simply take a melody and the higher the notes go, play them louder as you go higher and softer as you go lower. So I'm going to do three things now, I'm going to have the balance between the hands like I had in the last performance, but I'm going to also do two things in addition, I'm going to play higher notes louder and lower notes softer, and I'm going to take a little more time when I get to the top notes.


It sounds much more fluid. It sounds much more like "a real instrument", not that the piano isn't a real instrument but an organic instrument that uses the breath or the bow, something that has a living tone, not just the attack of the note as the piano is subject to with the exception of the pedals which we're not using today. Now, what else can you do? Well, what about the left hand? Now, if you were using in a pedal you would probably sort of get the left-hand notes to meld together, but interestingly just because they're written as sixteenth notes in the left-hand doesn't mean that you can't bring out the bottom note. By holding the first note of each group longer, you get this kind of sound. Now I'm going to combine all the elements: the balance between the hands favoring the right hand, playing louder as you go to higher notes as well as taking more time with the highest notes and lastly holding the first note of each group in the left-hand longer than the sixteenth gives you this quality.


Now I know this was a slow progression of adding expressive elements and color to the performance. You may want to rewind and watch the beginning of this again and compare the drastic evolution by these elements. Try this with this piece as well as others and see what colors you can add with your music. Next time we're going to introduce the possibilities of the pedals which are very exciting. Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here with, until next time.

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Comments, Questions, Requests:

SD * VSM MEMBER * on May 25, 2022 @11:53 am PST
It’s appealing
Ken Cory on October 12, 2017 @9:06 am PST
Excellent lesson, Robert. I noticed that the score you're playing from has quarter notes on each beat on the left hand, probably indicating that Mozart wanted the pianist to bring that note out. Indeed, the first note of each group of sixteenth notes (and sometimes with the third note) constitutes a beautiful counter melody all the way through the movement. I play this movement very often, at weddings and even cocktail hours, and I find that one way to make this movement even more beautiful and colourful is to Slow. It. Down. Cheers!
Robert - host, on October 16, 2017 @1:24 pm PST
It's important to consider the quarter note as the beat when establishing the tempo. You can play a slower tempo and still feel rushed once the pulse of the quarter note is lost and the eighth note pulse is felt.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on October 11, 2017 @1:38 pm PST
Thank you very much for a most enlightening discussion. Much of what you say applies to any instrument, not just to the piano. My own preferred instrument is the violin. One could easily apply some of the principles you enunciate to make violin music, of any genre, more colourful, more expressive, and less static.
Pat * VSM MEMBER * on October 11, 2017 @6:46 am PST
I love your videos -- the tips and your energy and obvious love of the music and the piano. Many thanks!!
Sheila Stufflebeam on June 12, 2014 @10:23 am PST
I love your tutorials on playing the piano! My only suggestion is Doing more videos for people, like me, who have not been classically trained. I hope this question isn't an insult to you, but could you do any videos on lounge or cocktail music? You have an amazing gift for teaching! My background is playing church hymns for church, and with no color to them. Your teaching videos are amazing, thank you for making them!
Robert - host, on June 12, 2014 @3:22 pm PST
We may offer guest artists to offer tips on other styles of music for you. Stay tuned!
Roberta Kelly * VSM MEMBER * on January 8, 2014 @10:17 am PST
Robert, I have been playing piano for 60 years and wish I had seen this video 50 years ago. The difference in the sound was amazing, and I appreciated the techniques involved, rather trying to just evoke something from my soul.
Helena boggia on January 1, 2014 @5:28 am PST
Oh yes, what a difference....I have to remember to give my pieces more colour. Thank you Robert and have a wonderful new year
Ross Parsai * VSM MEMBER * on January 1, 2014 @3:38 am PST
I really enjoy watching your "How To" piano series. You make everything look so simple and easy. You are a super communicator when it comes to teaching music. Thank you!
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