Tag: concert pianist

The Effectiveness of Repetition

S.B. came for his weekly lesson yesterday.  He is an intermediate student.  The piece we worked on was Beethoven’s Six Variations in G Major on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” by Paisiello.

Variation One:

Historically, S.B. has often not had the patience to repeat a passage as often as would lead him to experience confidence in playing that passage.  Rather, he gets to a point where he thinks that he has played it often enough that the passage should already be going better, and is then discouraged that it is not getting better faster.  This derails his internal process of mastering the piece.

Joe: “We need to overhaul your practicing habits.  I would summarize the changes that are necessary as follows:

1) shorten the chunk size that you repeat in practicing until it is mastered.

2) use a touch that demonstrates a high level of confidence rather than a touch which suggests uncertainty about the notes.

3) adjust downwards your practicing tempo to support greater accuracy.

4) increase somewhat your tolerance for playing more repetitions of a group of notes as a prerequisite for attaining the degree of confidence that you deserve when playing those notes.

These four things are all tied together, the success of each depends on the all four being observed.    The failure of the passage to proceed smoothly even after a lot of practicing may not be due not to any fundamental inability, but something more subtle: a slight misalignment among the four factors listed above.   Currently you arrive at the conclusion “that I should be playing the piece better by now” but you may be speaking a bit too prematurely.  First work on equalizing the four factors above  Not by a lot but by just enough to assure further progress towards the goal of playing the passage with confidence and accuracy.  Rather than being a scenario for discouragement, it is just tweaking the four variables until things come into focus.  Instead of an un-crosable barrier, it’s just a habit in your way of practicing that needs a modest adjustment.  It is then just a matter of equalizing the variables so that their values are more in accord with one another.  Instead of coming up against a perennial state of defeat in each This failure in confidence with regard to having the ability to play new piece, you will feel a steady stream of modest gains.

More about the four variables:

#1. Definition of “chunk” size. How far do you go in the piece playing the same notes again?  Do you go from start of the movement to its conclusion?  Do you focus in on a smaller group of measures?  Perhaps just one measure?  Perhaps even just part of a single measure?  If you keep experimenting with shorter ‘chunk sizes’ you will inevitably come to one that is of the right size to ensure a sense of mastery over the notes it contains when you choose to repeat those notes, a second time, a third time, etc..

#2. “Confidence” is a subjective emotion. Some of us are bound by ethics to play in a way that sounds confident only if indeed we have mastered the passage.  I have found, with many students, that simply acting confident often increases the accuracy of the next iteration of the passage.  We didn’t have to earn the privilege of feeling confident.  We are like an actor, who is real life lacks confidence, but has undertaken a role in a play of someone who has extreme confidence.  In such a case sounding confident is only a matter of acting.  The gods are not standing in the wings waiting to punish the actor for such hubris.

S. gave a curious reason why his touch might be less even:  he thought that the result would be mechanical sounding and not musical.  I suggested that at this stage, prioritize confidence over musicality.  The goal  of playing more musically may be coming in too early in your process of learning a passage.  I propose you first want to get an even layer of notes, and then you can start allowing it to vary according to taste (it’s the part of the recipe that says “now salt and pepper to taste” – which of course may be the most crucial step).

#3. Experiment with the balance between tempo and note accuracy. It is possible that you have chosen a tempo that you think should lead to an accurate and confident rendition of the passage, only to be discouraged when you encounter difficulties with the passage in spite of the chosen tempo.  This requires a tweaking in the tempo.  Continue to gradually slow it down, and usually sooner, rather than later, you will find a match between the tempo and the accuracy of the results.

#4. Concomitant with the other adjustments you may need to increase you tolerance for repetition, but not by a lot, a minor adjustment is often all the is necessary to open the gateway to accuracy.

To summarize, chances are that the four variables is only slightly out of quilter with each other.  A major adjustment is not necessary.  For instance you do not need to increase dramatically your tolerance for repetition.  Often the new setting for each variable is close to the old one; that only a subtle adjustment to bring the four factors into balance with each other.

Over the course of the hour lesson, there were other things we incorporated into the new practicing procedure.  When repeating the same passage trick the hand into playing somewhat faster without its noticing that it is doing that.  Repeat the process as long as you can sustain the illusion.

Or, saying the names of the notes in your right hand as you are playing them.  This raises to a higher level of awareness the identity of the notes in the passage.  Or, saying out loud or to yourself your intent to play a certain notes, then pause a very brief amount of time, and then play that note as if to say “I always keep my word.”

