Making Music Musical: Techniques of Musicality

Good morning readers! I hope you have all had a wonderful weekend. 

Something that I love about my piano studio right now is the variety of students I am able to teach. I have a great mix of ages and levels in my studio, from preschoolers to adults and beginners to more advanced students. It keeps me on my toes and helps keep things interesting. 

This week I'd like to focus on some techniques for the intermediate to more advanced students (although these techniques could be applied on a simpler, smaller scale to students of any level, and a teacher would be wise to begin teaching these techniques right from the beginning!). I'd like to talk about ways to make music musical, and how to teach our students to play with artistry and beauty.

It is relatively easy to teach our students how to play the correct notes, rhythms, fingerings, and even basic dynamics. But what about making real music out of that combination of notes and rhythms? Let's talk about some specific techniques that can be applied to really make some music! Ready, go - 

1) Finding the Balance

One of the most important techniques that a pianist can learn and master is the ability to achieve a good balance between hands, fingers, and musical lines. For example, let's take Romance, Op. 24 No. 9 by Sibelius - a great piano piece for working on musicality.

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Notice the repeated staccato D-flat major chords in the right hand (marked at piano) and the legato melody in the left hand (marked at mezzo-piano). In order to bring out the melody, the right hand chords must be played as quietly as possible to allow the listener to hear the left hand notes. 

This technique of independence of hands (playing different dynamics or articulations with each hand at the same time) is easier said than done.  I often have my students play small sections like this very slowly, with a lot of exaggeration to emphasize the difference between the two hands (playing the right hand super, super soft and as close to the keys as possible, while playing the left hand very loud and even staccato to really hone in on those contrasting dynamics. (Of course, in this example, you will eventually want to make the left hand smooth and legato and put a little bounce into the right hand - but at least that technique will help master the dynamics!) A good way to improve this technique is to take a scale or other simple exercise (Hanon works great) and practice playing one hand soft and the other hand loud, or one hand staccato and the other hand legato. It is good to switch off so each hand gets a chance to practice each technique.

Sometimes independence of fingers within the same hand is needed in order to bring out the top note of a chord, or the top line of the music (when the melody is played in the top notes of the right hand, for example). In the Sibelius example above, perhaps you'd like the top note of each chord in measure 6 to be a bit louder than the other notes. I find it helpful to visualize the top part of my hand (finger number five) as being heavier, or to lean into that side of the hand and use more weight on those top notes.

What are some ways that you teach independence of hands to your students? I'd love to hear your ideas! Stay tuned for more tips on making music musical!

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