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Good pieces to practice playing softly?
#2893868 09/24/19 11:05 PM
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Hi folks,

The most wonderful thing has happened to me:

After playing for 38 years (primarily classical music) on crappy pianos, I finally got a Real Adult Piano!

Kawai K-500. It's... magical.

So now it's time to actually, really for the first time, learn good technique.

One thing I'm realizing is that I'm atrocious at playing softly. I'm accustomed to having to smack the keys to get any sound, which means my minimum natural dynamic is MF unless I'm really making an effort to be quiet.

I am also lousy at playing in a relaxed posture. I simply don't expect the keys to respond without effort.

Got some suggestions on good pieces to practice playing softly? For benchmark, the hardest piece I've played is Chopin's Scherzo #2.

Thanks!

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2893883 09/24/19 11:41 PM
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Questions about piano repertoire would likely get more and quicker responses were you to post them in the Pianist Corner.

That said, two Debussy Preludes come to mind immediately, both from Book I;
No. 4: "Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir and
No. 8. "La fille aux cheveux de lin"

Both require control and good voicing skills (particularly No 4) at pp levels.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2893892 09/25/19 12:08 AM
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Welcome, noamb!

Congratulations on your new piano! It has been much discussed on this forum of late. It's wonderful to hear that you were able to make it happen, and that it has revived the artist in you. You will see links to the Recital section, if you go to the ABF--- who knows, maybe you will favor us with a recording.

As for quiet pieces: just one little suggestion; it's Beethoven's: "Moonlight Sonata," marked by the author as pp almost all the way through, with little hints of hairpins for measley little crescendi and decrescendi, and lots and lots of una corda. Not so much help from Beethoven for the tre corde; I went though my work copy and marked it where I thought the pedal ought to come off.

The tempo is a bit more brisk--- so many people let it drag. So, we have an unusual combination of quickish tempo in a very quiet voice. He goes down at the end even lower, a marked ppp on the last measure; I save the una corda pedal so I can let it end a little more obscurely.

There is one excursion into mf, for one note only: third page third line, a note that might be taken for a compositor's error by people who had never heard the work performed. It is enhanced: "so there!"

Third page last line last measure: p subito, a sucker punch that knocks down the very modestly rising piu cresc. There is a name for it; I have forgotten. Bernoulli--- no, no, no. Forgotten and it can stay forgotten. I read a chapter on just this piece alone, written by some wretched grad student, who pointed out Beethoven's fascination with very faint sounds. I made my way through two volumes of Thayer's "Life of Beethoven" without having heard anything about this claimed fascination, though it was a pretty good read. (That is the Princeton edition of 1967, in two volumes, revised and edited by Elliot Forbes, though it apparently has much deeper roots as early as 1856 and 1866.)

My piano teacher was convinced that I would never be able to play this piece, although she did just everything. I think it kind of unhinged her. Well, I should have studied harder when I was young. However, I did keep at it, and I find it is one of those works you have to keep fresh in the repertoire, or it will fade, with all its little quirks lost.

And you know what--- I wonder if Beethoven didn't expect us to rebel, and to play it louder than marked. I tell myself, "But you have to consider that it could be performed in a large hall, and the people in the cheap seats will want to either hear it or be drowned out.


Clef

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2893897 09/25/19 12:19 AM
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Keep the moonlight ,what about Clair de Lune that gorgeous romantic piece by Debussy.

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2893900 09/25/19 12:32 AM
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K500! Lovely piano! Congratulations on your piano.Well now you have a piano you will really love !
Enjoy ,play in all dynamics.,Do not be shy with that tone !
Perhaps you should play a Polonaise! ,a fiery.one ! Make use of FF ,MF ,MP, PP etc Explore the tone !
Enjoy !

