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I'm struggling very much with getting a big sound from the piano.

I can play very, very softly well but I feel like once I hit a certain "loud" that the sound is not as luminous and full as I would like it to be or in other words the sound is "harsh" and doesn't quite fill the room like I would like it to. My piano teacher tells me that some of that could be the voicing on the piano, but I still notice a difference between when I play loud and when another person does on the same piano.

The methods I am using right now (standing up, pouncing on the keys) are not very effective and people have told me that I could do long term damage to my body.

Part of my problem could be because I'm very small (short, thin, and tiny hands), and people have jokingly told me I should "eat more" to be able to get the sound I want. Others have told me that I should be patient and wait till I'm older, but I'm concerned because right now I have been told that I'm playing so softly that my sound doesn't carry past the first few rows of a big hall. That's NOT good!!!

Any help/advice is much appreciated!

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I am also small and this is a problem I have been addressing with my own teacher. I was wrongly trying to get volume with my hands and forearms. You need to be using gravity, your entire arm and your back. Try this: make your arm limp and throw the entire weight of your arm and hand onto the keys but don't aim straight down; aim at an angle toward your feet. This should make a very loud, rich sound even if you are small. Notice that the force is not coming from your hands. Try to get the feel of this by doing it several times. Then try it with actual notes. (I wish I could show you.) Keep your arms completely relaxed so the force comes from your back and shoulders.


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I remember Horowitz said that you should use the entire body to play fortissimo, although I'm not entirely sure what that entails. The Taubman method says that you should release maximum weight of the forearm to achieve maximum sound. The term "release" implies the absence of tension, although the use of the forearm implies additional activity. I wonder what this "released forearm" should feel like. Could it be a balance between freedom and muscular energy? Perhaps when the arm is free to begin with, it is very easy to add additional power without straining. The habit that many pianists have is that they exert a lot of physical tension to play loud, which sometimes causes their sound to narrow and to fail to achieve the volume that they want.


Recent Repertoire:
Liszt: Concerto #1 in Eb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dY9Qw8Z7ao
Bach: Partita #2 in c minor
Beethoven: Sonata #23 in f minor, Opus 57 ("Appassionata")
Chopin: Etudes Opus 25 #6,9,10,11,12
Prokofiev: Sonata #3 in a minor
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I am reminded of an old friend from Youth Orchestra days who landed a percussion job with a top London orchestra. The story goes:

Famous Conductor: "Gary..." (for it was he) "...how can we get more tone out of the bass drum?"

Gary "<scratches head for a moment> ... tell 'im to 'it it 'arder!"

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Originally Posted by LaReginadellaNotte
I remember Horowitz said that you should use the entire body to play fortissimo, although I'm not entirely sure what that entails. The Taubman method says that you should release maximum weight of the forearm to achieve maximum sound. The term "release" implies the absence of tension, although the use of the forearm implies additional activity. I wonder what this "released forearm" should feel like. Could it be a balance between freedom and muscular energy? Perhaps when the arm is free to begin with, it is very easy to add additional power without straining. The habit that many pianists have is that they exert a lot of physical tension to play loud, which sometimes causes their sound to narrow and to fail to achieve the volume that they want.
+1


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Deborah
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Get a teacher who can help you with this stuff. Online comments will only get you so far... you need someone who can show you what to do and help you maintain it. Especially at your age, it's very important. Unfortunately, in my experience, most people (teachers) have no clue what they're talking about when it comes to working on sound - but it's imperative that you find someone who can. If your current teacher is suggesting that the voicing of the piano is the problem, it clearly tells me your teacher is just......... doesn't have any knowledge about this. At all!

Last edited by Pogorelich.; 12/23/11 12:54 PM.


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A couple of random thoughts after watching your videos:

You pull your shoulders up as you play. Volume is created by the speed of the key descent. If you're pulling up at the same time as the key is going down, you're working against yourself. Rather than feeling the expression in your upper body, consider that there are times when it's useful to pour that expression out of your body (and into the piano) as well.

