How to Create Tonal Shadings on the Piano

Piano Lessons / music theory / How to Create Tonal Shadings on the Piano

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to create tonal shadings on the piano. The piano is such a great instrument, but it has some inherent limitations that I’m sure you’re all aware of. One such limitation is the fact that the notes fade out relatively quickly. What can you do about such a thing? Well, one of the things you can do is to take advantage of that in your music, and I’m going to show you how to do it!

Here’s a technique that will add continuity to your musical lines.

I’ve talked before about how to create the illusion of the breath on the piano using the weight of the arm. Utilizing this technique gives a rise and fall to the line like you hear from a singer or wind player using the breath. Today I’m going to show you a different technique, and I’m going to use the Chopin A-flat Waltz to demonstrate. In this piece, you have fast notes, then long notes going to shorter notes. As the long notes fade out, you want to catch the next notes at exactly the level the long notes have diminished in volume. By doing this, you can make the long note flow into the following note, creating a very interesting tonal color. The long notes seem to melt into the shorter notes by catching the natural decrescendo of the acoustics of the piano. The quarter note that follows the half note is at the exact volume the half note has reached at that point.

Vladimir Horowitz utilizes this technique a tremendous amount in his recordings.

You can hear how he takes the characteristic of the piano, which for some people is the biggest weakness, and turns it into an amazing strength! He creates tonal colors and shadings that somehow magically work, even though when you try to analyze them they don’t seem to make sense. The point isn’t to play an overarching rise and fall as much as to take advantage of the nuance of the natural tonal properties of the envelope of the sound of the piano. I want you to try experimenting with your music! Let me know how this works for you in the comments here at and YouTube. What pieces do you think lend themselves to this sort of tonal shading? We can all experiment together to see what’s possible on the piano by taking its biggest shortcoming and turning it into the sparks of creativity in the tonal shadings in your playing. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano

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