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Playing Chords Together

piano technique

Question: I wonder how I can practice playing chords with both hands so the notes sound together. I’m talking about complex chords which need to be played with almost all the fingers of both hands. Thank you.

– Marina Kolykhalova (Olot, Spain)

Albert’s reply: Playing chords together requires firm hands. If the fingers are too flaccid it is almost a certainty that the notes within a chords will not sound simultaneously. Note that firmness does not imply tightness, only the muscle tension necessary for accurate and musical expression.

Even pianissimo chords generally require firm fingers to play all the notes exactly together and control dynamic nuances. The fingers should be shaped in advance of playing the chord. The exact notes of the chord should lie under the fingers before a key is ever touched. Adhering to this rule in practice will automatically lead to greater control in chord playing.

Playing chords together also requires a sufficiently rounded hand, as though the fingers were grasping an orange or a soap bubble or an egg. When the fingers are straight the fingertips cannot all lie on a flat surface – only when we curve them can all five fingertips be level on a geometric plane. Greater curvature, the hand thus forming a natural arch, will result in greater control over precise timing and dynamics. The strength of the arch is preserved with its shape; therefore never allow individual knuckles to collapse when striking or holding the keys.

Playing all the notes of a chord together is only part of the difficulty in chord playing. The other is dynamics within the chord, called voicing. In a lesson on dynamic balance and voicing I offer a simple exercise in emphasizing individual notes in a chord, and one on piano chord voicings provides an additional example.

Finally, it is of great importance that the notes of a chord be released simultaneously (barring those special circumstances in which we desire some other effect). No special exercises are necessary for releasing keys simultaneously; it simply takes focus during practice.

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