If your videos are any indication, you're playing a lot of repertoire which uses octaves and widely spaced arpeggios. I'm not suggesting that you avoid that kind of repertoire, but I do think it would be easier to develop a "big sound" if you had a piece or two that avoided octaves. Give yourself an opportunity to explore a big sound with a more neutral hand position.

To give you an idea of what I mean, the following pieces have nice, sturdy, more triadic figures that would allow you to get that feeling of "digging in" without an octave stretch:

Bartok - Mikrokosmos, #140 (Free Variations) or #153 (the last of the Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm), also the Bear Dance

The Muczynski Toccata - it's based on fourths, and it works well as a virtuoso competition piece

Or if you want something Romantic that does have some octaves, check out the August Harvest from Tchaikovsky's Seasons. (A set that doesn't get near enough attention in the US.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbL0L-LsRCk
(A video I picked because the person seems to be in the same ballpark as you in terms of style and age.)

Also, you could experiment with Bench height and distance from the keyboard. At your age, the body doesn't quite grow evenly, and you'll constantly be adjusting everything you do. (This is why teenagers are a bit clumsy. Suddenly their arms and legs start growing at different rates, and it takes a while for the brain and muscles to figure out how to work together again. This is also why teenagers are capable of making great strides in their technique - the brain and muscles are both ripe for growth.)

And you could just sit around and play loud chords, or even single notes. Do a lot of thinking about your arm and gravity. You don't even need to do any specific. Just think about your arm and gravity while you play chords.

I hope that helps some. If not, just ignore it all. smile


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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It may not be the voicing of the piano (if other pianists can do it on the same piano), but it could be the voicing of your chordal and octave and part-playing. Singers are always told they need to use the support of their abdomen (actually diaphragm) and ribcage, even though the structure producing the sound is in the larynx. Similarly, to get a big sound on the piano you need the support of all the other (subsidiary) notes, and voice them accordingly.

Richter and Pollini are amoung the pianists who can produce big sounds without harshness: listen to the former's Schubert D784 and the latter's Prokofiev 7 and Stravinsky's Petrushka. I've heard Pollini live in concert several times and realized that it's not so much the sheer volume of sound, as his voicing of the subsidiary notes that give the impression of a full-bodied, powerful sound, that rides above the orchestra in something like Brahms's 2nd Piano Concerto, for instance.

Maybe just try playing & practising block chords of 8 notes, and hear and feel how the sound becomes stronger as you bring out the bass or mid-range rather than the usual top note.


"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."
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This doesn't mean anything since it's online (as Pogo said), but proper use of weight from your whole body (or at least from the bottom of the torso up).

I think...

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Originally Posted by Exalted Wombat
I am reminded of an old friend from Youth Orchestra days who landed a percussion job with a top London orchestra. The story goes:

Famous Conductor: "Gary..." (for it was he) "...how can we get more tone out of the bass drum?"

Gary "<scratches head for a moment> ... tell 'im to 'it it 'arder!"


I played the bass drum part in Stravinsky's Firebird once (among a couple other minor bits).. the conductor told me to hit it as hard as I possibly could. So that's what I did, right in the center, using a full baseball-type windup of my arm.. it was like cannon fire. It even startled the audience, but that's what he wanted! I think he knew what he was doing asking a pianist to do that..

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Kreisler, do you believe that the speed of key descent is the only factor that influences volume? Some pedagogues have claimed that the amount of weight that is released into the keys also influences the volume of sound. According to Edna Golandsky, if you strike the key too rapidly, it inevitably creates a harsh sound. She said that in order to achieve a big sound without becoming percussive, you need to slightly slow down the key descent, but employ maximum forearm weight.

Originally Posted by Orange Soda King
This doesn't mean anything since it's online (as Pogo said), but proper use of weight from your whole body (or at least from the bottom of the torso up).

I think...

Do you have an idea of how body weight is utilized or what such a sensation feels like? I've heard that stricture before, but I'm still trying to fully comprehend it.


Recent Repertoire:
Liszt: Concerto #1 in Eb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dY9Qw8Z7ao
Bach: Partita #2 in c minor
Beethoven: Sonata #23 in f minor, Opus 57 ("Appassionata")
Chopin: Etudes Opus 25 #6,9,10,11,12
Prokofiev: Sonata #3 in a minor
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LareginadellaNotte, it requires being rid of excess tension. If I were with you in person, I could explain more, but it's too hard for me to do over text.

