Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Start a Piece: The Secret of Lifting

A useful technique for piano players

In this video, Robert teaches you how to start with the first note of a piece using lifting.

Released on July 28, 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 I'm Robert Estrin. Today's subject is how to start a piece of music, the secret of lifting. I've talked a great deal about how to create tonal balance between the hands. And using the weight of the arm, transferring that weight from note to note. So, instead of just playing a key and having no support, no weight, you actually support the weight of your arm on that key. So, right now, if I slid my finger off that key, my arm would drop to the floor, because I'm actually holding up my whole arm with that finger. And that enables me to get a smooth line, where every note plays. No matter how quiet and delicate. So, that's the secret to balancing from note to note. But how do you start that first note? And get the sound you want out of it?

I'm also a French hornist. And on the French horn you can play almost all the notes with any valve combination, particularly in the high register. So, if you want to play a note and not crack it, and you wonder how do you get it? Because, once you get that first note, you get all the notes on the breath. It's pretty easy to go from note to note. But how do you start that first note? Well, on the horn, and other wind instruments, you take a deep breath, filling up. And then, you kind of put that breath under a little bit of pressure. And that gives you the control. Much like if I put my breath under pressure, I can project a whisper. Because, there's power, even though I'm whispering, you can hear it clearly.

That's the power of the diaphragm support in wind playing. Well, what's the analog on the piano? It's the weight of the arm. Now, starting notes of the horn is, once again, putting the breath under pressure and starting with the tongue saying two. On the piano, it's a little bit different. And here is the secret. If you're just over a key, and you push it, and you want a certain volume. Are you going to get the precise volume you want? How can you possibly be assured of that? Well, if you were to, for example, go down with your hand and then do this... Take your hand that's up, and then go down, you're increasing the speed at which your hand is hitting the keys.

But if you do exactly the opposite, it gives you tremendous leverage. Because, instead you relax your hand. So, it's just hanging there, flopping there. And then, as you go down, you let your hand unbend. So, as you're going down, you're coming up. This is actually coming up, while your arm is going down. So, the arm goes down, the wrist unbends like that. And this is what happens. By going two different directions at the same time, you can achieve exactly the sound you want on starting any note, at any volume. And with total assurance.

So, that's why you'll see pianist starting. And that is the secret of how to start a piece of music. Now, of course, there's some pieces that start heroically, and this is not necessary. If you're starting a piece like... That's a military Polonaise of Chopin, and there's no need for lifting in that sense. You could just sail right into it, because when you're playing with that kind of volume, it's got to pop just the way you want it to.

But in the first piece I played for you, the beginning of the Chopin, B-flat minor Nocturne, in order to get exactly the sound you want. With the precise volume, the sound you hear in your head before you even play it. By lifting, letting the wrist go limp, as I said, and as you're going down with the arm, coming up with the wrist. You have total control, no matter what piece you're starting. You can see that even within the piece, sometimes lifting when it's a new phrase, much like, once again, on a wind instrument, when you're paying a new phrase, you take that breath, put it under pressure, and attack using the tongue. It's the same thing. Whenever you need to start a phrase fresh, you use this lifting technique. I want you to all try it and see how it helps you to start with precisely the total balance you want, right from the very first note. And see how that helps you.

Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at your online piano resource. Thank you for the subscribers. We're reaching milestones this year. You're going to hear more about that. A lot of interesting things here in our 15th anniversary of Living Pianos. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, and we'll see you next time.
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