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  To piano players  jujomonk at 20:42 on 14 May 2007

I do not play the piano, so I do not know all of the technical aspects of the instrument. If anyone can help me, I would greatly appreciate it.

1. Is it possible for players to control the individual volume of each hand when playing? For example, can one hand play piano (volume) while the other plays mezzoforte? If possible, what difficulty level would it be? I notice when looking through the scores I have available, the dynamic symbol is placed between both staves, which I take to signify for both hands.

2. When a trill is played, is it commonly played with a note alternating with a minor second or a major second? I assume you can choose either, but I was wondering about what was common to the standard trill sign. I also remember watching something on Beethoven where he supposedly did something similar although with an octave skip. Is that the same thing?

3. I'm not familiar with the pedal system that much, although I do know about the sustaining pedal. When exactly is that supposed to be used? When you want a specific note to sound longer without holding onto it? But if you did that, would every other note played while the pedal was held sound longer? And I guess while we are at it, what is the purpose of the other two pedals?

If you choose to help, thank you in advance for your time!

  Re: To piano players  Hugh Boyle at 11:30 on 15 May 2007

1. It is possible for players to control the individual volume of each hand when playing. It should not be difficult for any intermediate to advanced pianist and the control of the hands is something that all pianists strive for. In the Music of Mozart, for example, the right hand is usually assigned the melody and the left hand is usually assigned the accompaniment and therefore, in this case, although there is only one dynamic indication between both staves the performer ill instinctively reduce the volume of the left hand so that it does not over power the melody.

2. Again in classical music the note trilled to is usually determined by the scale being used. For example, in a G major scale all trills would be a major second except for those between the notes of B to C and F# to G which would be minor seconds. However, the composer can specify otherwise by putting an accidental, sometimes in brackets, after the trill sign. For example, if the trill sign were above a D, in a G major scale, and there was a flat sign after the trill then this is an indication to trill from D to E flat thus creating an interval of a minor second (semitone) where one would usually trill between a major second (tone). Equally, if the trill sign were over a B, in a G major scale, and there was a sharp sign after the trill then rather than trilling from B to C you would trill from B to C sharp.
If you are writing atonal music, especially if you are writing 'in C', you must always indicate clearly which note you wish the performer to trill to by placing either a natural, flat or sharp sign after the trill sign.
I am not sure what you mean about the octave skip?

3. On a standard concert piano there are three pedals and they are called, from left to right, una corda, sostenuto and damper.
The una corda pedal is usually referred to as the soft pedal. If you press it down and look inside the piano you’ll notice the position of the hammers relative to the strings change so that rather than striking all three strings the hammer will now strike only one of the strings thus creating a quieter sound. You can indicate to the player to use this pedal and sometimes, although not prompted, the player will decide him/herself to use if. For example if there is a passage marked p followed by as passage marked pp the performer may decide to use the soft pedal (una corda) in the passage marked pp so as to create a marked difference in volume between both passages.

The damper pedal or sustain pedal, which is on the right hand side, can be used to add colouring to a piece or to sustain harmonies. In performing music of the classical era the pedal would be used sparingly whereas in performing romantic music one would use a lot of pedalling to create the lush sound associated with romantic piano music. When writing you can use this pedal in different ways. The most common way to use it is to sustain harmonies. For example, if, in your left hand, you wish the performer to play a low bass note and then a chord an octave above, for example, then you can indicate to the performer to join both of these with the pedal so that the bass note will sound at while the chord is being played, since if the pedal wasn’t being used the bass note would begin to decay immediately.

The sostenuto (middle) pedal is not really in common use but you can achieve some really great effects with it. What it does is that is sustains individual notes on the keyboard, selected by you. For example, if you play a chord, hold it and then depress the sostenuto pedal then the dampers for the selected noted will stay raised whilst the rest will not for as long as you keep the sostenuto pedal depressed. The effect of this is that you can have a sustained chord which will sound sustained every time you strike it whilst the rest of the keyboard will not sound sustained, thus providing you with a juxtaposition of sustained versus non-sustained sounds on the piano.

I hope that helps.


  Re: To piano players  jujomonk at 21:23 on 15 May 2007

By the octave skip, I meant that the note and it's octave (e.g. C1 and C2) would be quickly pressed alternately, much like a trill in a sense. I saw it done and was wondering if it was a specific technical manuever.

But other than that, thank you very much for the time you took to write your response. I very much appreciate it.

  Re: To piano players  scott_good at 21:39 on 15 May 2007


Hugh's comments are very good. thanks.

I would strongly suggest that you find a piano and sit there for a few hours - it is a very capable instrument, and you will learn many things on your own. The beauty of the piano is it gives immediate gratification to the novice - it's layout and rudimentary technique are clear to the eye and hand.