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2893911 09/25/19 01:43 AM
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I would also recommend Reverie to start with, I think it's simpler than Clair de Lune, and you can experiment so much in terms of dynamics. Debussy's reverie requires lots of attention to allow keeping a soft magic atmosphere.


www.youtube.com/channel/UC073i6RnxK4NcnoFp1jYh7Q The place where I ocasionally post my amateur recordings smile
Criticism is welcomed since it helps improving and going forward!

Yamaha P-105 -> Roland HP-605 -> Roland LX708
Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2893961 09/25/19 06:10 AM
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There are tens of thousands of pieces that requite soft playing. But just practicing some of those pieces may not lead to success. What you need to learn or figure out is the proper technique to play softly. The main problem in playing softly is avoiding ghost notes(notes that don't sound at all). There have been several threads at PW about how to play softly, at least one of them started by me. It's also important that your new piano is regulated well. Regulation problems like inconsistent touchweight or excess friction can make playing softly much more difficult.

The two techniques that helped me the most to avoid ghost notes are using firm fingers and pushing the key all the way down. I think many people tend to play with less than firm fingers when trying to play pp and this makes it difficult to accurately control the key's speed of descent.

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2894019 09/25/19 08:54 AM
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I recently got into Brahms' Op 117-1 intermezzo and Op 118-5 romance. Both (IMHO) call for light touches.


1969 Hamburg Steinway B, rebuilt by PianoCraft in 2017
2013 New York Steinway A
Kawai MP11

Previously: 2005 Yamaha GB1, 1992 Yamaha C5
Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2894115 09/25/19 01:53 PM
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Debussy's prelude "La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune" from Book 2 is a study in p to ppp playing, except for a brief explosion of ascending chords about 2/3 of the way through. The rest is played very softly. It's also a study in playing in chords in widely separated registers...softly, of course.


August Förster 215
Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2894118 09/25/19 02:15 PM
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I think the very softest of the Debussy Preludes is "Footsteps in the Snow". Sorry I do not know the french title.Actually this is one of the easiest preludes.Work with you teacher in playing very soft .
One exercise is playing a note or chord, F ,MF, MP ,P, PP without playing ghost notes.
Concentrate on mp, p ,pp

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
pianoloverus #2894120 09/25/19 02:17 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
There are tens of thousands of pieces that requite soft playing. But just practicing some of those pieces may not lead to success. What you need to learn or figure out is the proper technique to play softly. The main problem in playing softly is avoiding ghost notes(notes that don't sound at all).


My thoughts exactly. If you're having trouble playing quietly, it's indicative of a bigger problem. Practice lots of things softly. It's really all about learning control and how to play with minimal tension in your hands.

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
DanS #2894126 09/25/19 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by DanS
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
There are tens of thousands of pieces that requite soft playing. But just practicing some of those pieces may not lead to success. What you need to learn or figure out is the proper technique to play softly. The main problem in playing softly is avoiding ghost notes(notes that don't sound at all).


My thoughts exactly. If you're having trouble playing quietly, it's indicative of a bigger problem. Practice lots of things softly. It's really all about learning control and how to play with minimal tension in your hands.

You hand/ arm cannot be a flabby jelly .,so important to know how much tension is needed ,and
WHERE to relax !
Surely if the piano is new, it will not need to be adjusted, or could it perhaps be adjusted to play
very soft, easier ???This would be interesting to find out !p
I am able to play ppp on my upright piano (unless I am deluding myself,which is common with non professional pianists)but I must admit moving from P, PP to PPP is tricky and I play If I these WITHOUT too much focus ,in other words just letting the music flow it is easier !
In a piece moving from MF to pp is much easier.Everything has to do with the context of the
music.

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
Lady Bird #2894131 09/25/19 03:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Lady Bird
Surely if the piano is new, it will not need to be adjusted, or could it perhaps be adjusted to play very soft, easier ???
A new piano may not have been well regulated.

