Can You Play the Piano with a Pencil?

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This is Robert Estrin at, Your Online Piano Store. Today’s question is, “Can you play the piano with a pencil?” Now, that sounds like a crazy idea, and indeed, it is a little bit wacky. But I’m going to show you some interesting things that have profound implications about producing good tone on the piano. Many of us have been trained to utilize arm weight on the piano with proper finger and hand position and you may wonder, “How important are all those things for producing a good sound on the piano?” Well, of course, they’re important. But ultimately:

Your ears are the most important thing for producing good sound on the piano.

So, the first thing I’m going to do is a demonstration of playing the piano with a pencil! I remember one time somebody showed me this little trick. You put the pencil between your fingers, and voila: You can play chords on the piano easily. Well, that’s a party trick for people who don’t play the piano. What I’m going to show you today has much more profound implications.

Growing up, I studied piano with my father, Morton Estrin, and truth be known, I didn’t practice as much as I should have! Yet, I always wanted to strive for certain sounds I heard in my head. So, even though I didn’t have the power or technique with my naturally weak fingers since I didn’t practice a great deal, I would contort sometimes in order to get the sound I wanted in spite of my weak floppy fingers. The joints would bend the wrong way. It was a nightmare. I don’t know how my father put up with me! Nevertheless, and particularly, in slow movements, I was able to achieve some really gorgeous sounds even with my faulty technique, which suffered from a lack of strength. I hadn’t developed my technique and had really small hands as a child. So, the question is, “What can you do if your technique isn’t up to the music you are playing?”

What do you suppose would happen if I were to play a Chopin prelude using just a pencil?

I wonder if it’s possible to produce a good sound without even using fingers! Well, I’m hearing this piano, which hasn’t even been prepped yet. So, if I can get a halfway decent sound out of this piano using a pencil, it will really show something. Let’s see what happens here. Let’s use the Prelude in E minor because it is slow enough to have a fighting chance of playing it! There are some pieces that are way too fast to play with a pencil. But if I can achieve a good sound with a pencil, we’ll talk about what that means. You can listen to the Chopin performance on the accompanying video.

So, what is the point? The point is, if you hear something, that is the single most important aspect of technique not just for the piano, but for playing any musical instrument. You must hear something in order to create it. So, it’s not just a matter of going into certain positions with specific fingers and hand positions.

The sound must come first.

The sound is not just primary or secondary. The sound you are after is everything in music! Now, that isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t try to develop a solid technique. Being able to handle things in relaxed manner and being able to control your music without causing damage to your hands requires a good technique. There are many reasons why you want to develop good technique. But remember, the lesson for today is:

If you hear something, that is the most important aspect for creating the sound you are after on the piano or any musical instrument.

I hope this has been interesting for you. Again, I’m Robert Estrin here at Thanks so much for joining me.