Piano Technique 1

  1. Objective
  2. The Gravity Keystroke
  3. Four ways of producing a sound
  4. Meditation and Relaxation

    Subject Index - Topic Index

    PIANO LAB - Intro - Songs

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KT 1.1 - Objective

The aim of studying piano technique is to gain fluency, speed and accuracy , allied with a good tone quality and a wide dynamic and timbral range.

The piano is basically a percussion instrument and the tone quality depends therefore on the way the key is struck.

A good key stroke generates a clear resonance in the string.
It is this resonance which gives a rich sound to piano playing.

  • Correct key attack also brings the music into focus. For each individual note is heard clearly and separately no matter how quickly or slowly it is played. The playing then becomes vital and alive.

  • Another important aspect of piano technique is the development of an even, flowing quality in the playing. This depends very much on a good finger technique, allied with the ability to use and balance the hand and the arm over the keyboard.

  • Evenness in playing also relies on a steady rhythmic pulse. The fingers must therefore have the strength to maintain a firm, steady rhythm.

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KT 1.2 - The Gravity Keystroke

When a piano key is struck it pivots on a fulcrum throwing the hammer at the string, and when released (through the release mechanism) returns by the force of gravity.

The fundamental principle of a fluent technique is to work in conjunction with gravity, by complementing the gravity release force with a gravity attack.

The principal energy for the key attack is derived from gravity; from a controlled dropping of the finger, hand or arm onto the key. This can be complemented, if necessary, by the muscles of the arm or back to increase (or reduce) the velocity of the attack. But all muscle tension must be released the moment the key is struck.

There is no need to force or push the hand into the key, for all strength, volume and tone come from the natural fall of the passive weight of the finger, hand or arm.

The dynamic level of the resultant sound depends on how much weight is brought to bear on the key :


Generally, opening the arms (by lifting the elbows) will increase the sound volume, for this brings the weight of the forearm and upper arm into play.

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KT 1.3 - Four ways of producing a sound

There are five parts of the body used in piano playing :

fingers - hand - forearm - upper arm - torso

These are connected by four sets of intervening joints :

knuckles - wrist - elbow - shoulder

There are therefore four different ways of producing a sound :

  1. by moving the fingers from the knuckles.
    This is the most important one and forms the foundation of all technique.

  2. by moving the hand from the wrist.
    This is for example used for light, quick staccato, such as in rapid octaves, or chains of chords.

  3. by moving the forearm from the elbow.
    This is used for loud, strong octaves and percussive effects, and also for rotating the hand and wrist in arpeggio figurations and tremolos.

  4. by moving the upper arm from the shoulder.
    This means dropping the whole arm on the keyboard and is used for playing powerful fortissimo chords. If necessary it is possible also to bring the weight of the torso to bear on this action.

These four different ways of producing and controlling tone colours and dynamics provide the pianist with an enormous range of possibilities.

The most difficult of these four actions, and the one which requires the most practice, is the ability to keep the fingers firm and stable while allowing the wrist to be flexible and mobile.

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KT 1.4 - Meditation and Relaxation

Good musical performance is an active form of meditation.
kb001.gif Meditation is a state in which the three aspects of a human being :

Mind - Body - Spirit


relaxed, in focus and in perfect balance.

Good instrumental practice works towards this state of meditation through :

  • natural integration of the instrument as part of the body, and

  • the relaxation, balance and focus of body, mind and spirit.

Relaxation of the muscles is therefore a vital element of a good keyboard technique.

Claudio Arrau (the famous Brazilian Classical pianist) once expressed it beautifully.
When asked in a TV interview what he considered to be the most important aspect of a good piano technique, Arrau replied :

"The arms and body form the vital link between the instrument and the Soul of the pianist.
If any stiffness in the body or body joints occurs this link is severed."

While saying this he was pointing at the critical point in this link : his wrist.

This is, in a nutshell, the secret of a good piano technique.
But it is also the major obstacle for every student who wishes to master the piano.

How to play the piano with firm fingers while maintaining a relaxed and flexible wrist ?
To find an answer to this question it is useful to look at the
anatomy of the hand.

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© 1999 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)