Question: What’s the best way of practicing to make the left hand give a lower sound than your right hand? And to make a lower sound in one finger of another in the same hand?
– Ali Kareem (Lebanon)
Albert’s reply: Dynamics in piano playing has to do with the speed with which you strike the key. You should most definitely practice the left hand separately, concentrating on two things: First, find the slowest speed at which you can produced a controlled sound. Practice each finger in turn, letting the fingers alone do the work, free of unnecessary tension in the wrists, forearms and elbows. Done regularly, this practice will ensure a fine piano to pianissimo dynamic level.
Secondly, practice shaping the left hand by itself, as though it were a musical work unto itself. Dedicate an entire practice session to the left hand in this manner. You can even practice the left hand part with both hands, just so you can find exactly the sounds you want, which you will then imitate when playing with the left hand alone.
Listen carefully to each voice and the balance between the voices. This leads us to your second question: How do you control dynamics within fingers of the same hand? There’s a simple exercise you can do to gain control over voicing. Take the famous “Blue Danube” Waltz by Johann Strauss, playing the melody with only one chord:
The primary difficulty of this exercise is depressing the keys at exactly the same time while playing one voice forte and the others much softer. I invented this exercise because it forces the student to think about the music, as opposed to a mere mechanical exercise, and music is after all the aim of our piano-playing efforts.
The melody is written in red. Each time, however, you should play the entire major triad exactly together. Practice this exercise with both hands independently of one another, and also transpose it into other keys.
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