Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to play smoothly on the piano. The answer: Avoid the impossible! What am I talking about? Playing smoothly on the piano is something you hear great artists do. The way they play is just so pristinely smooth. You wish you could achieve that same smoothness in your playing. But your playing sometimes can sound choppy. You don’t know how to achieve that smooth sound that you hear other people doing. You want it so badly, and you wonder, what can you do about it?
One of the most important aspects of learning to play smoothly on the piano is to practice incessantly without the pedal.
When you practice without the pedal you learn how to connect things with your fingers. That’s the secret, in a nutshell, of how to play smoothly. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Oftentimes there are things that are just not possible to play smoothly. So, what can you do about that? Do you just smear it all with the pedal? No. It will sound awful if you do that. You will hear the beginning of the second movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata as an example in the accompanying video. It’s really hard to connect those opening chords in the right hand. So how do you do it?
The secret is that you shouldn’t try to connect everything.
If you just try to connect everything, you can end up with a mess. There’s no way to bring out any lines. It comes out blocked and choppy. So sacrifice the things that are not as important to connect, for the things that are vitally important to connect, which is the melody! So, in your right hand, you sacrifice the lower notes so that you can connect the melody which is the top line. You can grab a certain amount of those chords on the pedal so it doesn’t sound quite so austere. You purposely let go of the bottom notes so you can connect the top notes. That’s what I mean when I say avoid the impossible. If you try to connect all the notes, you can’t do it. It’s impossible, so don’t even try. If you connect the melody really well, it sounds gorgeous.
Try this in your music!
Whatever you’re playing, when you want to really play smoothly, sacrifice what you can’t connect for what you must connect. That is the lesson for today! Let me know how it works for you in the comments here at LivingPianos.com, and on YouTube. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin
Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com
12 thoughts on “How to Play Smoothly on the Piano”
Very difficult to catch!
Not sure what you mean. But to clarify, try connecting the top notes in chords (the melody) even if it means not connecting the other notes of the chords. That way, you achieve a smoother sound than trying to connect all the notes of the chords since that isn’t always possible.
Please make a video on how to make the melody (usually, but not always, in the right hand, of course) sing out, and soften the sound for the hand not playing the melody?
Here is one for you: https://livingpianos.com/how-to-play-one-hand-louder-than-the-other-on-the-piano/
And here’s another: https://livingpianos.com/3-ways-to-bring-out-the-melody-in-your-piano-playing/
Please let me know how these work for you!
Robert- The legato concept is not something everyone learns. I like to have students play their C scale in one hand listening for the release of the note. (1) Play C. (2) While holding C down play D matching the dynamic level at which you play D to the sound remaining with C. (3) Release C and listen to the sound of the key mechanism as the key is released. (4) Play E matching the dynamic level at which you play E to the sound remaining with D. (5) Release D and listen to the sound again of this release.
At first, don’t worry about note lengths. Once you can hear the release, listen closely to the “overlap” of sound that occur just prior to a key release such as that of C+D after step 2. The thicker the legato you want, the longer is the “overlap.”
Hope this helps explain legato to someone who may not have broken it down that far before.
For someone who has never played a wind instrument, string instrument, or sung, the concept of legato is difficult. And even if they have, piano doesn’t have true legatos since on other instruments and voice, a true slur has all the notes between. We must suffice with overlapping!
Just about all organist study the piano. Pianists could really benefit from studying the organ!
Excellent! As an organist (i.e. NEVER having a sostenuto pedal …), finger substitution is a “way of life” – 🙂
I love this tip! You are so generous in your expert guidance for us out here practicing and wondering if we are on the right track. I have also discovered that choosing the fingering that makes most sense, in other words chord to chord or arpeggio to arpeggio, if your fingers are already on top of the right notes, use that fingering. Don’t lift your whole hand up off the piano to change what is already easy and comfortable. Also always use the same fingering, memorize each hand separately and like you said very slowly. My two cents. Keep up the awesome tips for us. We need you!
PS I have a friend from our Juilliard days, (I was a voice major and a secondary piano major. David Aurelius who now lives in Sweden was an organ and harpsichord major, now playing only piano and working on the Goldbergs. He said to “Sing a phrase then play it. Then sing one part and play the other switch on and on. Until you can play all the parts singing each part one at a time, then playing it all. By then the fingers have a good chance of knowing where to go. Try it. It works for me.” “Also if you practice slowly enough and sing all the voices against each other you will be able to play them all. By the way I recommend highly buying Ralph Kirkpatricks Schirmer edition of Scarlatti just for his preface on setting fingerings. We organists and harpsichordists can get expression through phrasing and articulation, but the goal is to sing on the instrument which you can do already. Keep playing and singing.”
You could put me on an island with nothing but Bach for the rest of my life. I find his music spiritual, romantic, heartbreaking, heartwarming, profoundly dramatic and dark and also comedic with a fanciful sense of humor. It’s strange how I can memorize Bach quicker than other composers. I think because the left hand has its own life and not just used as accompaniment and support for the right hand. My two cents.
Thank you again for including me in your posts. 🎶❤️🙏
These are really valuable comment. Thank you so much for sharing!
Another consideration in legato playing is that adjacent notes need to be at a similar dynamic level. The best overlapping legato sound can be ruined if one or more notes is suddenly too loud or too soft.
That’s a good point. More than that, since all notes are diminishing in volume as soon as they are played, sometimes it is helpful to listen to the level of the note (particularly if they are long held notes) at the point at which the next note plays in order to achieve a smooth transition of sound.