Joe's Blog

One blog entry made up of several brief blog entries.

September 8, 2020

  1. Subtle Timing Effects in Chords

Bringing in one note of a chord a split second before the other notes, almost undetectably before the other notes can help to emphasize that note, for instance, if you want that note to stand out as a melody note, especially if it is not the top note of the chord.

Depending on the acoustics of the piano on which you are playing, bass notes may not trigger the ear’s awareness as soon as the treble notes. Sometimes this effect can occur to the ear in the reverse order. Sometimes an effect like this may have something to do whether the ear has tracking sounds in the treble and is suddenly asked to acknowledge a sound in the bass (or vice versa).

Know what you want the chord to ‘sound’ like (rather than feel like physically in the hands) and sometimes make micro-adjustments in the order that the notes start sounding.  If the adjustments are too great all the listener will hear is a sloppy chord or a nascent arpeggio. Otherwise, if the listener is not conscious of any time delay among the notes, then they may impute the quality of the chord when it sounds as being based on aesthetic considerations or orchestration reasons.


  1. External Force

This is any use of a force that seems to come either from outside the body or outside the general portion of the body making the sound.  For me, an external force has the virtue of seeming to take control away from the part of the physical mechanism whose movement is proximate to and accompanied by the key going downwards.

With beginners sometimes I play their piece “through” their hands for instance by making their fingers go down, in order, on the keys. “Wow”, they might say, “how did I do it without making any effort”. My response is when you do everything naturally it should feel the note is making itself happen.

I may use one hand to push vertically down on a certain spot on the forearm of the hand that is playing, and not always the same spot on the forearm, to cause the sound to happen.  The spot is far enough from the fingers on the keyboard that the sounding of the note may seem to come from somewhere else, as if by a machine.  Such a procedure restores energy and power to create a sound that may sometimes be flagging at a low energy level by the fingers’ actions alone.


  1. Unabated propulsion.

In my college physics class, when trying to demonstrate Newton’s first law of inertia, a hockey puck is made to travel the length of a tabletop without slowing down even to the slightest degree, just by a single, momentary flick of the professor’s wrist.  This was achieved by because the table surface was perforated by scades of tiny holes through which compressed air originating from underneath the table was being forced up through the holes.  The air pressure minimized the friction of the puck with the surface.

Sometimes in piano playing ‘time’ itself can act as friction upon The forward motion of a phrase, passage, or melody.  Without each instant adding MORE energy to the flow of the notes the friction of time, and the tiredness of the muscles, may cause things to slow down without our being aware of it as the player.


  1. Gravity.

Changing direction with respect to the pull of gravity can completely change the sensation in our hands and fingers.  If we turn our palm upwards and move the fingers, the sensation, though we can attempt to make it the same as the sensation we have when the fingers flex with the palms down, should feel very different than before the palm’s inversion.  It gives us a new view or an old motion.  We are now working against gravity as we flex the finger, and being aided by gravity as we unflex the finger.  The same applies if we try to push down a note by having our fingers move horizontally.  For this last one to work, some “component” of the force vector of the fingers has to go downwards, though most of it can go sideways.  This enables us to feel a strong force in the finger without directing it all downwards, but rather along the hypotenuse of a right triangle.


  1. Building a passage up by layers.

When using building blocks, or “legos”, or something of that ilk, we begin by laying the foundation and then adding layers to it.  This same approach is useful to understanding a complex or difficult passage of music and to understand which physical motions are necessary to execute it.  What notes (and played in what rhythm) can the finished passage not do without.  That is the foundation that we should identify and play first.

Resting upon it, or in our case, embedded in it, is the next layer. The additional notes that require the foundation notes to support it and give them meaning but on which many of the ultimate notes still must first depend.

This is building up a passage by layers.  Each new layer fits snugly inside the previous layer.


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