How to Play Expressively on the Piano

From LivingPianos.

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin, today we’re exploring how to play expressively on the piano – the secret behind evoking emotions through your playing!

Playing expressively includes the unique sound each artist brings to the piano, stemming from their technique, and the balance between their hands. Three essential elements of expressive piano playing are dynamics, phrasing and rubato.

Dynamics, referring to the variation in volume, originated from the pianoforte’s ability to play soft and loud sounds, thanks to its mechanism of hammers striking and then escaping strings. There are various ways to utilize dynamics in your playing, from the stark delineation of loud and soft in Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1 to the more lyrical usage seen in Chopin’s B minor prelude.

Phrasing, how notes are connected or detached, forms musical sentences akin to our speech, rising and falling to create a musical narrative. Clear delineation of phrases, such as in the second movement of the Beethoven Piano Sonata Op. 10 No. 3, makes the music more expressive.

Rubato, a 19th-century innovation, involves subtly speeding up and slowing down the tempo of a phrase without altering its overall time. It’s an essential tool in Romantic era music, like Chopin’s pieces, but not suitable for Baroque music which demands rhythmic precision. Effective rubato requires thinking about the longer note value’s pulse, allowing fluidity within the beat without compromising the time.

The quality of sound you produce, from harsh to beautiful, is largely dependent on how you approach the keys. Striking from above may lead to a harsh sound due to a lack of control. Proper use of arm weight, especially when playing melodies, is crucial to create an analog to breathing, adding expressiveness to your playing.

Expressive playing isn’t just about the music; it’s about stirring emotions in the listener. Armed with an understanding of dynamics, phrasing, and rubato, you can play the piano expressively. Remember, it’s all about the quality of sound, your technique, and the balance between your hands that creates a beautiful sound.

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