Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play Quietly on the Piano

What's the best way to play quietly on the piano?

In this video, Robert talks about playing quietly on the piano. Is it a no-brainer, or is there more to it?

Released on September 22, 2021

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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 Robert Estrin here with a really interesting question that I've heard from so many pianists, which is how can you play really quietly on the piano and have all the notes play? You know you've had that frustration sometimes. You're playing a beautiful melody, trying to craft things just the way you want and then notes drop out and you wonder, is there anything you can do about that? The simple answer is yes as long as you are on a well-regulated piano. If you're on an instrument that has problems and where one note doesn't respond equally to other notes, of course, it's going to be impossible to be able to really play delicately and have all the notes play just the way you want them to. But assuming you're on a piano that's regulated well where the notes are even from one to the next and it's regulated properly with all the myriad adjustments of each note to let off the down weight, the up weight, everything is dialed in, even the let off of the dampers because that has something to do with touch as well, assuming your action is really well-regulated yes.

There's a way that you can make sure every single quiet note plays no matter how quietly you play them. I'm going to demonstrate first by playing The Little Shepherd of Debussy and I'm going to play very delicately in sections to prove to you that it's possible and I'm going to try to take it to the extreme limits here right now, putting myself on the spot to prove that I have a solution for you if you run into this issue in your playing, where you can't quite get all the notes to play when you're trying to pay as delicately as possible.

So yes, it's possible to go for those extreme pianissimo sounds in your playing and it's a wonderful thing. In fact, there's no better way to draw an audience in in a performance than playing delicately, where everybody's hushed, listening to what comes next and of course, it's the contrast between loud and soft that ultimately is key for being able to get that dynamic contrast in the first place. Otherwise, soft doesn't mean anything if it's not in relationship to something else that is loud. Okay, so what's the secret? What's the technical secret behind this? It's really quite simple. As long as you push the key from the top of the key to the bottom of the key in one motion, it will always play. The mistake that can sometimes happen is of course, if you don't quite push the key all the way down, then maybe it'll play. Maybe it won't play or if the key's already down a little bit and then you push it the rest of the way, will it play? Maybe and maybe not.

A piano action is a very complex mechanism that has what's called a double escapement and you must get to that feeling where you have that click. You probably know what I'm talking about. Particularly on a grand piano you feel it and even though this is my second prototype modular concert grand system, it still a concert grand action that has everything that you would find in a fine grand piano. So I can demonstrate on this instrument. But it's exactly the same on any fine piano, uprights included. There's an escapement you must overcome. So as you push the key down slowly, try this in your piano. If you've never noticed it before, you get to a certain point and there's a little bit of resistance and that's why you must play with the weight of the arm, which I've talked about so many times. If you play with floppy fingers that aren't supported with the arm, there's no way to be sure that key is going to go all the way down in one smooth motion. So you have to have a certain amount of firmness to your touch in order to achieve this.

The weight of the arm is a great way to achieve the balance from note to note to get a fluid line because the weight is always there and when you're playing loud, there's a lot of weight of the arm supported by the fingers and when you're playing quietly, there's very little weight. But there always must be some weight and that is how you get the key to depress from the top of the travel to the bottom of the travel in one motion and remember, make sure the key isn't down even a tiny amount before you push it because that could mess things up. Piano keys are not meant to be able to respond that way. The action will not always be responsive if the key is partially down to begin with and again, travel to the bottom of that key bed in one motion. Try this and see if it works in your piano and if it doesn't, ask your piano technician next time you get your piano tuned to check the regulation. It may not be you at all. It could be your piano.

So this is an interesting subject for all of you to try out. I'm interested in your reactions to this and what you discover in your playing and on your piano and other pianos you play and you can give comments here and on YouTube. Thanks so much for joining me again. I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource and lots more videos to come. All kinds of exciting things. We have some big announcements coming for you. So stay tuned. Subscribe if you haven't already. You'll enjoy these videos. We'll see you next time. Thanks again for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on September 22, 2021 @5:38 am PST
Digital pianos vary in their action. My Roland FP7 made it possible to press a key without making a sound, just like a grand or upright. My FA-08, also by Roland, always sounds a note no matter how lightly you press a key.
Robert - host, on September 22, 2021 @2:49 pm PST
Digital pianos keep getting better at mimicking the response and sound of acoustic pianos, particularly higher end instruments.
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