Many advancing piano players ask the question, how can I add more expression into my piano playing? This is an incredibly common problem that many pianists face as even if you know the physical movements on how to play a certain piece, if the expression isn’t correct, the piece will likely feel flat or too harsh, removing the emotion and feeling from the music.
That’s why today we wanted to outline our top tips for adding a little more expression into your play and a few guiding principles of technique that should help add a little more passion, feeling and emotion into your pieces.
What is expression?
When talking about expression on a piano, we essentially mean how the pianist (you) uses the tools available at your disposal to communicate your feelings about a piece of music to the listener. This isn’t just how to play the music technically, but how you can add emotion into the piece and communicate that with the audience.
Where Does The Movement Begin?
The first question we often like to ask ourselves when speaking about expression is actually to look at the body and which parts of the body are needed in order to express the music correctly.
For example, does the movement require just the use of fingers, or does the movement extend through the fingers, into the wrists, forearms, arms and shoulders too?
Pianist Boris Berman perhaps best explains this concept by discussing the concept of ‘the economy principle’ and then ‘the extension principle’. The economy principle outlines that no part of the body should be used when a smaller part can achieve the job better.
This is particularly true of that of pianissimo or incredibly soft music, if the piece is supposed to be portrayed as incredibly delicate and sensitive, it can be played with just the fingers far better than if the arms or shoulders are used in the playing as well. This principle will not only save you energy, but also help expand on the delicacy and intricacies of your play.
The same too however can be said about pieces that do require a little more passion and power behind them, where the fingers may be able to technically play the piece, if the dynamics of the music are incorrect then other body parts may be required. For example, in an upbeat piece or an optimistic piece, adding a bouncing wrist into the play will add more flare to sound and ultimately improve your expression further.
The second principle of expression is that of extension, which essentially means that the body should always be prepared to extend when required. Instead of viewing the shoulders arms and fingers as separate entities, they should be viewed as more of a collective whole that are all ready to work together when needed. If the fingers are not enough, the wrist should be flexible enough to quickly step in, if the wrist is still not enough, move to the forearm and so on. This is why piano posture is so important (read more about posture in our guide here!) One exercise to demonstrate this to either yourself or a student would be to hold one arm outwards but keep the arm loose. Grab the tips of the fingers and begin gently moving them in a small circular motion. What you will notice is that only the fingers move. Then, make the circles bigger and more vigorous, soon, the wrist will become involved, then the forearm and then the arm and shoulders too, proving that even though the action of moving the fingers remains the same, other body parts must be primed to intervene too.
These small tips may sound rather meaningless, but expression does come from subtlety and it is the smallest of movements that may help bring your piece to life.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this quick tip to help add more expression into your piano playing and that you found it interesting! Want to learn more about piano playing and care? Our blog is full of tips and tricks to get more from your instrument!
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