13 • Chimera

The sound of the piano is a Chimera, a monstrous mythological creature of the imagination. The piano does not have an own sound (with the exception of its percussive nature), particularly in the realm of balance and timbre, overtone mixing of two or more notes: the sound of the piano comes from the inner world, the imagination of the pianist playing it. It can be anything you want, imitating orchestral instruments, human voice, organ, choir, animals, weather, and an infinite variety of natural and unnatural soundscapes.

We don't have a direct contact to the string: we fling, we catapult little felt covered hammers against strings. The sound of the string starts decaying immediately after it unfolded it's full vibration onto the sound board. All that makes the concept of a beautiful tone a mystery, and yet we have the aristocratic magnetism of Rachmaninoff, the golden sound of Gilels, the majestic sound of Rubinstein, the phantastic sound of Horowitz, the superhuman sound of Gould, the tenderness and fire of Argerich, the force of Richter, the melancholy of Evans, the miracles of Tatum ... As different as these pianists are, there is one thing they have in common: the connection of the whole arm through the fingers to the keyboard, to the string, to sound. Some with flat fingers and some with curved.

Let me introduce a concept of sound production, of the physical creation of tone, at the piano:

The Mirror of Light. Between the key and the string is a wall, the fallboard, a hurdle that must be overcome. We are in front of a mechanical device and must summon a world of emotions from the black, white and gold monster. In front of you is the key mechanism (over 120 parts in each key), a wall, and behind it is the string, a doorway to sound, to the soul. Imagine that below the keyboard is a mirror that reflects the energy that you impact on it. You must, with focused energy like a laser pointer, direct your energy into that mirror so it can reflect to the string. This is done with arm weight only, the whole arm from the shoulder. No wrist, no finger, but whole arm!


There are two factors: angle and speed. The steeper the angle of the finger impact and the faster you depress the key, the louder. The flatter the angle of the finger impact and the slower you depress the key, the softer. And there are other combinations of speed and angles:


You have to stay connected to the key all the way, as if you want to play through the key, forward down, to a point below and behind the finger contact to the key. Remember: the finger starts at the wrist, it has four bones: the tip (distal), second (intermediate) and third (proximal) phalange and the bone inside your palm (metacarpal). Experiment with different angles and speeds. You can find different angles by pushing into the wooden curved side end of the keyboard frame with the pillow of your finger.


Play a very loud note, steep and fast, stay with it with your ears after inception. Now play a very soft note, flat and slow, stay with it with your hearing after inception.

Let me introduce another concept of sound production, of the physical creation of tone, at the piano:

Soundscape. The finger strikes they key, the hammer strikes the string, the sound unfolds with a dynamic sound curve. A paltry approach to sound is to pay attention to attack, the moment the finger strikes the key, only. Instead we have to pay attention to the sound before the attack – anticipation creating expectation – and to the critical event horizon of the soundscape unfolding after the attack – expectation creating expression.



The connection of what you want to hear, to get out of the piano, and what happens is of paramount importance. Before you play the note, imagine what it will sound like. Then listen to the sound emanating from the instrument, compare it to what you expected. Try again.

Make the piano sing, scream, wail, howl, talk, gasp, whisper, demand, plead, ask, interject, create colors, sounds of animals, events, with a single note. Again. Try with the other hand. Again. With two notes. Again. With an expressive interval. With a gesture of four notes. With a chord. With another chord. With a cadence. With a melody. With a phrase.

"Die Bildung des Ohres ist wichtiger, als die der Hand."
"The cultivation of the ear is more important that that of the hand"
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

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