Robert Estrin - piano expert

Developing a Wide Range of Tone with Your Instrument

Very useful video for all instrumentalists

In this video, Robert gives you useful tips that are applicable to all instruments to help you develop your music tone range.

Released on April 1, 2020

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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

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin at Today, I'm going to talk to you a bit about how you can develop a huge range of tone on your musical instrument. This isn't just about the piano. This is about all instruments.

First, I want to digress a little bit and start with the original instrument of all time, which is the human voice. We all have the human voice, or we all have this instrument with us. For millennia, it was the only instrument until people started banging on things, and blowing through things, and eventually we have a whole range of instruments. But it's really important to remember that it all came from the human voice, and that's how we express things.

Now as with a wind instrument, or the human voice, how to develop that control? My wife, Florence Estrin, is a concert flutist. She has remarkable control in her playing, from the very softest to the loudest, with purity of sound on all notes and all registers. How is such a thing possible? Well, I'll tell you her little secret is that every day of her life, with very few exceptions, she goes through what I call long tones.

What are long tones? It's going through every single note in the flute, one by one, starting as soft as possible with a very, very slow swell, to very loud and then a very slow swell, to very soft, creating a long tone of expression, keeping the pitch the same, which is very difficult on wind instruments by the way. She does it in octaves, making sure the pitch is coherent from octave to octave.

She even has a vacation flute, I kid you not, a flute that she can take on vacation that's not so expensive as her Powell with the gold head joint and all of that, and she can take out of the hotel at some point, she'll go through at least a few minutes. Now, why would she go through the pains of long tones on vacation? It's because in a wind instrument like the flute, the tone reduction of the lips is so intrinsic to the instrument, and even one day off you lose a little bit of that muscle tone.

So, it's not even worth taking several days off, because then it takes several days to get back on that high level. How do you such a thing on a piano? What's the analog on the piano? On the piano, what we have is the arm weight. How do you utilize the arm weight to get a good tone? Well, if I were to play something on the piano and not use the arm weight, and just play each note without the arm weight, there's no way to really control. It becomes very calculated. I've talked about this before.

Except for the very fastest playing on the piano, where arm weight hinders you because your fingers aren't strong enough to support much arm weight at all at very, very fast speeds, like a fast scales, or trills, you're just basically hovering over the keys. Whenever playing a melodic line, it's absolutely essential to use the weight of the arm in order to create that fluid tone.

Sometimes, you have to use the entire arm when you're playing big chords, when you're playing for example... I've demonstrated this so many times, but the beginning of the Tchaikovsky, B Flat Minor, Piano Concerto, the big chords. If you played them without the arms, you get this ugly sound, compared to playing with the arm weight. What do I mean by the arm weight, you might be wondering? I mean, by putting your fingers right in the service of the keys, and then releasing the whole way to the arms all at once to the bottom of the key bed.

This creates a much more beautiful sound. Now when playing melodic lines, the entire arm doesn't have to impact each chord or each note. Instead, you lean into the entire line, leaning heavier with more arm weight in the middle of the phrase, creating the line, the rise and the fall necessary to create a musical line, just like in my speech, as it goes up in the middle of the sentence and comes down at the end. Your music has to do that too.

The way to achieve that when you don't have the breath as you do in the human voice, or on a flute, is by using the arm weight. Listen to the beginning of the B Flat Minor, Nocturne, of Chopin, as I use the arm weight to create this fluid line.

You get a beautiful, fluid sound because you have the analog of the breath with the weight of the arm transferring from key to key, rather than playing each note with no weight of the arm, which is a calculated performance. This is how you develop a huge range of tone on the piano where you don't get that ugly harshness I demonstrated for you playing without arm weight. You have the support of the arms much like the support of the breath for a singer or a wind player. It creates that beautiful sound and control.

That's the secret to great music, and how to create a line on any instrument, is having the concept of the breath, or on a wind instrument, better yet, you have the breath. I hope you've enjoyed this, and it resonates with you. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at, your online piano store. You're welcome to subscribe and ring the bell for future videos. Lots more coming your way. We'll see you then.
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