Piano dynamics indicate more than just playing softly or loudly — there’s actual technique involved that you’ll need to learn! Here, New York, NY piano teacher Nadia B. shares her tips to keep in mind…
You’re approaching a passage with the word ‘fortissimo’ written on the music, and you’re building up to a musical climax. As you feel the power of the music, you want to play loudly, but when you do, it doesn’t sound as beautiful as you imagined. Playing loudly at the piano is easy; to play loudly, beautifully, and with emotion at the piano can be challenging. With the following tips, you will be able to create a sonorous and beautiful sound at a loud volume, something all pianists desire.
It’s About the Connection
One of the keys to playing piano dynamics — and playing loudly, in particular — is to understand the relationship between your body and the piano. You may imagine that the piano alone is responsible for creating the sound, but actually, the openness of your body influences the sound the piano creates. If you are over-contracting large areas of your muscles in your body (especially the hands, wrists, and arms), the connection you make with the keys will not allow for a loud and beautiful sound. Rather, the sound will be dampened by the tension you are exerting within your own body and into the keys of the piano.
When playing the piano loudly, a good way to think of creating sound is to draw the sound out of the keys by striking them from an angle, not from above, and with an action similar to that of a cat pawing. Allowing your body to stay open and elastically braced (meaning both strong and flexible) will allow you to make a resonant sound at the piano and also ensure that you don’t injure or hurt yourself as you play a loud passage.
Set Your Intentions
Another element of playing loudly and beautifully at the piano is to always set a musical intention. The reason for playing loudly at the piano should never be to play loudly; rather, there should be a musical intention or expression of feeling that is desired. Dynamic markings at the piano are relative; just as a piano marking could be played very softly or or a bit more loudly but with the sentiment of hushed and quiet, a forte marking can be played a bit less loudly but with a feeling of expansion, power, and volume.
Keep it Loose
Now that you can think in terms of expression rather than absolute volume, the following idea can also be helpful. A good rule of thumb for loud playing at the piano is to only play as loudly as you can without feeling tense within your body. If you feel tightness in your neck, or shaking in your arms, or other signs of excessive tension in the body, that’s a sign that you should back off a little and allow for more ease within the body. While this may mean playing a little less loudly, it will result in a more satisfying and full expression of the music and a more comfortable experience in your body.
Another way you can learn to play loudly but without more tension than is needed is to play the passage at a lower dynamic, and then slowly increase the dynamic. After each iteration at an increased dynamic, check in with yourself. If you feel that you added extra tension, stay with that level of dynamic until you’ve reached a level of ease before you move on.
Playing the piano dynamics in the music is a very important tool in your musical toolbox. Taking time to master the technique of playing loudly and beautifully is worthwhile, and keeping these tips in mind as you explore the range of louder dynamics will help you become a better piano player!
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!
Photo by Asher Isbrucker