Even a piano that is well regulated, i.e. within the proper specifications, can sometimes benefit from a small adjustment depending on difficulties a pianist is experiencing. In ten minutes my tech decreased the friction somewhere in my piano's action (can't remember the location)even though he said it already was within spec. That quick adjustment made it significantly easier for me to play very softly. But one cannot decrease the friction too much as that causes problems that may require a lot more than ten minutes' work.

Problems playing very softly can be the piano's fault or the pianist's lack of technique or a combination of both.

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2894182 09/25/19 05:28 PM
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For a pianist who has played Chopin's Scherzo no.2, I think it would be worth looking at Le Gibet, from Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel. It's very difficult until you are completely comfortable playing very softly. Also his Jeux d'Eau. It's not all pp though.

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2894192 09/25/19 05:49 PM
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The Scherzo no 2? Is this the one in Bflat min ? I suppose if you ended up really knowing the piece and playing it well ! Then Gaspard is a possibility ? I always shy away from.Ravel, especially something like Jeux d' Eau. Someone I know "learned " the Chopin Gmin Ballade but even after so much work he never really learned it properly. Saying this I think he could one day play it at a reasonable level.
The known sections showed potential.(I thought )

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2894206 09/25/19 06:17 PM
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If you’re working on the skill of playing softly at different dynamics, why does it matter what repertoire you use? You can ignore the score notation and vary the dynamics from ppp to p. Just pick some mod to forte piece you can already play and adapt the dynamics as an exercise. New repertoire not needed, IMHO.

Last edited by dogperson; 09/25/19 06:19 PM.
Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
dogperson #2894207 09/25/19 06:21 PM
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Originally Posted by dogperson
If you’re working on the skill of playing softly at different dynamics, why does it matter what repertoire you use? You can ignore the score notation and vary the dynamics from ppp to p. Just pick some mod to forte piece you can already play and adapt the dynamics as an exercise. New repertoire not needed, IMHO.


Good point! Particularly with the presumably advanced level of the OP.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
noamb #2894250 09/25/19 08:51 PM
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Perhaps a new piece with plenty of p's and softer may sharpen the focus.I agree looking at old things in different ways and from different angles is also a good idea.
Practicing scales or runs in different rhythms is something for example
many of us do to improve clarity.

Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
Lady Bird #2894345 09/26/19 06:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Lady Bird
Perhaps a new piece with plenty of p's and softer may sharpen the focus.I agree looking at old things in different ways and from different angles is also a good idea.
Practicing scales or runs in different rhythms is something for example
many of us do to improve clarity.


I like these ideas.



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Re: Good pieces to practice playing softly?
pianoloverus #2894394 09/26/19 08:19 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Lady Bird
Surely if the piano is new, it will not need to be adjusted, or could it perhaps be adjusted to play very soft, easier ???
A new piano may not have been well regulated.

Even a piano that is well regulated, i.e. within the proper specifications, can sometimes benefit from a small adjustment depending on difficulties a pianist is experiencing. In ten minutes my tech decreased the friction somewhere in my piano's action (can't remember the location)even though he said it already was within spec. That quick adjustment made it significantly easier for me to play very softly. But one cannot decrease the friction too much as that causes problems that may require a lot more than ten minutes' work.

Problems playing very softly can be the piano's fault or the pianist's lack of technique or a combination of both.

Yes. My experience with the previous series of Kawai (K8 etc) was that they were well regulated and could play the spectrum from pp to ff quite readily - but they may have been done specially as display pianos.

I would imagine that your new piano will be due for a technician's visit after a month or 2. When your technician arrives, tell them that you want it regulated to be able to play ppp easier - they may be able to adjust it some more. It's something which is done on a grand probably more regularly than on uprights, but can make a difference with an upright.

Also - check your posture - if you're sitting too low, or too stiff etc, twisted or stretching - can make it difficult to play softer.

Also - you might find it better to practise ppp with simpler music than more complex - where you can concentrate just on getting an even ppp touch.


Alan from Queensland, Australia (and Clara - my Grotrian Concert & Allen Organ (CF-17a)).
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