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craft of piano lessons


CRAFT OF PIANO LESSONS:


THE SOUND OF THE FINGERS SLAPPING THE KEYS

 


This has been expanded into chapter 18 of Alan Fraser's
Honing the Pianistic Self-Image: Skeletal-Based Piano Technique


Add another tool of articulation to your piano technique

I have read elsewhere that this slapping sound is to be avoided, as it can become so loud that it disturbs the actual musical sounds cooming out of the piano. Excuse me but this is simply poppycock! Today’s digital recordings are so accurate that at times you can hear the pianist’s fingernails clicking on the keys (cf. Horowitz in Moscow, track ???), but I have never heard the sound of a finger pad impacting on ivory disturb the glorious Raising the fingers to make them slap the keystone produced by a six-foot soundboard of good Sitka spruce! What you will hear occasionally, especially in high, fast passagework, is the sound of a series of keys hitting the keybed underneath the tones they’re producing. But this is actually a pleasant effect, indicating that the pianist is indeed managing a nice rhythmically even line, and it can even serve as an articulative or defining factor. It recalls the phenomenon in choir rehearsal when the pianist is rehearsing a good group of sopranos, and they are all so in tune with the piano that its sound disappears altogether, so aligned it is with the sound of the human voices it spends so much time trying to imitate. In the end, all you hear from it is the thunk of its keys on the keybed!

Or consider the Baroque organ, where the “chiff” of the pipe opening is an integral part of the articulative definition of each note. Or the harpsichord, where the plectrum’s pluck is so distinctive, almost brittle in it clarity. Which brings me to a proposal: why not try to produce just that sound that some writers have censured?

A piano exercise to galvanize your fingers into healthy action

Step 1: Try to play a series of notes with such vigorous finger slaps that you clearly can hear the thwack of your fingertip! Look at what this opens up in terms of the brilliance and richness of your sound and also your fingers’ movement potential.

Step 2: Now try something even wilder: vary the dynamic of the note from ff all the way down to ppp, maintaining that vigorous slap. It is possible to slap the surface of the key really sharply, so that your finger pad audibly smacks it, while limiting the impetus of your finger to the absolute minimum so that the hammer barely makes it to the string!

Vladimir Horowitz the epitome of evolved finger action technique

I believe this holds a clue to Horowitz’s way of producing sound. I believe that even in his pianissimos his finger movement was very alive, sharp and vigorous (although minimized and internalized), and this is one thing that made his sound so palpable.

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