How to Play Quietly on the Piano

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how you can play really quietly on the piano and have all the notes play. I’m sure you’ve experienced some frustration trying to control the tone of a piano at some point. You’re playing a beautiful melody, trying to craft things just the way you want, and then notes drop out. Is there anything you can do about that? The simple answer is yes, as long as you are playing on a well-regulated piano. If you’re playing on an instrument where some notes don’t respond equally to other notes, it’s going to be impossible to play delicately, and have all the notes play just the way you want them to. But assuming you’re playing on a piano that is regulated properly with all the myriad adjustments of each key, then yes, you can get every note to play as softly as you like!

There’s a way that you can make sure all the notes play no matter how quietly you play them.

It’s possible to go for extreme pianissimo in your playing and it’s a wonderful thing. In fact, there’s no better way to draw an audience in during a performance than playing delicately, where everybody’s hushed listening to what comes next. It’s the contrast between loud and soft that ultimately is key for being able to get dynamic contrast in the first place. Soft doesn’t mean anything if it’s not in relation to something else that is loud. So what’s the technical secret behind this? It’s really quite simple. As long as you push the key from the top of the key to the bottom of the key in one motion, it will always play. Mistakes sometimes happen if you don’t quite push the key all the way down, or if the key’s already down a little bit and then you push it the rest of the way.

It’s helpful to understand how a piano action works.

A piano action is a very complex mechanism that has what’s called a double escapement. You must get to that feeling where you have that click. You probably know what I’m talking about. Particularly on a grand piano you can feel it. But it’s exactly the same on any fine piano, uprights included. There’s an escapement you must overcome. So as you push the key down slowly, you get to a certain point and there’s a little bit of resistance. That’s why you must play with the weight of the arm, which I’ve talked about so many times. If you play with floppy fingers that aren’t supported with the weight of your arm, there’s no way to be sure that the key is going to go all the way down in one smooth motion. So you have to have a certain amount of firmness to your touch in order to achieve this.

The weight of the arm is a great way to achieve balance because the weight transfers smoothly from note to note.

When you’re playing loud, there’s a lot of arm weight supported by the fingers. When you’re playing quietly, there’s very little weight. But there always must be some weight. That is how you get the key to depress from the top of the travel to the bottom of the travel in one motion. Remember to make sure the key isn’t down even a tiny amount before you push it, because that could mess things up. Piano keys are not meant to be able to respond that way. The action will not always be responsive if the key is partially down to begin with. You want to travel from the top to the bottom of the key bed in one motion. Try this and see if it works on your piano! If it doesn’t, ask your piano technician next time you get your piano tuned to check the regulation. It may not be you at all. It could be your piano!

Try this for yourself.

I’m interested in your reactions to this. Let me know what you discover in your playing and on your piano. You can leave comments on LivingPianos.com and on YouTube. Thanks so much for joining me again. We have some big announcements coming soon, so stay tuned! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

6 thoughts on “How to Play Quietly on the Piano”

  1. ROBERT you played great. It’s always so wonderful to hear you. I noticed there was no shell or a case to this mechanism so you must have some kind of midi controller under
    The keys. I have a Yamaha Conservatory Grand, it’s great and I have installed and Midi9 underneath mine and I usually run it into a laptop with Pianoteq software.
    A lot of fun. What do you use? Robert

  2. I had two really good piano teachers. The second had two Steinway grands in her home. No matter how hard I tried, I could NOT play pianissimo on the one the students used. That little “bump” just stopped the key from traveling fast enough to play any sound at all! Given she was the teacher and would maintain her pianos, and the fact that was true of every key I tried it on, I concluded I hate Steinways! When I played my last recital with her, I got to perform on a Knabe 6’2″ and I totally fell in love with Knabe! (That was before it started getting manufactured someplace in Asia). So since that time, I am a diehard Knabe owner. And you know what? I NEVER had any problems playing pianissimo! Go figure.

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