Can You Play the Piano Too Hard? Playing the Piano Too Hard

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Can You Play the Piano Too Hard?

This is a very common question I get all the time. However, it’s mostly a concern for parents with young children who are worried about the damage that might be done when their children bang on the keys of the piano. I find it very funny actually – as I see this quite a bit – where a young child will go to the piano and start banging on the keys and the parents tell them, “don’t do that; you’re going to break the piano!”

The truth is your kids won’t be able to harm your piano simply by playing it with their fingers. Now, it’s a complete thing altogether if they drop something heavy or sharp onto the keys – that can cause some serious damage. But just playing the piano with their fingers is little – to pretty much zero – risk of any sort of damage.

A concert pianist playing Liszt or Chopin or other composers will play the piano with such force that even if a child hitting the keys with their fists they would never be able to equal the power of the pianist. Pianos are designed to withstand a tremendous amount of force.

Now, the question of whether or not you can play the piano too hard is a bit more involved. When it comes to sound quality, it is possible to play the piano too hard – to the point where the sound quality is degraded. For example, a concert level Steinway or Baldwin or other top-tier pianos (voiced on the mellow side) would be able to withstand an extreme level of playing and produce a very nice and clear sound. However, a cheaper piano – or one not regulated properly with harder hammers – would not be able to withstand the same amount of force without sacrificing some of the quality of the sound; you will most likely get distorted tones.

The biggest factors when it comes to sound quality and playing the piano too loud are the quality of the instrument and the hardness of the hammers (or how the piano is voiced). A piano that is voiced bright will have to be played a little more gently. I find this to be common when it comes to European pianos. They tend to be voiced a little more on the bright side and it is easier to overplay them.

The best guide is to simply use your ears. There might be a Steinway that is voiced too bright and there might be a Bechstein that is voiced on the lower end – it’s all up to your ears and you as the player to tell what is working and what isn’t when it comes to sound.

Is there any indication that you can be playing the piano too loud? Other than looking around the room and seeing if anyone is covering their ears there is the possibility that room acoustics can play a very important role in the loudness of the piano.

This took me a very long time to learn properly but the room in which a piano is placed has a lot to do with how it sounds. There is a possibility of an undersized piano for a room – where it will sound too quiet and the pianist will play the instrument harder to get more sound – and there is a possibility of the piano being too big for a room as well – leading to sound degradation and unhappy listeners. This truly is a topic for another video, but again just listen and make your own judgment as to whether or not the sound quality is ok.

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin: (949) 244-3720.

4 thoughts on “Can You Play the Piano Too Hard? Playing the Piano Too Hard”


  1. This is an important question, and I’d like to add another angle – one that eluded me as a student, and that I’m trying to work into my teaching of young students. In order to have beautiful sound (regardless of the make of the instrument) along with the facility to deal with a variety of technical issues, a pianist has to learn suppleness and how to immediately release the tension that generates big sound. Barbara Lister Sink has integrated Alexander work with piano technique to address this very issue, as playing “too hard” is what leads to injuries, tendonitis. Playing well should feel good, and even on difficult pieces great pianists seem to move with lightness, grace and elegance. It’s imporant to impart this to children of all ages – the concepts fit many other things we do in our lives.

    1. Tracey-

      You bring up such an important issue: using your body in an ergonomic way when playing the piano. It is interesting that you can hear the tension of the player in the sound produced out of a musical instrument. It is incredibly obvious with singing, wind instruments and bowed string instruments. But it is also evident in piano tone.

      Not only that, but injury is possible when playing for extended periods of time on a regular basis unless the player consciously works on relaxation. Alexander Technique can be invaluable for some players. Simply being aware of how you feel when you play and practice can make a huge difference. How you sit at the instrument, taking regular breaks, and having a routine of exercise away from the piano can all aid in enjoying a long career playing the piano professionally or for personal enjoyment.

      Thanks for the valuable comment-

  2. Can playing successive, heavy chord clusters detune a piano? I’ve heard that it can, but find it hard to believe that chord clusters could cause more problems than something like a Rachmaninoff or Liszt Etude. Thank you, Julie Johnson

    1. Julie-

      It may seem amazing that playing chord clusters could de-tune a piano! However, it isn’t the particular sonorities that cause the detuning, it is the sheer force of sound that can flex the soundboard, thereby altering string tension slightly. In fact, one technique that concert level tuners will sometimes employ is after finishing the tuning of a piano, closing it, putting down the sustain pedal and playing as many keys as possible with the arms on the keyboard to generate huge sound. This will help to hasten the de-tuning of strings that may not be solidly set. The tuner can then re-tune the offending notes and have a piano that may endure the strength of a concert pianist’s performance without having the piano go out of tune quite as much since the most susceptible notes have already been corrected.

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