Many of your questions are common sense kinds of questions - you will see this when you get to the piano. can you press your fingers/hands down with different speeds simultaneously? yes. so, one can do it at the piano for simultaneous dynamic difference - it's tricky, but possible, especially for a well trained player. can you quickly move between between various fingers? yes. so, many trills are possible. (you will notice when trying to do this, the 4th finger is quite sluggish, something to think about when composing for piano - for me, 2nd to 3rd finger is the fastest, but i ain't no pianist). octaves can be quite quick on piano,

the sustain peddle is often left to the performers discretion - use phrase markings unless you want very specific sustains and sound bleed (but, the pianist will ignore it anyways, they rarely think the composer knows what's best - seriously, i had a piano piece performed 24 times by 24 pianists in a row, and all but 1 ignored my peddle markings at least once - it was quite bizarre - and the one that did stuck to the part because i confronted her as to why everyone was ignoring my markings - funny, after, she told me it sounded better with my markings).

You can also trill chords between hands, 2 notes in fingers to 1 note in thumb - even 2 notes in the thumb (only white or black) - you can use the palm of your hand for clusters. It goes on and on with the piano. Quickly, get to one, and have fun exploring it's possibilities.

And check out any and all of chopin, bach, debussy, cowell, stockhausen, beethoven, monk, evans, ginastera, prokofiev, haydn ... all great piano composers + many, many more.

  Re: To piano players  piargno at 00:40 on 22 May 2007


I'm not going to make a comprehensive answer, but here is one final suggestion to finding answers: Look at etudes.

Specifically, Chopin (op. 10 and 25), Debussy (books I and II), and Ligeti.

The reason why I suggest looking at these specific etudes is that most of these etudes take one technique or one technical idea and build an entire piece based on it. For example: Chopin Op. 10 No. 1 consists of wide chords going up and down the keyboard in the right hand, Op. 10 No. 2 focuses on the individuality of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th fingers, while using the remaining as accompaniment, Op. 10 No. 7 focuses on the right hand moving from 3rds to 6ths repeatedly... In Debussy, his techniques are the titles of the etudes (For the 5-fingers, for the chords, for the thirds, for the octaves, etc...). The Ligeti is a bit harder to figure out, but becomes clear when you start to play them at the piano.

Other good etudes: Liszt (Transcendental are good, but the Paganini are better), Corigliano's Etude Fantasie (I'm not a big Corigliano fan, but one can learn much from this piece), and Godowsky's transcriptions of Chopin Etudes (which are quite possibly the most difficult pieces for piano ever written, trust me on this one).

Also, when reviewing the score, it's helpful to have a recording, but even more helpful to have some sort of visual. I suggest going to Youtube and typing in the titles of these pieces. You'll be surprised how many live performances you'll find of people playing the piano (badly and very well). For the Godowsky, which I HIGHLY recommend, do a Youtube search for "Marc Andre-Hamelin" and you can get video of him playing some of these monsters.

Good luck!

  Re: To piano players  piargno at 00:44 on 22 May 2007

Oh, and for your second question, what you're looking for is called a tremolo. You can have a measured tremolo (even 16th notes, or 32nd notes, etc...) or you can have an unmeasured tremolo (piano plays the notes of the octaves alternating as fast as possible). You can also have a tremolo on one note (a fast repeated note), tremolos between hands, double tremolos, and (my favorite) tremolos with two fingers that are close to each other (like playing c and e with the thumb and second finger) while the remaining fingers are playing a melody. If you want, I can be your test dummy. I'll make sound samples for you, and send them to you online...

To add to some things that Hugh said: the reason why pedal wasn't used so much in the classical period is that the damper was located at the bass of the keyboard, thus the perform would have to use the pedal with his or her knee! It was rather uncomfortable. Eventually, the pedal moved to the floor, thank goodness...

With the sostenuto pedal on a good piano, one can create very interesting resonances. Here is an experiment: Hold down an A, and strike the next highest A. You should hear a resonance. Here's another experiment: silently hold down an A. Now violently strike the next LOWEST A. You should hear the resonance from the A that you silently depressed.

Crumb has a very interesting use of the sostenuto pedal in Celestial Mechanics. He calls for the lowest A to the lowest G# to be silently depressed, and held by the sostenuto pedal throughout the entire first movement. Because of this, all notes played have a resonance. I can send you a sound file of this if you'd like...

  Re: To piano players  jujomonk at 16:13 on 24 May 2007

Thank you for your responses. If you are willing to take your time to send me some piano contributions, I would really appreciate it. Certainly, as base as my musical knowledge is, I will gladly accept anything to help with my musical training.

  Re: To piano players  piargno at 01:19 on 25 May 2007

OF COURSE I AM! I'd be DELIGHTED!!! e-mail me: