Why is a Slur Impossible on the Piano?

Piano Lessons / music performance / Why is a Slur Impossible on the Piano?

Hi, this is LivingPianos.com, and I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is, “Why is a slur impossible on the piano?” It seems like a ridiculous question because you know that you have slurs all over the place in your scores on the piano, and here I am telling you that slurs are impossible on the piano!

Well, as you probably know, the piano is an instrument of illusion. After all, you play a note and as soon as you play it, it’s dying away. So, every single note you play on the piano has a decrescendo to it, and yet you have music that’s written with crescendos. That’s a whole other issue, why crescendos are impossible on the piano, or are they? Obviously, if you play multiple notes, each successive note can form a crescendo. Correct. But what about a slur? Why is a slur impossible?

What does a slur mean?

Did you know that a slur on the human voice and many instruments have all the notes within the slur? In fact, it’s impossible to avoid it completely when singing. Try singing from one note to another note, and try to avoid getting the notes between. If you were to slow that down dramatically, you would hear all the notes sliding between the notes very quickly. I’m also a French horn player, and on the French horn, slurs also have all the notes between. If you listen to great string players, violinists and cellists for example, when they play slurs they won’t always have the notes between, but for expressiveness, depending upon the positions and which strings they choose, they will achieve a smooth slide between notes when slurring.

That’s impossible on the piano.

So what do we do as pianists? We fake slurs! We create the illusion of slurs by simply having the notes overlap slightly. In one case, you can play two notes and detach them. If you want to create a creamy, slurred effect between two notes, you would release the first note after you play the second note of the slur. You will hear a much smoother sound. If you want to avoid a slur, you can detach the notes. That’s how you achieve the effect of a slur on the piano. But you are not technically slurring on the piano. You’re just creating the illusion of a slur by judiciously overlapping the notes just enough so it doesn’t become ugly, particularly if you have a half step slur, you want to avoid dissonance. You can overlap the notes slightly in order to achieve a smooth connection from note to note.

Yes, slurs are impossible on the piano, but we try our darnedest to create the illusion of slurring by overlapping notes slightly. I hope this has been interesting for you, and I wonder how many of you realize what a slur actually means, and how to achieve the effect on the piano.

Thanks so much for joining me again. This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com Your Online Piano Store. We’ll see you next time.