Robert Estrin - piano expert

Why is a Slur Impossible on the Piano?

Learn the secrets of slurs on the piano

In this video, Robert talks about playing slurs on a piano. Is it really impossible to perform a "slur" on a piano?

Released on December 25, 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, and I'm Robert Estrin. Today's question is, why is a slur impossible on the piano? It seems like a ridiculous question because you know that you have slurs all over the place in your scores on the piano, and here I am telling you that slurs are impossible on the piano.

Well, as you probably know, the piano is an instrument of illusion. After all, you play a note and as soon as you play it, it's dying away. So, every single note you play on the piano has a decrescendo to it, and yet you have music that's written with crescendos. That's a whole other issue, why crescendos are impossible on the piano, or are they? Obviously, if you play multiple notes, each successive note can form a crescendo. Correct. But what about a slur? Why is a slur impossible? What does a slur mean?

Did you know that a slur actually on the human voice and many other instruments have all the notes within the slur? In fact, it's impossible to avoid it completely. Try singing from one note to another note, and don't get the notes between (singing). If you were to slow that down dramatically, you would hear all the notes between (singing) very quickly, (singing). Now, I'm also a French horn player, and on the French horn slurs also have all the notes between. If you listen to great string players, violinists and cellists for example, when they play slurs they won't always have the notes between, but for expressiveness depending upon the positions and which strings they choose they will get the notes between the slur.

That's anybody impossible on the piano, so what do we do as pianists? Well, we try to fake slurs. We create the illusion of slurs by simply having the notes overlap slightly. In that case, I just play the two notes, and I didn't really overlap them. If I want to create a creamy slurred effect between those two notes, I would release the middle C after I've played the G, like this. Now, you probably heard that how it sounded much smoother. If you wanted to avoid a slur, you detach the notes. That's how you achieve the effect of a slur on the piano, but you are not technically slurring on the piano. You're just creating the illusion of a slur by judiciously overlapping the notes just enough so it doesn't become messy and distorted, particularly if you had a half step slur, you don't want it to sound like this.

That's obviously too much because you hear the dissonance of the half step, but you could do it with just a little bit of overlap to get that illusion of the continuity of note to note. Yes, slurs are impossible on the piano, but we try our darnedest to create that illusion by overlapping notes slightly. I hope this has been enlightening for you, and I wonder how many of you realize what a slur actually technically means, and how to achieve it on the piano, at least the effect.

Thanks so much for joining me again. This is Robert Estrin at We'll see you next time.
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