The Secrets of Playing Softly on the Piano

Piano Lessons / piano playing techniques / The Secrets of Playing Softly on the Piano

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to tell you the secrets of how to play softly on the piano. Have you ever tried to play something softly, but the notes just don’t play? You try to create beautiful melodic lines with decrescendos at the end of phrases, but the notes just drop out. What’s going on? Is something wrong with you? Is your piano broken?

It takes great energy to play softly on any instrument.

In a symphony orchestra, for example, when there is a quiet woodwind solo, whether it’s a clarinet, oboe, flute, or even a French horn solo, you’d be amazed at the energy they are utilizing in order to project the sound. Even though it’s soft, it has to somehow get out to the audience through a 60 or 80 piece orchestra. Yet it doesn’t sound loud because they are not expelling their air. They’re just putting the air under tremendous pressure with diaphragm support, much like a great singer can sing with a beautiful sustained sound and achieve whatever volume they want.

What’s the analog of breath on the piano?

I’ve talked a great deal about arm weight. It takes much more energy than you may think in order to project a quiet melody on the piano. A good example of this is the second movement of the famous Mozart C Major Sonata K545. It’s all pretty much soft throughout. If you play it without much intensity, it will sound lifeless. So you have to use some intensity. First of all, you need to overcome the accompaniment in the left hand! The accompaniment is supportive. It should be like the babbling brook under a boat floating on water. It supports it, but you don’t want to call attention to it.

One secret is to play very quietly keeping your fingers close to the keys.

Stay very close to the keys, and make sure you depress the keys all the way down. As long as the keys depress all the way in one motion, all the notes will play on a well regulated piano. But to project the melody, you have to use a tremendous amount of arm weight. What do I mean by that? I mean that when you play that first note, you are actually holding up your whole arm with that single finger. That finger is holding up your arm! You’re not holding up the arm with your shoulder anymore. That way, the weight can be transferred smoothly from note to note, achieving a beautiful line.

That is the way to project a melody in a piano context so it’s above the accompaniment.

Keep your left hand light, and just push the keys to the bottom with a minimum amount of effort. The right hand supports a tremendous amount of weight that transfers smoothly from key to key giving a singing line. And yes, it will still be piano! It’s also possible to get nuance in your phrasing, the rise and the fall of the melody as it goes up to the middle of the phrase, and then descends to the end of the phrase. Just like speaking. There is a natural rise in the middle of a sentence when you speak, and the sound tapers off when you finish. Music imitates life. And when I say life, I mean literally breathing! You have to have that rise and fall. You get the analog of the breath on the piano through the use of the weight of your arm.

Don’t be afraid to use a lot of energy.

It’s just like a musician in an orchestra projecting the melody from the back of the woodwind section. You have to do the same thing by utilizing arm weight, projecting melodies in your music that are written piano and pianissimo. That is the way to achieve it.

Let me know how this works for you! If you have questions about your piano, whether it’s capable of this, you can email me Robert@LivingPianos.com. I’m very responsive to comments, particularly on LivingPianos.com. You can post your comments on YouTube as well. Thanks again 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

6 thoughts on “The Secrets of Playing Softly on the Piano”


 
 

  1. Nice, simple explanation, so thank you! But I suspect like many other techniques, this is a complex one to mistress. What do you think about using flat fingers, which a piano friend with eight years of piano classes, suggested to me? He also said that I needed “strong” fingers and hands to play softly, but I have no practical clue what he means by that, or how to get them other than doing my Hanon and scales very precisely with regular tempo. I hope I shall soon begin to learn more about making soft tones for my beloved romantic music, with you in my lessons!

    1. Sometimes playing with flat fingers is the only way to reach large stretches. Some arching of the fingers aids in speed and control since you can rely upon more than just one joint to control the sound.

      Having stronger fingers helps with all aspects of piano playing. Scales, arpeggios, and wrist exercises are helpful. Simply playing the piano a lot is also very helpful in developing more strength in your hands!

  2. Hello Robert,
    Wonderful post. T living and breathing of the piano that you speak about reminds me that I’ve been wondering about the sustain of pianos, and their ability to grow in their sustain. I have a 1981 5’ Schimmel that was owned by a piano teacher that gave lessons to children on it. The piano is great, but doesn’t have the sustain I would like, and hence the overtones. Do you think that this can grow over the years, or is it pretty much set as it is?

    Thanks!

    1. Older pianos can sometimes lose sustain over the years. There are techniques that sometime help regain some sustain depending upon what is causing the issue. But if the piano never had particularly good sustain, it is unlikely that it will increase over time.

  3. What are your thoughts about the D Type Spring and Loop (herrburger and brooks) grand piano actions. Do you think they are as capable as the lever grand actions for this kind of sensitive playing . Have you ever played a D Type Spring and Loop? Thanks for an interesting article.

    1. I had never heard of this type of action and just researched it. Apparently, it was a budget action with fewer moving parts. If the actions were in good condition and well regulated, they could provide good response. But it’s hard to beat a fine, modern piano action. Although I have never played a piano with this type of action.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

three × five =