When students do routine scales and arpeggios as warm-ups to their tour de force pieces, I like to spice things up a bit by playing around with voicing and weight control. (Yes, you heard me right) I’ll surprise them by asking for the Left hand notes to be fleshed out, while the Right ones are subdued. Initially, my request throws everyone for a loop, eliciting quizzical looks that could be freeze framed and imported to You Tube–a collage of raised eyebrows, and collective chagrin. The whole spectacle would definitely be worth a million hits past Nora the Cat pawing the keys of a Yamaha grand.
As a heads up helper and student stress reliever, I take a hard cover book and hold it palms up in my Left hand, while I have a flimsy soft covered one in my Right. While it’s a flip-side teaching model, the basic concept comes across: heavier in one hand and lighter in the other. (There’s no doubt that muscle memory kicks in)
In driving my points across, I might also allude to feeling an upper body fullness filtering down the arms, through the elbows, wrists, fingers, into the keys vs. an opposite, easing up sensation. (That’s where weight control comes in) In truth, most students can stand to gain a few pounds of pressure when weighing into the keys versus tickling the ivories).
Weight measuring at the piano is pivotal to voicing and students will observe me doing weight bearing maneuvers as living, breathing examples.
Sometimes I will do a push-up of sorts, finding my dead weight upper body core, and leveraging myself against the keyboard with embracing hands. That’s when the wooden key slip starts making a racket (tennis anyone?)
This basic gravitational connection to the instrument is the impetus for modified weigh-ins. No, not the type associated with boxing: Heavy weight, Light weight and Feather weight divisions? Sports analogies save the day when standard piano teaching lingo does not adequately serve me. Tennis again? with that power-packed serve requiring weight transfer from the back foot springing forward to the front with dead center gravity at play.
Bottom line, when you want to bring out the left hand in a scale, think “heavier” or deeper into the keys. But know that “deeper” may not be enough if concurrent, relaxed, dead weight is not the back-up. Connection into the keys whether light or heavy remains a constant while skimming the surface of keys is not an option.
The attached video demonstrates various weight applications used in drawing out voices using scales and arpeggios as the vehicle.
Here are some routines:
1) Play a four-octave scale in 16ths in parallel motion–Legato–smooth and connected Forte singing tone (Allegretto tempo, or in a slower frame if you choose)
Start by voicing deeper into the Right Hand. Use the dead weight application I mentioned. The left hand should feel “lighter” reduced to medium soft (mp) or soft (p), if possible.
2) Do the same, fleshing out the Left hand notes, subduing the Right. Keep the Forte singing tone in the bass, and go way down to piano. in the treble
3) Finally evenly balance the voices.
Steps one, two and three can enlist STACCATO for variety.
Students can also explore Contrary motion scales with thumbs at the starting note, going out for three octaves and returning to the beginning point.
Bring out the Left hand in one playing, then the Right in the next, or in reverse order.
Finally evenly balance the voices.
Do the same overall routine with a four octave arpeggio in Parallel motion, then play in contrary motion. You’ll be using legato and staccato approaches. Mix it up for variety.
So why take the trouble to turn your keyboard world upside down like those pilots who do aeronautical gymnastics?
Well, because to play the piano repertoire from Classical to Pop, requires “voicing.” All music requires a balance of voices in one form or another. Schumann, for example, often intentionally slips inner voices into his compositions, making the pianist take notice. Fleshing these out, reveals the full blossomed beauty of his works. Beethoven’s Adagio from the “Pathetique” Sonata begins with three voices and progresses at some places to four. The quartet scoring must have a resonating melody, a rolling alto, subdued tenor and framing bass. The player must decide what he must draw out in the course of a composition, and how the fabric of lines is woven. Such decisions about voicing are synthesized into a kinetic/aural/ and affective(emotional) frame.
Jazz pianists who are part of a larger or smaller ensemble, where blending and interaction of voices is intrinsic to a performance, may want to flesh out a theme that’s jumped from the treble into the bass or alto voice. So knowing what it takes to draw out a line is pivotal to a jam session or performance.
“Voicing” then, is universal to the piano repertoire in its various forms and media and should be cultivated artfully with an awareness of weight applications and sound images.
Thumb shifts in playing scales and arpeggios