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Producing good tone - how to practice?

Posted By: Piano Again

Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/02/11 11:49 PM

I know this is an area where I am severely lacking. I think I am pretty relaxed when I play, but I simply do not know how to get that springy approach to the keys that you need. Sometimes I approximate it, but it's not something I ever learned how to do.

I just started lessons (finally! not my first time for piano lessons, but the first time in a long time), and this is something the teacher zeroed in on immediately, so I'm sure we'll work on it, but I was wondering if anyone here has any tips or advice about how to develop this aspect of technique.
Posted By: Nyiregyhazi

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:18 AM

It's really very hard to give a worthwhile tip- as it depends on the entire mechanism. Anything taken out of the whole context tends to be pretty meaningless.

However, I would say that you need to know how to "pull" the keys from the finger, while keeping a loose wrist (so the arm's mass absorbs the spare energy, without a big crashing stop). Cherkassky's tone is clearly dependent on that:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHlz43QCliQ&feature=related

While he sometimes drops, the sheer intensity with which his fingers grip into contact with the keys is unmistakable. Most pianists get too caught up in dropping with a relaxed arm. While a master can make a good sound with the dropping approach, most amateurs make a really very ugly sound indeed with it. My own sound has improved immeasurably since I started using the fingers to make it- rather than simply dropping or pushing the whole arm.
Posted By: eweiss

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:25 AM

How about listening for the tone you want and playing accordingly. Easy breezy. smile
Posted By: Nyiregyhazi

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:35 AM

Yeah- or how about dismissing anyone who doesn't produce good tone as having poor listening skills (as that effectively translates to). That's simply an approach used by geniuses and teachers who don't know how to teach tone production. Listening tells you what you do NOT want- not how to produce what you DO want. You might as well tell someone who can't juggle to think of throwing things in the air and then catching them- and suggest that they should pay more attention about whether they are dropping things or not.

The ability to identify a negative does not create a positive.
Posted By: beet31425

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:41 AM

Originally Posted by eweiss
How about listening for the tone you want and playing accordingly. Easy breezy. smile

I don't fully agree with Nyiregyhazi's criticism-- I think listening can be just as important in helping you with what you do want as with what you don't.

I just think you've pushed all the hard work into "playing accordingly". That's the trick, isn't it, but how to do it?....

-J
Posted By: Nyiregyhazi

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:45 AM

Originally Posted by beet31425
Originally Posted by eweiss
How about listening for the tone you want and playing accordingly. Easy breezy. smile

I don't fully agree with Nyiregyhazi's criticism-- I think listening can be just as important in helping you with what you do want as with what you don't.


Of course its important. But why would anyone assume that it had never occurred to somebody who is already actively thinking about tone quality that they might want to try listening? I find such suggestions really quite offensively patronising. It's like asking a chef who's looking for that something extra whether he has ever tried tasting any of his recipes- ie. ridiculously obvious to the extent where it becomes pointless to even mention it. Anyone who asks the question in the first place is searching for the HOW- not the means of identifying failures when they occur.
Posted By: beet31425

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:47 AM

Originally Posted by Nyiregyhazi
Of course its important. But would anyone assume that it had never occurred to somebody who is actively thinking about tone quality that they might want to listen?

I've never really thought about it, and I've never really done it. Not actively. It's a good idea.

-J
Posted By: eweiss

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:48 AM

Originally Posted by Nyiregyhazi
Of course its important. But why would anyone assume that it had never occurred to somebody who is already actively thinking about tone quality that they might want to try listening?

Yes. It may not occur to someone. Actually, I imagine most piano students wait for the holy words from their teacher's mouth to pour out before actually figuring it out on their own.
Posted By: Nyiregyhazi

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:51 AM

For some (badly taught) students it needs to be mentioned. However, as soon as somebody has decided to ask questions about how to produce good tone, I think it's pretty safe to assume that the notion of listening to themself just might have crossed their mind.
Posted By: eweiss

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 12:54 AM

Originally Posted by Nyiregyhazi
For some (badly taught) students it needs to be mentioned. However, as soon as somebody has decided to ask questions about how to produce good tone, I think it's pretty safe to assume that the notion of listening to themself just might have crossed their mind.

That's a good point. smile
Posted By: Frozenicicles

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 01:24 AM

Producing a good tone is a pretty vague description. First of all, which part of your tone is not good? Trust your teacher to correct things like this at your lesson because it is quite hard to form a judgment on it based on your text.
Posted By: JustAnotherPianist

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 01:43 AM

Frozenicicles makes a good point indeed here.

