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Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? #2398245
03/15/15 03:17 AM
03/15/15 03:17 AM
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Opus_Maximus Offline OP
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Surely, some of you have heard teachers tell you, or been told to "play to the bottom of the key", when trying to get you to play "heavier" or with more arm weight.

Problem is, there is no such thing as "playing to the bottom of the key": as soon as as there is sound - however slight - the key has gone down as far as it's going to go. (The one exception to this, of course, if if you are actually playing within the escapement action, which hardly anybody does, on purpose of not). No amount of "pressing" or "dropping" is going to get it to the "bottom".

I think it's obvious what people are getting at when they say this is a physiological metaphor to try to get one to use more arm pressing/release, that will in turn generate a larger, and richer sound. But this distinction is not - I feel - explained clearly enough, and is one of many misnomer's that are floating around out there.

Would be interesting to hear thoughts on this!

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Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2398272
03/15/15 04:56 AM
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I think it's when teachers need you to play with more conviction. The 'physiological metaphor' is not a helpful one. I prefer to work with the sound - leave the body to take charge of the rest.

Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2398276
03/15/15 05:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
Problem is, there is no such thing as "playing to the bottom of the key": as soon as as there is sound - however slight - the key has gone down as far as it's going to go.


The key has gone as far as it needs to go, but not necessarily as far as it's going to go. The key only needs to go down a short way in order to throw the hammer at the string. Once the key has passed the point where the repetition jack falls back, there can be no more possible effect on the hammer: the motion of the key after this point is simply "follow through", like the stroke of a golfer continuing after the ball has been hit.

Try it out on a correctly regulated piano: you should be able to play pianissimo staccato by depressing the keys only by a tiny amount. If you play fortissimo the keys will follow through to their lowest point, but the hammer has still been thrown before the key reaches this point.

Taubman called the point where the hammer escapes from the jack the "point of sound" and taught her students to aim their energy at this point, not to the point where the key hits the key bed.


Steinway A grand (1919), Richard Lipp grand (1913), Yamaha P2 upright (1983), Casio PX-150 digital (2013)
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2398280
03/15/15 05:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
Surely, some of you have heard teachers tell you, or been told to "play to the bottom of the key", when trying to get you to play "heavier" or with more arm weight.


The use of imagery can be useful when playing instruments like the piano where (almost) every aspect can be controlled, short of vibrato (which doesn't stop some pianists from using it when playing, by wriggling the finger on the key wink ).

So, to get a full, rich tone, a teacher might tell the student to play 'to the bottom of the key'. The effect? - a louder sound on that note. So, when you're wanting to bring out the melodic line, that's one way of doing it. Or.....just play those notes louder (and the accompaniment softer) grin .

I never heard Horowitz live in concert, but did hear another pianist of the "Golden Age' several times - Shura Cherkassky. Like Horowitz, he liked to deploy 'extreme voicing' - playing the melodic line forte with accompaniment pp - and he was often praised for his 'golden tone'.......


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: MRC] #2398284
03/15/15 06:07 AM
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Originally Posted by MRC

Taubman called the point where the hammer escapes from the jack the "point of sound" and taught her students to aim their energy at this point, not to the point where the key hits the key bed.
Matthay, about 100 years before, says ' You can best become aware of that moment by listening [his italics] for it, for it is the beginning of the sound. Anything you do to the key after that moment cannot possibly help to make the sound in any way.' Also 'And you must always therefore direct such action to the point in key-descent where sound begins.

Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: MRC] #2398312
03/15/15 08:19 AM
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Originally Posted by MRC
[Once the key has passed the point where the repetition jack falls back, there can be no more possible effect on the hammer: the motion of the key after this point is simply "follow through", like the stroke of a golfer continuing after the ball has been hit.



This is a nice analogy, because the "follow through" is good physically for the player too. You don't want to stop the movement using muscles, which could cause strain; but the piano does it for you if you play "to the bottom." It even gives you a nice effortless rebound, on a grand action anyway (my impression is that uprights are not so good at this).


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Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: MRC] #2398314
03/15/15 08:28 AM
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Originally Posted by MRC
Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
Problem is, there is no such thing as "playing to the bottom of the key": as soon as as there is sound - however slight - the key has gone down as far as it's going to go.


The key has gone as far as it needs to go, but not necessarily as far as it's going to go. The key only needs to go down a short way in order to throw the hammer at the string. Once the key has passed the point where the repetition jack falls back, there can be no more possible effect on the hammer: the motion of the key after this point is simply "follow through", like the stroke of a golfer continuing after the ball has been hit.

Try it out on a correctly regulated piano: you should be able to play pianissimo staccato by depressing the keys only by a tiny amount. If you play fortissimo the keys will follow through to their lowest point, but the hammer has still been thrown before the key reaches this point.

