Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play Piano to the Room

What does this interesting question mean?

In this video, Robert tells you what "playing the piano to the room" means and the interesting and practical aspects of it.

Released on November 13, 2019

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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, this is Robert Estrin at Today's subject is playing the piano to the room. What do I mean by that? The room that you're playing in can be as important to the sound and the approach to the keyboard as the piano you're playing. It's absolutely true. I remember, for example, in high school there was a seven-foot Baldwin Semi-concert Grand. And that piano was kept to the side of the stage in an incredibly echoey room. And it was almost deafening in there. And I practiced there whenever I had a chance. Then it would come on stage with the curtains closed. It was a completely different sound and I felt I had to approach the keyboard differently in order to project the sound.

Then when the curtain was open, I could hear the sound into the hall. Now that hall happened to be a pretty live hall, so it was important not to use too much pedal, otherwise things could get muddy. In fact, even the tempo you play a piece should vary depending upon the acoustics of the hall. A hall that's very reverberant, things can get muddied and you have to take more time in certain places.

So playing to the room is something that all instrumentalists have to deal with. So as pianists, we have a double whammy. We have to adjust to the piano, and we have to adjust to the room. But anybody else, whether they play violin, flute, trumpet, clarinet, they have to figure out how to play to a room, to project a sound, and to reach the last row in the audience. And to have the appropriate sound for that space.

Certainly, if you're playing in a living room, you don't want to blow people out of there. So you want to temper your sound to match the room, always using your ears. It's not molding one performance. It's being in the kind of shape where at that moment, instantly you can create the right sound for that piano and that room. Thanks so much for the great questions here at I'm Robert Estrin. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on November 13, 2019 @6:58 pm PST
You're quite right about all that Robert. Once, long ago, I was to perform with a cellist and a pianist the slow movement of a Mendelssohn trio, which has beautiful melodic passages not only for my violin, but for the other 2 instruments as well. The pianist wasn't sure about the acoustics of the hall we were to be playing at the rehearsal at this venue, she went off up into the far rows of seats and asked me and the cellist to play some of this music...she then said that if we wanted to be heard we would have to play the indicated "softer: passages at least mezzo forte or even louder, and the louder passages at double forte and even triple forte. So, it was clear that the acoustics of the room were very poor. At the performance that evening, we performed as indicated
and were rewarded with a performance that every audience member in that hall could easily access without struggling to hear us.
We received a lot of compliments about our performance and it was a gratifying experience. I shudder to think what would have happened if the pianist hadn't decided to test the acoustic properties of that room. So the moral of all this is that the performer should/has to know the acoustical properties of the room he or she is to be performing in.
Robert Estrin on November 16, 2019 @2:29 pm PST
Thanks for adding your personal experiences. Glad you were able to accommodate your performance for the room!
Kenneth Spencer on November 13, 2019 @9:34 am PST
Organists have a saying, which goes something like: "The first stop on the organ is the room".
This one of the most important aspects of organ-playing, as some "rooms" in which organs are to be found have a massive acoustic with reverberation times of up 12.5 second.
Robert Estrin on November 16, 2019 @2:58 pm PST
With organs, the room is part of the instrument! All musicians can learn something from what organists intrinsically understand.
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