Sense of Touch and Tone at the Piano

The piano student’s touch on the piano keyboard is rarely if ever mentioned, let alone addressed.  Yet, it is certainly one of the major factors in making music at the piano. ‘Piano’ and ‘forte’, may be mentioned, but that’s not touch. Volume as such has nothing to do with musicianship.

Other instrumentalists, especially the singer and the violinist are trained to produce sounds, the quality of which marks the artist. The piano student is different not only in the lack of artistic sounds, but in phrasing. A singer, for example must phrase because he/she must breath, but the pianist has no such limitation, therefore plays and plays and plays without the need to breath… or to phrase.

Scales and arpeggios, improvised, should begin the practice session working with gradations of touch and sound. The control of touch with these gradations will separate the artist from the pianist, especially in Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveaux de lin’. Debussy’s dynamic markings are but a guide to an artistic performance with touch, along with an effortless sense of pulse. It is life-changing, seriously!

One more item – one must know what one is playing while applying the sense of touch; signatures, modulations, functions, identities, chords without roots, etc. One must study the composition at hand knowing measure by measure, and beat by beat exactly what one is playing harmonically. Music is a language, and you must know and understand the language.  Playing and practicing without this understanding is ‘parroting’; a meaningless, memorized effort. Learning the Language with Bach and Rudiments give the piano student and his/her teacher the necessary elements that are not to be found in a theory class or manual.

No amount of practice will make a musical performance without a determined effort to play musically, and that requires deep attention to touch and tone, and what is in the composition at hand in regards harmonic function and identity.

It does take work, also known as study…

Scales and arpeggios – improvised

Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveaux de lin’

Ralph Carroll Hedges, B.Ed., B.Mus., M.M

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