Taubman called the point where the hammer escapes from the jack the "point of sound" and taught her students to aim their energy at this point, not to the point where the key hits the key bed.
Yes, I think this is the correct description and that the opening post was incorrect.

Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2398323
03/15/15 09:06 AM
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I rarely think about this stuff, since it's mostly instinctive, but I do know that if a fast leggiero is what I want, the keys won't be hitting bottom.

There is an anecdote about Artur Rubinstein I vaguely remember that has to do with this topic, though. Somebody asked him if there was some secret behind his ability to project a pianissimo all the way to the upper reaches of the balconies, and he said it was that he pressed the keys all the way down. Most of us are probably not playing in halls of the size he did, though, so that idea might be difficult to test out.


Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: chopin_r_us] #2398328
03/15/15 09:26 AM
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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
Originally Posted by MRC

Taubman called the point where the hammer escapes from the jack the "point of sound" and taught her students to aim their energy at this point, not to the point where the key hits the key bed.
Matthay, about 100 years before, says ' You can best become aware of that moment by listening [his italics] for it, for it is the beginning of the sound. Anything you do to the key after that moment cannot possibly help to make the sound in any way.' Also 'And you must always therefore direct such action to the point in key-descent where sound begins.
I think Matthay's last sentence seems a little confusing/unclear because the sound doesn't begin at the point of escapement but very shortly thereafter(when the hammer hits the string). Also, what you do after escapement doesn't affect the sound but one cannot do whatever one wants after escapement because what one does after escapement is in part determined by what one does before. For example, if one tried to stop moving one's finger at the point of escapement one would have to start slowing down before the point of escapement. The analogy of throwing a ball or hitting a tennis ball is good, and the analogous point of escapement would be when the ball is released or when the tennis ball is struck.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 03/15/15 09:28 AM.
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: MRC] #2398331
03/15/15 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by MRC
Taubman called the point where the hammer escapes from the jack the "point of sound" and taught her students to aim their energy at this point, not to the point where the key hits the key bed.
In Onishi's book, Pianism, she uses a similar explanation and constantly uses the analogy of throwing a ball when describing the keystrike. The point of release for the ball corresponds to the point of escapement when playing the piano. She says that except for very soft and fast passages, the natural follow through will result in playing to the bottom of the key. Also, it's just like the natural follow through on a tennis ground stroke where the point of contact with the tennis ball corresponds to point of escapement on a key strike.
http://www.amazon.com/Pianism-Aiko-...=UTF8&qid=1426425343&sr=1-1&
keywords=PIANISM

I'm not really sure one has to think about these things when playing however.


Last edited by pianoloverus; 03/15/15 09:39 AM.
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: pianoloverus] #2398336
03/15/15 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus

I'm not really sure one has to think about these things when playing however.
Exactly. Concentrate on your aim (another Matthay term). Who was ever taught follow through when throwing a ball?

Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: wr] #2398382
03/15/15 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by wr
There is an anecdote about Artur Rubinstein I vaguely remember that has to do with this topic, though. Somebody asked him if there was some secret behind his ability to project a pianissimo all the way to the upper reaches of the balconies, and he said it was that he pressed the keys all the way down. Most of us are probably not playing in halls of the size he did, though, so that idea might be difficult to test out.


It's easy to fall into the realms of mythical mumbo-jumbo here. The fact of pressing the key all the way down does not create some special sort of "carrying" pianissimo sound: if the dynamic level is the same, the sound is the same.

Here's what a pianist can do to ensure that pianissimo passages are heard by all the audience:

- Be very sensitive to the possibilities of the instrument and the acoustics of the hall. Adapt the dynamic level of your playing in consequence.
- Use fine control of dynamics so that even in pianissimo a theme stands out: however soft the theme is, the accompaniment must be even softer.
- Also use fine control of dynamics to ensure that the phrase is well shaped.
- Make sure that rhythm and articulation do not suffer because of the low dynamic level.
- Be very careful with the sustaining pedal.

All of this has nothing to do with whether the key goes all the way down or not.


Steinway A grand (1919), Richard Lipp grand (1913), Yamaha P2 upright (1983), Casio PX-150 digital (2013)
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: MRC] #2398431
03/15/15 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by MRC

- Be very sensitive to the possibilities of the instrument and the acoustics of the hall. Adapt the dynamic level of your playing in consequence.
- Use fine control of dynamics so that even in pianissimo a theme stands out: however soft the theme is, the accompaniment must be even softer.
- Also use fine control of dynamics to ensure that the phrase is well shaped.
- Make sure that rhythm and articulation do not suffer because of the low dynamic level.
- Be very careful with the sustaining pedal.

All of this has nothing to do with whether the key goes all the way down or not.


