When you think of someone who plays piano beautifully you will likely be imagining someone with great technique, control and the ability to draw you into their musical story with the way they are able to express themselves at the piano. Being able to play beautifully comes down to some really small and simple skills or techniques that together will give you the control and knowledge you need to play beautifully.
1) Your Wrists
Your wrist is the shock absorber of the hand. If you utilize your wrist correctly as you play you will have more control in things like volume and sound so that you can create beautiful phrases. So before you play, try some wrists rotations to get warmed up and ready to go. We’ve got some great examples of wrist exercises in the video above.
Think of your phrases as a musical sentence. You want to gradually build to some intensity in the middle of your phrase and then diminuendo toward the end so be sure to think about the volume and intensity that you are using throughout the phrase. You also want to move smoothly between the notes. You can do this by thinking about the weight you are using in your fingers rather than by bouncing your wrist. You want to smoothly transfer the weight from finger to finger to get a smooth phrase.
3) Your Thumbs
Make sure your thumbs don’t get in the way. Practicing scales is really helpful for this. The thumb acts differently than the rest of your fingers so when you play it you want to make sure that you are in control of how it lands on the keys. You don’t want it to thump, and you don’t want to trip over it. The more scales you’ve practiced the more equipped you will be to navigate fingering changes and the thumb
When you put this into practice you want to consider each phrase before you begin so that you can plan how to get the most out of each and every note. Often, the phrases are shown on the music but you can create your own phrases based on when it feels natural to lift your hand, or where the music needs to pause or breathe. If you sing the melody, you will be able to find out where the phrases are based on where you’d naturally take a breath.
When you look at your phrase, consider the following:
The time signature. This is so that you can determine which beats are strong, weak or medium. Knowing this will help you to determine where to place an emphasis within the measure.
The direction of the notes. If they are moving up you will likely get louder, moving down you will likely become quieter. Determine where the highest note will be in the phrase and allow that to be your apex.
How do the notes fit under your hand? Are there fingering changes that will require you to pay attention to your thumb placement?
This is a lot to think about but you can begin by noticing just one of these at a time. Simply bringing awareness and intention to the way you approach your phrases will help you to connect to the beauty of the music you are playing and as a result the ability to express it.