In the previous article we have covered how to start developing your sense of sound and aware sound production. I also shared some practical tips that personally helped me and some of my colleagues. Please do consider this article inseparable to part one!
Just to refresh the previous topic – practical tips included the following:
recording yourself, mindfulness, visualisation, among many other advice.
In part 2 I would like to focus on the physicality of piano playing – specifically in relation to sound production, more than any other correlation (articulation, stylistic approach, or technical issues… those topics will be explored in further articles).
In order to explore with your sound, you have to get to know your own body, in the best way you can. Most of us who started playing an instrument at a young age – lacked awareness generally. Some musicians felt this more than the others. Physical awareness as well as emotional one, sound & technique approaches are all categories that require a great care and development, but most importantly – they require very personalised solutions.
Hence, for me personally, it was difficult to feel comfortable with piano as I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, so to speak. I lacked awareness for instance – when I feel tension, I could focus on my shoulders going down, or make sure I am breathing out (and also breathing in, in regular intervals) or any appropriate solution that comes to us so much more naturally with age, and well, method if you like. This is why I believe that physicality of sound production is always dependent on the tension – relaxation awareness, knowing your body, breath and having clarity in music intention.
I would like to invite you to experiment with your playing apparatus as much as possible. So let’s start with:
Fingers, Palm, Wrist, Elbow, Arm and Shoulder Blades.
Experimenting with your sound can be super fun. What’s most fascinating to me is how much changes with a tiny adjustment of an angle or “focus”.
There is some music that requires a super “fingery” approach. It is certainly an asset to be able to use just your fingers but most music requires a combined usage of all arms to an extent of your preference. If we talk about curved or flat fingertips you will find many opposing opinions on this topic.
I find that both are good for specific types of sound, and luckily we don’t have to choose one. They are not mutually exclusive, the only thing to truly avoid is your knuckles collapsing inwards.
Try changing the angle of your finger tip depending on what sound you are trying to achieve- some cantabile melodies that are legato can really become alive once you relax the focus of your finger tip and involve more arm weight. Some glittery passages could sound absolutely crystal clear if you focus your palm and really have a quick finger reaction. The possibilities really are endless.
Playing chords beautifully together – of course requires different balancing between the voices, this is exactly where you can see how the ratio of arm versus hand can be fun to experiment with!
Wrist and Upwards!
One thing I am 100% certain about – the wrist can not and should not be tight, ever. In general, tightness is a sign that something in technique is dysfunctional. Other parts of the arm can handle “more” tightness whereas a tight wrist will immediately result in unrefined and sharp sound, and likely in an injury.
Wrist relaxation exercises are crucial from the very beginning, being able to “actively relax” your wrist while you are playing even very intense sections – means that you are definitely gaining a form of physical control in your performing technique. Simply stop yourself every other minute and double check – can you move your wrist up and down while holding the keys.
Another advice I found helpful was to truly keep my arm and forearm active and moving, as I am moving away from the centre of keyboard.
It is really an art not to move too much and unnecessarily while being super efficient with your energy. It is important to supply your sound with enough motion but not too much movement – as it will also negatively affect your playing.
Shoulder / Armpit
Try to focus on your armpits and see what comes up for you. I found that when I am moving away from the central part of the keyboard – it really helps to sense what my under arm and armpit area feels like. As well as the whole space between my arms and lower ribs. Very frequently I found that I am not exactly expanding my lungs / ribs when I inhale and that I am “squeezing” in shoulders, underarms etc. Tension can truly sneak in l, and that’s something we have to almost police ourselves with.
Neck may seem like an irrelevant part to your sound production but always, and I mean always relax it.
Keep them always down and relaxed. You can achieve stability without tension. If you manage to really keep your tension levels low – your entire playing approach will change!
Specifically for Russian music – if you can get a healthy and big sound from your shoulder blades, it means you are using everything from your finger upwards.
The sound we produce can be anything – heavy, light, crystal clear, it can sound like a consonant or a vowel, anything you imagine. Now my favourite – parallels In tennis, someone like Federer or Djoković certainly experimented with changing angles, adjusting things slightly and then focused if that change will bring a better performance. I invite you to truly experiment with everything in your playing, from your finger tips all the way up, with special focus on neck, back, lower back, well even legs. It’s a beautiful journey inwards and it will certainly result in progress on many levels.
Enjoying yourself is a good starting point to every practise session! Good luck!