Good evening, in my opinion it does indeed.

Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2398446
03/15/15 02:42 PM
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Some teachers teach to keep pushing even after the key hits the bed. It's an old teaching method, but I'm not sure it's used much anymore.


Poetry is rhythm
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: phantomFive] #2398483
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Originally Posted by phantomFive
Some teachers teach to keep pushing even after the key hits the bed. It's an old teaching method, but I'm not sure it's used much anymore.


This is harmful, I think-- not the same as how I've been taught "playing to the bottom," which is a solid landing but definitely not pushing. I had a tendency to push on the keys back when I was injured, and I had to be trained out of it to keep from hurting myself.


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Currently working on:​
Schubert, Op. 90 no. 2
Sinding, Frühlingsrauschen (Rustle of Spring)
Beethoven, Sonata no. 14 in C# minor (Moonlight)
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2398495
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The opposite of "playing to the bottom of the key" is pulling up too early in the keystroke, which creates a wimpy fragile sound and a lot of tension. I get this from beginners learning to play staccato all the time. They try to pull their arm or finger up out of the key instead of letting it bounce down and up naturally.


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Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2398642
03/16/15 12:33 AM
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The path that passes key has three main points: the point of rest, the point of sound production and bottom. Two of these points are static, one dynamic. If you send   the movement of a finger to point of rest, the sound will not be or will be "agonizing" , It is called   superficial touch . Touching the resting key determines only the initial timing of sound , not the sound itself.
If send overvigorously finger to the bottom, then it turns knocking sound .Thus the amount of pressure should be directed to the point of sound production, located approximately halfway from top to bottom key movement .The confusion comes from the fact that the pianist plays not on the keys, but on keys points of sound production , which themselves are mobile ; however, in most cases the key stops at the same location.



Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: landorrano] #2398709
03/16/15 04:44 AM
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Originally Posted by landorrano
Originally Posted by MRC

- Be very sensitive to the possibilities of the instrument and the acoustics of the hall. Adapt the dynamic level of your playing in consequence.
- Use fine control of dynamics so that even in pianissimo a theme stands out: however soft the theme is, the accompaniment must be even softer.
- Also use fine control of dynamics to ensure that the phrase is well shaped.
- Make sure that rhythm and articulation do not suffer because of the low dynamic level.
- Be very careful with the sustaining pedal.

All of this has nothing to do with whether the key goes all the way down or not.


Good evening, in my opinion it does indeed.


Do you have any evidence or arguments to support your opinion?


Steinway A grand (1919), Richard Lipp grand (1913), Yamaha P2 upright (1983), Casio PX-150 digital (2013)
Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: hreichgott] #2398717
03/16/15 05:46 AM
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Originally Posted by hreichgott
The opposite of "playing to the bottom of the key" is pulling up too early in the keystroke, which creates a wimpy fragile sound
As you can only effect dynamics the only descriptive you are allowed is p, pp, ppp, etc.
Originally Posted by hreichgott
and a lot of tension.
depends how it's done
Originally Posted by hreichgott
I get this from beginners learning to play staccato all the time. They try to pull their arm or finger up out of the key instead of letting it bounce down and up naturally.
The 'bounce' idea is highly controversial.

Re: Playing "To the bottom of the key" - misnomer? [Re: chopin_r_us] #2398825
03/16/15 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
Originally Posted by hreichgott
The opposite of "playing to the bottom of the key" is pulling up too early in the keystroke, which creates a wimpy fragile sound
As you can only effect dynamics the only descriptive you are allowed is p, pp, ppp, etc.


If there's any sound at all, be it the slightest pppp, it's usable, if the pianist is good enough to control the dynamics at this level. A "wimpy" effect might come through lack of control, playing so near the limit between the hammer hitting the string and the hammer not reaching the string that the pianist is incapable of shaping the phrase: some notes sound much louder than others and some don't sound at all.

Anyone who still thinks that playing the key to the bottom will guarantee a good sound should try this experiment:

Depress a key so slowly that it produces no sound at all. Continue depressing the key to the key bed. Now depress the key slightly faster: try to find the speed at which the hammer will just reach the string, producing a tiny sound. Each time you depress the key, make sure it goes right to the bottom. Once you have got used to a touch on that key that is just near the limit between making a sound and making no sound, try to play a scale with that same touch, very slowly, always making sure that each key goes right to the bottom. If you're really at that limit, some notes will sound, some will just barely sound and some won't sound at all: we could certainly call that "flimsy" or "wimpy".

So pressing the key to the bottom doesn't guarantee you a solid sound. Indeed, it doesn't guarantee you a sound at all!


Steinway A grand (1919), Richard Lipp grand (1913), Yamaha P2 upright (1983), Casio PX-150 digital (2013)
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