I have just returned from a weekend’s tutoring on The Piano Teachers’ Course (EPTA) UK, where I am one of a small team of principal tutors responsible for delivering the nation’s flagship training course for piano teachers (either those starting out in the profession or experienced ones in need of a refresher). I always return from our residential weekends and one-day events inspired and energised.
Included in my duties this weekend were two workshops on style and interpretation – one on Baroque repertoire, the other on Romantic.
In the Baroque workshop we had a lovely Flemish-style harpsichord in addition to the regular Steinway D grand, and I was able to brush up on my rusty harpsichord skills to demonstrate how to play expressively on the Baroque instrument using articulation and overlapping touches. This brief reacquaintance with the harpsichord made me realise how much I miss playing it.
Some of the class elected to play their piece on the harpsichord. I suggested to the person who brought Bach’s G minor Sinfonia she could play the downbeat in bar 2 more expressively by making the tiniest gap just before it (between the G and the F). Everyone’s face lit up when she found it worked. Never let anyone tell you the harpsichord is incapable of expression – it is the most noble and beautiful instrument, and when played well it will draw you right in.
In the Romantic workshop (back on the piano, of course) I found myself wanting not only much more projection from melody lines, but also a warmer and rounder tone quality.
Most of the time, we pianists aim to make our percussion instrument sing by artful illusion – replicating the timings, intonations and colourings of the human voice or a melodic instrument (such as the violin or cello) as if by magic.
My most popular post of 2014, Controlling Tone explores this subject in detail.
When players in the class were struggling with finding the right sound, it was always because their hand position was in the default curved position and finger movements are just not up to this task, I’m afraid. When I encouraged them to play with a flatter finger, their sound was noticeably warmer, rounder and fuller.
Natural Hand Position
Finding the ideal hand position is easy. If we stand up and allow the arm to hang loosely from the shoulder, the hand will naturally assume a curved position. Bring the hand up to the keyboard and you already have the default position for your hand. Curved fingers move more efficiently than flat fingers, although we do use a flatter finger for a singing tone when using arm touches. When playing with curved fingers, it is important to maintain the natural arched structure and guard against collapsing the wrist, the metacarpal joints or the nail knuckle joints.
For more on hand position, including photographs of good and bad positions and how to correct collapsed joints, follow this link to Part 2 of my eBook Series on technique (click here)
Five Tips for a Singing Tone
Here are my 5 tips to improve your tone production in melody lines – when you want a rounder, fuller sound.
1. Sing the melodic line
This is such a simple yet such a powerful thing to do. If you sing a melodic line, you’ll find out where the high and low points of the phrase are and where you need to breathe. Don’t worry about the quality of your voice, nobody need hear you but yourself!
2. Listen to great singers!
Chopin constantly advised his students to do this. If you’re not too familiar with the vocal and operatic repertoire, you have a real treat in store for you.
3. Play on the pads or cushions of your fingers, not on the tips
This means your wrist needs to be slightly lower than when you play on the tips. This is fine – just make sure the wrist (which will be in constant motion) doesn’t dip much below parallel with the back of the hand.
4. Develop flexibility in your wrists
In a deep and penetrating legato cantabile line the wrist needs to be supple and flexible as it helps to transfer the arm weight to the hand.
If you have my ebooks, follow this link to my exercises and demonstrations that will help you develop looseness and suppleness in the wrist (click here)
5. Develop an overlapping touch
Instead of releasing the finger as the next note sounds (this would give you a plain legato), experiment with releasing it a tad late – this overlap blends one sound seamlessly into the next.
I made two videos for Pianist Magazine on developing a singing tone. Here’s the first:
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And here’s the second:
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Practising the Piano eBook Series Part 4
I am delighted to announce that Part 4 of my eBook Series is now available. You can purchase Practising the Piano Part 4 (priced at £9.99) directly from my website. It is also available on Amazon Kindle and for pre-order on the Apple iBookstore (click here for the full series catalogue which contains links to the individual volumes on all platforms).
The full series (Parts 1 to 4) can now be purchased for £35.99 (a discount of 20% off the individual part prices). If you already own one or more parts of Practising the Piano you can also take advantage of further discount bundles to complete your collection. These can be viewed on the series catalogue page here.
If you would like a video introduction and more information on the contents of Part 4, please follow this link.
Buy Practising the Piano Part 4 Now
Click on the “Buy” button below to purchase Part 4 of Practising The Piano now:
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