And I agree with the slower/more weight thing. It still produces volume, but the tone is not as harsh.

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I think that I get the idea, OSK. True power comes from the release of tension, although that is not the same thing as relaxation. The word "relaxation" implies inertia and the collapsing of joints, which is not conducive to optimal physical organization.

Since Horowitz had the biggest, most sonorous sound, do you think that he exhibited the greatest release of tension of any pianist? Perhaps that is where the secret of Horowitz's power comes from. It's not from pounding the keys, but from complete physical freedom.

Last edited by LaReginadellaNotte; 12/23/11 06:27 PM.

Recent Repertoire:
Liszt: Concerto #1 in Eb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dY9Qw8Z7ao
Bach: Partita #2 in c minor
Beethoven: Sonata #23 in f minor, Opus 57 ("Appassionata")
Chopin: Etudes Opus 25 #6,9,10,11,12
Prokofiev: Sonata #3 in a minor
Suggestion diabolique
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Instead of pounding DOWN on the keys, think of pushing or driving INTO them. See if this helps. The comment someone made about driving toward your feet has a lot of merit.

Be glad you can play softly - for me this is a larger feat.

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I am convinced that, on a given piano at a given time, the speed of the hammer as it hits the string is the ONLY thing that influences the sound it will produce. That's volume AND intonation. All the rest is metaphysical or psychological, and has nothing to do with the air pressure fluctuations we know as "sound". What else could it be?

With negligeable friction, the speed with which the hammer hits the strings is in principle the same as the speed with which it is released (or "launched") into free flight from the wippen, which is proportional to the speed of the key descent at the moment of release.

Some people believe in flexed hammer shafts that give the hammers an additional speed between release and hitting the strings. This could be true, but if it is, I can not believe that the hammers will hit the strings in a different way (say, under a different angle). Just harder. Which just means that not only the speed of the key descent is relevant, but also the acceleration. At the point of release.

This acceleration is proportional to the force with wich you press on the key. At the point of release. So it depends on whether, as the key travels down, you apply a constant force all the time, or you start with a smaller force and then increase, or you start with a larger force and then decrease. However, all of this just defines how hard the hammer hits the strings.

If I understand you correctly you don't have a problem playing loud enough, your problem is the harsh tone when you do play loud. Of course Edna is right when you play hard into the key you will produce a harsh sound. That's because you play loud. You can obtain a softer sound, but it will not be as loud.

I cannot imagine, how two people playing the same note on the same piano with the same volume can produce a different tone. So what could it be?
-When you hear yourself you are not at the same location as when you hear someone else. Not to mention the fact that your observation will be highly subjective.

Or maybe there is a musical difference, for instance, if you play a crescendo and the sound increases really really evenly, it sounds better than if you have less control.

If you really want to be sure: measure it. You and the other fellow try to play the same volume, and record it.


Last edited by kuifje; 12/23/11 06:45 PM.
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Originally Posted by kuifje
This acceleration is proportional to the force with wich you press on the key. At the point of release. So it depends on whether, as the key travels down, you apply a constant force all the time, or you start with a smaller force and then increase, or you start with a larger force and then decrease. However, all of this just defines how hard the hammer hits the strings.

So are you saying that even if you drop the arm more slowly into the key, if you apply a lot of force (through a lot of weight), that will translate as a fast descent and a big sound? When you talk about "force", do you mean excessive pushing/finger pressure, a release of weight, or both?

Quote
Of course Edna is right when you play hard into the key you will produce a harsh sound. That bacause you play load. You can obtain a softer sound, but it will not be as load.

Are you saying that in order to produce a good sound, you have to sacrifice volume? I was under the impression that you can achieve the piano's maximum sonority without becoming harsh, as Horowitz could produce huge sounds without sounding percussive. Do you think that a person could play even louder than Horowitz by cultivating a harsh sound (via an extremely rapid descent of the hammer)?





