Sometimes regarded as the epitome of piano potential, to many, classical music is what the piano was built to do. With centuries worth of material to explore and a plethora of styles and periods to uncover, classical music truly does have something to offer every piano player.
Today we wanted to focus our attention on how you can progress your classical piano playing and offer some inspiration for some techniques and tips that will help enhance both your musical understanding and how to get more out of your instrument, regardless of your playing standard.
Just getting started with classical piano? We would firstly recommend reading both our beginners guide to piano, our beginners guide to classical music and even our top classical songs for beginners to try.
Once you have progressed through these articles and are comfortable with the very basics of classical piano and what we are trying to achieve, then come back to this article to progress your playing further!
Perhaps more so than most genres (with the possible exception of jazz piano) classical piano is intricately linked with the notion of expression and nuance. Particularly during periods such as the Romantic period, the ability to express passion and emotion within music became vital and was the driving force behind the success of composers such as Beethoven, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and many others.
There are many ways to begin enhancing your expression, but by understanding the nuances behind expressive techniques, you will be able to extract infinitely more from the piano. Expression in itself is an endless barrel where there are no end of things to explore, from posture, hand position, rhythmic precision, pedalling, touch control, tension control, these are all physical aspects that you can begin focusing on in order to improve your classical playing.
Want to learn more about how you can start adding more expression into your playing? Read our guide here.
When it comes to classical piano, many believe that endless repetition is the key to success and whilst regular practice is crucial to developing your skills, we personally believe that by focusing on your technique is a far more valuable asset to your playing. Learning those essential scales, arpeggios, chords, trills and melodies are all paramount to improving your classical understanding and play. Tired of just mindlessly practising your scales and arpeggios? Explore our guide to making them the most exciting part of your practice sessions here.
Understanding Hand Tension
Perhaps one of the most easily overlooked aspects of your playing, particularly for newer or self taught players is hand tension. This is something we often see especially for those who do overpractice, but without proper care, it is easy to develop repetitive strain injuries which are a direct result of incorrect practise and lack of proper classical piano technique. As a general rule of thumb, if you feel any pain or discomfort in your hands or any part of your body while practising piano, stop immediately and do not practice for the rest of the day. If the issue is persistent, we would recommend contacting your GP or seeking medical advice.
In order to help mitigate this concern, it is always good to be actively thinking about tension while you are practising piano. Try to measure any tension you are feeling in your hands whilst playing and rate it from 1 to 10, where a completely relaxed arm/hand (for example) dangling freely at your side rates 1, and a clenched fist rates 10. Generally speaking, for almost any style of playing, even full fortissimo playing, your tension should always be in the lower end of the scale and the power should instead come from other areas of your body, such as your forearms or shoulders.
Finger Arching & Fingering
Being able to strike the correct keys when required is essential to any kind of piano playing and some classical pieces do have some incredibly dexterous fingering requirements. Much of this fingering does come from how the fingers are positioned and arched to begin with, giving you the correct poise in order to reach and extend across the keys as and when required, before returning to a comfortable resting position.
The main analogy that many piano teachers use here it to envision that you are holding a tennis ball whilst playing. You want to be able to still hold the tennis ball whilst you play, but you should not be squeezing it. Pieces such as Minuet in G minor by J.S Bach are fantastic for those looking to improve their fingering technique and wrist movement as this piece does not feature any large jumps, so allows you to explore this skill in one given area.
Improving Your Sight Reading
Perhaps on the contrary to focusing on one specific area of the keyboard, one of the skills that many beginner players overlook or struggle to develop is their sight reading skills. This is especially true of pieces that feature some slightly more complex aspects such as interesting time signatures, dynamic style and use of clefs.
One of our personal favourite examples of this is Etude no.11 Pour Les Arpèges Composés in Ab by Claude Debussy, not only is the first bar this piece in a ¾ time signature, but what definitely throws unexpecting players off is how both staves use the treble clef. This then fluctuates throughout the piece, so is one that you definitely need to check without glossing over, encouraging better sight reading technique.
Hand Coordination & Independence
Being able to play with both hands independently is a skill that every pianist should always be trying to develop and practice and as your skills progress, being able to use each hand independently is crucial for more advanced pieces.
For those really looking for a challenge, it doesn’t get more complicated than the likes of Nocturne in C# minor, B.49 by Frédéric Chopin. Here not only are the two entirely different from one another, but they also feature some truly complex and intricate techniques such as trills and multiple rhythms. All compacted in just a short piece, but there is a reason why Chopin was a prodigy after all!
In order to begin developing this skill, it is important to start slowly and work your way up. Firstly, play the right hand on its own at your own pace. Once comfortable, pair your right hand up with some of the left hand. Perhaps begin introducing this hand by only playing every other note of the arpeggios as crotchets (quarter notes) on the beat. For example; C# - A# - C# - D#. This will allow you to perfect the timing of your trill, and the transition to the sixteenth notes. Your final step is to play both hands together as written.
We hope this short guide has offered some inspiration and ideas into the kinds of techniques that classical music in particular requires in order to help you progress your skills. Want to learn more? Explore our guides to advancing your play here or if you are considering upgrading your current piano, contact our experts today!