How To Adjust To A Lighter or Heavier Piano Action

Have you ever had it where you go to practice on your teacher’s or a different piano to your own and suddenly your playing seems to drop significantly? Don’t worry, you’re not alone or stuck in the piano twilight zone, switching between pianos is something that almost all pianists will experience at one point or another and if you’re not prepared for it, it can take you by surprise!

Whilst most of us play for fun, one time when this issue can become a legitimate problem is if we’re either performing to others or are in the middle of an exam. Thankfully however, with just a little bit of pre-planning, you should be able to adjust to most pianos pretty quickly. 

This guide will outline what to do when approaching a new piano for the first time as well as offering some quick tips and tricks for those situations where playing really does matter.

Adjusting To A Lighter Piano Action

Let’s kick things off by talking about adjusting to a lighter piano. Generally speaking, adjusting to a lighter action from a heavier action is a little easier than going from a light action to a heavier action, but it can still interrupt your playing nonetheless. If you play on a piano with a medium to heavy action, chances are the first thing that you’ll notice on a lighter piano is how much louder or sensitive the piano may feel, particularly in the treble end.

This makes sense as when playing on an instrument with a lighter touch, your normal key attack may be too forceful, producing jarring sounds at the top end of the instrument that don’t quite fit the piece correctly.

The second thing you may notice is that you perhaps struggle to extract the expression from each note as effectively, again, this also makes sense as you may find that your playing pushes the keys further or too hard, giving more dynamic to the sound and losing some of that subtlety. 

So what can we do to stop this? The easiest answer is simply to play with less force! If you are finding that you are playing too forcefully, or not getting the correct expression from your playing, perhaps imagine that it’s the middle of the night and you are playing so as not to wake up anyone else in the house. This should help soften your key attack and give you a little more of a softer approach to your music. After a little while, you’ll likely find that you are able to extract that same nuance as you normally do.

Adjusting To A Heavier Piano Action

As mentioned, adjusting to a slightly heavier action whilst playing is actually a tiny bit more difficult as it can be a little trickier to extract the nuance from a heavier action. Playing on a heavy action, assuming it’s not unreasonably heavy, might even help build up a little extra finger strength or endurance. Again, this makes sense as whilst it’s generally easier to play more softly, playing harder can feel like you’re giving too much to the piece.

The first thing you’ll likely notice when playing on a heavier actioned piano is that your pieces feel far less impactful, particularly at the lower and middle of the piano, however you may feel it in the treble too. Your fortissimos may sound fine, however unless correct force is given, your pianissimo may go completely unnoticed and remove the beautiful delicacy intended for them.

How do we overcome this? Well in the same way that we play as though it’s the middle of the night on a lighter piano, this time we’re imagining that we are performing to a full concert room acoustically and you need the people at the back to experience your playing, this doesn’t mean go all out and slam the keys, but simply add a little extra force into your playing, the piano will do the rest of the work!

In terms of other things you can do, simply try as many pianos as possible to find which kinds of touch feel right to you! That is why we often explore a vast range of instruments when clients visit our showrooms with different touch sensations. Try your teacher’s piano, ask a friend to try theirs, find a piano on the street if you need to! Anything that might help give you a different feel for the kinds of instruments out there will ultimately help your playing and build your experience next time you’re faced with an instrument with a different action to your own.

If You’re In An Exam Or Performing

If you’re in an exam, chances are that you might already be nervous so your playing may be out of sync anyway, if this is the case, firstly, it’s important to relax – we’ve written a guide to that here

The very first thing that you should do before even starting a piano exam is ask the instructors if you are able to get a feel for the piano before beginning to play. Simply running through a few bars will help you gauge the weight of the action and adjust your playing to the piano. Start with a few scales and arpeggio runs to warm up and adapt to the piano, learn more about easy piano warmup exercises here.

Likewise, for performers, chances are that if it is a recital or a gig that you are putting on, then you’ll have access to the instrument before the audience arrives, during either soundcheck or a little whilst before the audience arrives, do the same task and by the time you play, you’ll be all set!

We hope you enjoyed this piece on adjusting to different weighted pianos. If you’d like to learn more about enhancing your piano playing, explore our blog here, or if you are interested in learning more about upgrading your piano or the different kinds of pianos out there, contact our experts today or visit our showroom! 

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