Recent Repertoire:
Liszt: Concerto #1 in Eb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dY9Qw8Z7ao
Bach: Partita #2 in c minor
Beethoven: Sonata #23 in f minor, Opus 57 ("Appassionata")
Chopin: Etudes Opus 25 #6,9,10,11,12
Prokofiev: Sonata #3 in a minor
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Come to think of it, maybe because you play so softly all the time (which is good!)when you finally play loud it sounds harsh in comparison. The mind can play all kinds of tricks!

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Chord voicing has a huge role when you play big, loud chords to avoid making them sound like a mess. You can slam a huge C major chord and make it sound good if you do your voicings carefully so that the sound is loud, but still clear.


Working on:
Chopin - Nocturne op. 48 no.1
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Originally Posted by LaReginadellaNotte
Originally Posted by kuifje
This acceleration is proportional to the force with wich you press on the key. At the point of release. So it depends on whether, as the key travels down, you apply a constant force all the time, or you start with a smaller force and then increase, or you start with a larger force and then decrease. However, all of this just defines how hard the hammer hits the strings.

So are you saying that even if you drop the arm more slowly into the key, if you apply a lot of force (through a lot of weight), that will translate as a fast descent and a big sound? When you talk about "force", do you mean excessive pushing/finger pressure, a release of weight, or both?

Quote
Of course Edna is right when you play hard into the key you will produce a harsh sound. That bacause you play load. You can obtain a softer sound, but it will not be as load.

Are you saying that in order to produce a good sound, you have to sacrifice volume? I was under the impression that you can achieve the piano's maximum sonority without becoming harsh, as Horowitz could produce huge sounds without sounding percussive. Do you think that a person could play even louder than Horowitz by cultivating a harsh sound (via an extremely rapid descent of the hammer)?


Force is the force applied to the key. You cannot drop your arm slowly and still apply a lot of force. If you apply force the key will accelerate. If the key does not accelerate you're not applying any force. Force IS accelaration (F=m.a).

As a matter of fact I have been thinking about these kind of things lately and haven't quite figured it out.

Obviously, if you let your arm weight push the key, it feels as if you apply a lot of force as compared to, for instance, letting your hand hover above the key and pushing it down with your fingers. And more so if you put your whole body weight behind it.

But you don't, it can't be, it just seems that way. Because, if you really would apply more force, you would accelerate the key, action and hammer more. So if you obtain the the same loudness with different methods, you must have applied the same force (averaged over the descent of the key blah blah blah).

Of course the force of gravity on your arm and body weight is much bigger. But it is counteracted by your arm, or else you would really drop your arm on the keys. Coincidentally there is another thread that illustrates nicely what happens then. So in fact what you apply to the key is the (very small) difference between the gravity and your counteracting muscles.

But still you feel is more sense of control. This is the part i haven't figured out yet, but i think it is because of: When you apply a force to the key, the key applies the same force to you (action=-reaction). And that force may influence (disturb) a light object such as just your finger and hand, more than a whole body.

BTW this is the case where you are not playing legato. When you play legato you have your arm weight resting on the finger that played the previous note. So this finger (and not your arm) produces the counterforce to gravity. Luckily, because else your arm would fall to the floor. I'm not sure what happens exactly when you shift weight to the "new" finger, but also here it is not the entire force of gravity that pushes down the key. Most of it is counterbalanced and only the difference is used to push down the key.

As to good sound, well, good is a matter of taste, it's about the overtones. If you say a harsh sound has a lot of overtones (and mr Eisenstein will agree that this can sound very good). Well, the amount of overtones depends directly on the loudness.

I found this very interesting.

So, yes, if you don't want harsh tones you can't play as loud. If you do want harsh tones you can't play softly.

BTW: all this is for one tone only. You can increase volume by playing more notes at the same time. This may sound trivial, but suppose you play a chord, and you don't hit all notes equally hard. The hardest one hit will surely make the whole chord sound harsh while the total volume depends on all four notes. Or the way you use the pedal.

Last edited by kuifje; 12/23/11 07:30 PM.
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Originally Posted by Kuanpiano
Chord voicing has a huge role when you play big, loud chords to avoid making them sound like a mess. You can slam a huge C major chord and make it sound good if you do your voicings carefully so that the sound is loud, but still clear.

yes

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