However, Nyir's first post is quite spot on, I have to say.

Eweiss' post is also spot on, though, although, IMO what he says and what Nyir said are NOT mutually exclusive.

Posted By: JustAnotherPianist

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 01:45 AM

Regarding how to practice, I would have to say.....




practice SLOWLY, and listen CAREFULLY. However, make sure that when you practice slowly, you are always preparing the next note quickly.... that is to say, practice in a slow tempo, but move from place to place very quickly indeed.

That's some of the best advice I can give over the internet without being able to teach you in person.
Posted By: jazzyprof

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 01:47 AM

Indeed much of it is in using your ears and in playing just to the point of sound, going slowly into the keys, and pressing instead of striking the keys.
Posted By: Kreisler

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 01:50 AM

Originally Posted by Frozenicicles
Producing a good tone is a pretty vague description.


+1

Being specific is important. In your expectations, your listening, and your physical approach.
Posted By: Stanza

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 03:42 PM

I think producing good tone is predicated upon 3 factors.

1)Not playing too lightly so the piano doesn't resonate and there is little sustain.

2)Not pounding, that can result in harshness.

3)The quality of the instrument. A high quality piano will not only sound good, but have a wider dynamic range, so it will sound good nearer to the extremes.

I think one needs to evaluate the instrument and the environment, then decide on what might be the best dynamic range in which to play. Grannie's old spinet will require a different touch than the church's 7 ft grand.
Posted By: Dave Horne

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 03:54 PM

Do you pass the fly-away-wrist test? Do you have pain\tension\discomfort\whatever in your top forearm muscles?

Fly-away-wrist test ... while playing, can someone walk up to you and in one quick movement flip your hand\wrist\arm, up and away from the keyboard, or is it locked in place?

These threads can become tedious.

Posted By: Piano Again

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 03:55 PM

No need for rudeness or sarcasm, people. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything, right?

Stanza's reply shows that he/she, at least, understood what I was asking.

I think I do understand the general principles involved, but my question was more how to practice them so they become ingrained.

I found this book useful, up to a point:

Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing
Posted By: Piano Again

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 04:03 PM

Originally Posted by Dave Horne
Do you pass the fly-away-wrist test? Do you have pain\tension\discomfort\whatever in your top forearm muscles?

Fly-away-wrist test ... while playing, can someone walk up to you and in one quick movement flip your hand\wrist\arm, up and away from the keyboard, or is it locked in place?

These threads can become tedious.



Are you saying that it should or should not be locked in place? (I'm guessing should not . . .)


(Is this any more tedious than someone asking how long it should take them to learn a "song" or why they always get nervous at recitals?)
Posted By: Dave Horne

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 05:14 PM

No need for rudeness or sarcasm, people. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything, right?

My these threads can become tedious remark was not directed to the OP. I think most folks know what I talking about.

Are you saying that it should or should not be locked in place? (I'm guessing should not . . .)

If your hands are locked in place when trying that test, you're playing just from hands and are using much more effort than is necessary.

I can explain this concretely and succinctly in a several minute video. It becomes more difficult using just words. Skype me if you wish.
Posted By: jazzyprof

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 05:38 PM

Originally Posted by Dave Horne
Do you pass the fly-away-wrist test? Do you have pain\tension\discomfort\whatever in your top forearm muscles?

Fly-away-wrist test ... while playing, can someone walk up to you and in one quick movement flip your hand\wrist\arm, up and away from the keyboard, or is it locked in place?

These threads can become tedious.


With all due respect I dare say that there is more to tone-production than passing the "fly-away" test. I am certain that one can pass this test with flying colors and still produce a thin anemic tone.
Posted By: rocket88

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 05:42 PM

"Listening" is not an all-or-nothing thing. A wide range spans the distance between starting to notice the sound that you are making, and deeply hearing the nuances of that sound.

Many people barely hear their playing, because they are so busy with the mechanics of reading/playing music.

Thus, as has been mentioned, an important aspect of producing good tone is to listen deeply and carefully to the sound of your playing. It is a skill that is developed, another task to do as you play, just like playing hands together vs. hands separate is a skill.
Posted By: jazzyprof

Re: Producing good tone - how to practice? - 02/03/11 05:54 PM

To expand on what I said before about going slowly into the keys, below is an excerpt from the Taubman Technique videos. I've been studying with a Taubman teacher for the past 5 years. When I first started my teacher told me my tone was rather harsh so we spent a fair amount of time on tone production. Now she tells me my tone has improved greatly. smile
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