Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Project Your Piano Playing in a Hall

Useful tips for playing in a concert hall

In this video, Robert tells you how different it is to play in a concert hall compared to a regular room and gives you useful tips on how to take advantage of that.

Released on August 18, 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 important subject for you, which is how to project your piano playing in a hall. This isn't just if you're playing in a concert hall, this is actually appropriate for playing for anyone in any room, and it's drastically different than what you might think. Here's an analogy for a moment. If you ever go to a museum and you look at some gorgeous paintings and you walk into a room and you see across the room this magnificent landscape, perhaps it's an impressionist painting by Degas or one of the great French impressionists. And as you get closer, you see the beauty and the colors and the wonderful imagery. But if you get close enough, at a certain point, you just see these little jabs of pink all over the canvas, and it doesn't even look like an image anymore.

It almost has a grotesque quality to it when you get too close. Back up and the beauty of the artwork is revealed. Well, think about this. Whenever you are playing the piano, you are closer to that instrument than anyone who's listening to you, unless they happen to be sitting on the bench with you, which doesn't happen very often. So, you get a skewed idea as to the sound you're creating, because you don't really hear what it sounds like for anybody else. And just like that in the museum, being too close looks kind of odd and angular. Indeed, if you want your playing to project, particularly in a hall or a church where there's reverberation, you've got to delineate things much more than you ever would imagine. This goes for articulations, phrasings, as well as dynamics, all have to be articulated, exaggerated.

I'm going to give you examples, even a Mozart slow movement. It's an interesting thing, I've played in many orchestras, being a French hornist. And sometimes there is a solo and it's written piano, but a solo that was written piano for a horn or a clarinet, an oboe, a flute. It really is a much, much bigger sound when you're in the orchestra because to project even a quiet solo out into the hall requires a tremendous amount of energy. And so it is. So, listen to this Mozart. This is the second movement, the beginning of the second movement of the Mozart Sonata in C Major K 330, and I'm going to play it in a lackluster fashion, without projecting. Just play it as if I just want to hear it for me. I don't care about anybody else. And this is what it might sound like.

Now, from right here, it sounds fine. But even where you are, listening to it through the speakers, you probably don't get a sense that it's reaching out to you. It's out there somewhere and it doesn't really draw you in, does it? Now, if I play with much more intensity and I articulate all the notes, and more importantly, the line and dynamic changes, then you'll get something that is exaggerated for me, listening this close. See how that sounds to you. So, I'm putting much more energy into the phrasing, bigger rises and falls of dynamics. More difference in each phrase. The articulation, the slurs, and all the little markings are exaggerated and delineated so that it comes through, even to you, wherever you may be, through your speakers and in a hall, it's really essential.

Now it's not just for quiet music. It's equally important in more heroic music. Listen to the beginning of Chopin's B Flat Minor Scherzo, and I'm going to play it once again, very moderate, just playing for me, not trying to make it reach the last row of the balcony. There it is. Now, what can be done with it more than what I did? I played what's written. I'm going to exaggerate everything and listen to what happens to it. Maybe up here it might be a bit extreme, but I bet you it'll sound better to you. You'll have to let me know in the comments.

So, this is a really important lesson for how to play for other people. It's not just in a concert hall, it could be in your own living room, people across the room, on the sofa, they don't hear it the same way you do right in front of your piano. In order to project your ideas and your interpretation and your musicianship and your concept of the music, you must delineate, and yes, exaggerate. It may even have a slightly grotesque quality to you when you're playing it, because you're going to really stretch everything so that it comes across, whether somebody is 10 feet away or a hundred feet away. So, I hope this is an important lesson for you.

And if you ever had the opportunity to go with a fellow pianist to a concert hall or a large room of the piano and play for one another, you could try this out for yourself, or even take a recording device, if you have a high quality recording device, record it two different ways and see which one you like better. Again, I'm Robert Estrin and this is, your online piano resource. Lots more coming your way with lots of very interesting news around here at living pianos you'll be hearing more about. Thanks for joining me and all you subscribers, a special shout out to you, my Patreon subscribers as well. It means so much to be able to bring these videos to you. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh Hayashi * VSM MEMBER * on August 18, 2021 @12:10 pm PST
Your comments are important and most valid. I would only add that
from my own experience, when playing in a large hall or similar venue, it was most helpful if a fellow musician/collaborator walked way back in the hall while I played my instrument and told me what he or she was hearing at that distance and what I should do to make my instrument's sound more accessible and telling.
Robert - host, on August 18, 2021 @1:38 pm PST
You are absolutely right! I would go to the hall before my father's performances and walk around to hear how the piano sounded in various parts of the hall. It's amazing how different the piano sounds in the balcony, or various sections of the orchestra. Then when the audience comes in, the acoustics sometimes change dramatically from the absorption of sound on everyone's clothing!
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