Play with weight!

“The fingers become like pillars or rather arches under the dome of the hand, a dome that in principle can bear the full weight of our body. I compare the arm, from shoulder to fingertip, with a hanging bridge, one end of which is fixed on the shoulder and the other to the five fingers on the keyboard. The bridge is flexible and resilient whereas it’s supports are strong and firm.”                   Henrich Neuhaus 

Great pianists keep their bodies in a relaxed state.  Even loud sounds is not produced by muscular force.  Rather, it comes from a loose dropping motion of the arms into the keys with the minimal tension needed for control.  The sound can thus freely project, and the tone is rich and colorful.  Moreover, the arms, wrists, hands and fingers do not tire from long hours at the piano.  Instead, they become stronger and better conditioned to respond to the pianist’s emotions.  Expressive playing requires that the body be receptive to the emotions the music asks for.  Well-trained pianists allow their arms freedom fo movement, and maintain that state during playing.  They experience the weightiness of their arms and acquire a technique of controlled relaxation.  As a principle, the greater the height from which the note is played, the less pressure or effort is needed; conversely, the less the height the more pressure / energy is required to produce a strong tone.

Dropping into a key is only the first half of the motion used to play a note; the second half is lifting out of it.  At first it seems to be at odds with the notation of playing with weight.  Playing a phrase, while allowing your weight to sink into the keys, actuality maintains a continuos flow of weight: the weight moves out of one finger and into another, simultaneously.  This is the so-called “weight transfer”.  Playing with weight, in this fashion, produces perfect legato playing, so that a long line of music flows evenly.  Varying the weight will achieve dynamic contrasts.  No matter how loud or soft you are playing, maintain the feeling that your arms are dropping into the keys, that your body is relaxed as much as possible, and that only the minimum amount of tension necessary for control is employed.  

A pianist who doesn’t make full use of weight produces a thin tone, most apparent in the higher notes.  The upper keys of the piano require more weight to bring out their full sound.  Their string lengths are shorter and they create fewer overtones in the range of audibility. 

Some exercises that help get across the concept of playing with weight are the following: 

Exercise for the weight transfer with the side of the hand. 

Drop the arm freely into the keyboard (from a small, moderate, great height) and play with the hands in a vertical position with close (fist) and open hand. Drop the arm and subsequently check if the entire arm weight lies freely in the keyboard by moving your forearm with your free hand outwards. 

Exercise for the weight transfer with the finger. 

The three finger joints need to be stabilized while keeping simultaneously a free wrist and a hanging arm.  The correct implementation of the arm weight involves relying on stable fingers and forming a stable suspension bridge.  On one side one lean on the fingers and on the other side one relays on the shoulder joint.  In order to control that the arm is hanging freely push it outwards and let it swing back to the body. 

Exercise for the firmness and sensibility of the fingers. 

Put the forearm in the keyboard and lean on it, press a black key with the index, 3,4,5 finger while supporting the thumb on the last phalanx of the other fingers.  Subsequently, the other way around, support the last phalanx of the thumb with the other fingers.  Play with a free falling arm and firm fingers four times for each finger, subsequently without supporting fingers.  Increase the difficulty by adding crescendo and diminuendo.  Practice with each finger. 

Exercise for the “suspension bridge”. 

The whole arm weight is initially in the keyboard and the fingertips are in the stable position of the preceding exercise.  Pull subsequently the hanging arm off from the keyboard towards the body and play with each finger and repeating four times. 

Exercise for the stabilization of the thumb and of the fifth finger. 

In the thumb exercise the forearm lies in the keyboard and thus provides greater stability of the hand and leads to unity of hand, fingers and arm. Similarly, in the exercise for the 5th finger the thumb seeks support to the side of the keyboard.  In order to improve the movement of the thumb put hand sideways on the keyboard and strike a black key using a rotating motion.  In order to train the 5th finger support the hand on the side (bar) of the keyboard and stike a black note with a rotating movement of the hand, stabilizing the 5th finger with thumb support, practicing crescendo and diminuendo.

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