Robert Estrin - piano expert

Two Secrets of Piano Tone

What is "piano tone" and how is it handled?

In this video, Robert tackles the production of tone on the piano by showing you two different ways of playing that will improve your performance a great deal.

Released on February 18, 2015

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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, I'm Robert Estrin, Living Pianos T.V. Today, a special show. Two Secrets of Piano Tone. You know there's a lot of different ways of looking at piano tone. You've seen some of my other videos about using the weight of the arm to sustain a line, and using it like the breath and using more downward arm weight in the middle of a phrase, and then less at the end of a phrase so you get the round smoothness. That's one concept of piano tone that's intrinsic and important. But I'm going to show you two others today that also work, and surprising that you can try a variety of techniques and get great results. Interesting to try different techniques to see how it affects music.

So one of the facets of piano tone production that we're all aware of you play a note, and it's dying away instantly. So you're fighting this all the time. You're trying to play a beautiful singing line. Well one simple solution is to recognize this fact and realize that notes that are longer must be played louder because, for them to be equal, they have to be louder, otherwise they fade out and you're left with nothing. So for example, if I played a Chopin Waltz and played it equal, the longer notes will sound softer than the other notes. Watch.

Very lackluster performance there, I apologize for that. Now I'm just going to make one difference. I'm going to take all the long notes and play them with much more sound and this gives the illusion of equal voicing, because the notes have to last long enough to be equal by the termination of the note. Listen and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Now we have some music there. What a striking difference. So this is one way that you can bring a fluid line through your music by playing longer notes with more sound. And this is a universal truth in piano playing. Try it in your music and you'll discover that it really does work.

Now I'm going to show you a completely different technique for getting a singing line, and this one also works. So if one doesn't work, try the other one. This one, my teacher Ruth Slenczynska taught this to me years ago when I studied with her, phenomenal pianist and one of the nicest people in the world, by the way. Very simple concept of playing notes that are higher, louder, and notes that are lower, softer. Now you'd think such a simple thing. . . if you're playing a flute for example, it's impossible to not do that. Even just singing, it's a natural tendency as notes get higher, you have to use more air, you naturally get louder. So it makes for a very natural phrase. So I'm going to play a little bit of Chopin Nocturne and I'm going to be very methodical in playing the higher the notes go, the louder, and softer as I go down. And listen to the fluidity it achieves.

So that works also. So these are two techniques you can use. Also, remember the round phrasing that I talked about in previous videos. Using the weight of the arm, supported by the fingers, increasing to the middle of the phrase to get a round smooth phrasing that is anything but calculated. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at Living Pianos T.V. There will be more shows to come. Thank you for your suggestions. Keep them coming in, and I'll keep cranking out these videos for you. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ramona Walter * VSM MEMBER * on October 17, 2018 @11:14 am PST
Thank you fo such a good lesson.
Robert Estrin - host, on October 19, 2018 @2:48 pm PST
So glad you enjoyed it!
Robert - host, on May 29, 2015 @3:50 pm PST
One clarification I would like to add since I am a French horn player, is that while in fact, lower notes require more volume of air, higher notes take more intensity of air pressure. You open up for low notes allowing a greater amount of air flow while higher notes take more energy and on most instruments project a louder sound naturally than lower notes. Just as low notes on organs have long, wide pipes, and higher notes require short, thin tubes, when playing wind instruments you are projecting air into a smaller space on higher notes (shorter tube, smaller opening of air on the mouthpiece or lips) which creates a more intense air stream, but a lower volume of air. However, it takes great control to play high notes softy on most wind instruments and having a big sound and projection in the low register can be a big challenge on many wind instrument.
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on May 6, 2015 @8:45 pm PST
If I may, one way to work on your tone is to practice hands separately. It really helps to concentrate on a melodic line without having to worry about the accompaniment, and vice versa.
Robert - host, on May 7, 2015 @10:17 am PST
Practicing hands separately on the piano has many benefits. It is an essential component of effective practice.
Mary Brown on February 22, 2015 @5:03 pm PST
I'm always learning from your videos, even though I've been a piano teacher for 30+ years. Hopefully my students are benefiting from it. Thanks.
ingrid morgan on February 20, 2015 @4:36 pm PST
Always find these video clips on piano playing techniques very clear and useful. Thank you. I look forward to them!
John Knott on February 18, 2015 @8:55 am PST
Nice one Robert, but which Chopin Nocturne did you play? I haven't heard it before. It was lovely.
Robert - host, on February 21, 2015 @11:42 am PST
That was part of the Chopin Nocturne in B-flat minor Opus 9 No. 1 which is the first one in the book.
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