We put these principles into practice at the lesson, which turned into a ‘practicing’ session that lasted a full hour, an hour that went by quickly and with a constant stream of self validation.  At the end of the lesson I ventured my opinion that: I don’t think you encountered the same boredom factor, from doing things over and over again, that you might usually experience at home when practicing.  If you can raise the duration of the practicing of the repetitions, so as to coincide with what you can achieve, you will be in harmony with yourself.

I try to place the emphases in different places, so it doesn’t sound as if all I’m saying is “just keep repeating this portion of the music”.  I try to make it sound like: if you shorten the chunk size, then you might be inclined to perfect that chunk, before going on to the next chunk.  It’s all ‘disinformation’, or misdirection as in the motions of the hands of a magician.

As you reduce the chunk size step by step, inversely raise your patience reducing the chunk size.

When you create a chunk that is half a measure in size, always “round it off” into the first note of the next group of notes, the next note that would ordinarily be emphasized.

When you first start a new ‘chunk’, try to remember what I said at this same stage in each previous chunk.  “Yes”. “I was sounding the notes too  tentatively for the results of my intention to register on me.”  Remember we can settle for the delusion of confidence.  As long as the other person thinks you are confident it doesn’t matter what your internal state may be.

At this juncture S.B came to a realization: “If I’m not really confident in the note I am playing, I will play it softly and tentatively, and even if it is the correct note, I am not getting as much confirmation of its correctness…my body is not feeling as much “vibration” from the note.  I said: “what I am calling confirmation and what you are calling vibration, is a crucial aspect of the process. I made the following analogy: “it’s like I gave you three different mediums out of which to make a sculpture.  One of the mediums is just soapy water, capable of forming transient bubbles of different sizes.  This wouldn’t give you much feedback as to whether you are creating a certain shape, because the shape would disappear or dissipate as you were creating it.”  S.B.: “I would have to sculpt a vessel”.  Yes, you have to sculpt it out of a material that resists and yet complies.  You are not going to sculpt it out of concrete, because that resists too much being formed under pressure.  You can’t shape it.  But if it is wet clay of some sort, then, yes, it will offer enough resistance to give you that “vibration”, as you call it, inside your hand, and between the fingers, but will also yields to your intentions. In sum, you want there to be enough ‘resistance’ in the sound to make it clear whether it has yielded to your musical intentions.

In the past I have hesitated to see all the way through a lesson like this S.B.  He gets frustrated; and I correspondingly lose heart in my goals.  Today was different.  I made a decision before we started.  If we didn’t get positive results I wouldn’t give up but would stay the course.  Although he may become bored, today I wanted to create all the circumstances for a definite practicing breakthrough.  “If you got bored, I decided to still persevere.”  Like reluctant seeds in the ground, in need of just a little more moisture in order to sprout, I wanted to give the new habits the greatest chance of establishing themselves.

S. also figured out that the rate of increase in mastering a passage might come slower if the chunk size was bigger.  And there is even a possibility that by the time you get to the end of the bloated chunk, you will have forgotten what you learned or corrected at the beginning of the chunk.  So there is actually a negative possibility of getting worse with each repetition of the chunk.  I confessed that I would find this totally demoralizing.  And I wouldn’t want to practice any more.  “I just don’t see what I’m doing wrong!”  But using today’s new tactics, negative feedback was almost eliminated.  You may be practicing at a slower tempo, undertaking smaller ‘chunks’, but you are getting more positive feedback, and this can only feel good.  And it’s not artificial feedback like the typical new-age parent who gives their child a reward for every everyday thing they do.  It is bona fide, deserved reinforcement.

At this point in the lesson we switched from variation 1 to the theme.  I said “let’s see if we can combine some of the things we were doing in variation one, and see if by any chance it all comes together quicker.  Adjust your speed downwards, but just enough to get the majority of the notes to come out correctly.

At one point he used the thumb on two consecutive notes).   I said, the main obstacle to changing to a different fingering is a stubborn resistance on the part of the pianist – they don’t really want accept the necessity of changing the fingering.  So, here, take this pencil, and put in a new fingering to try.  Note that it is not the teacher saying “change your fingering to such and such”.  It’s you yourself, overcoming your own resistance, saying I am going to find a better fingering for that passage.  You are in control and are not capitulating to someone else’s voice or even the voice of the “good” person in yourself.

Another splendid thing happened.  He played something and said: “I played it at the speed I thought I should be able to play it at by now.  Instead I will revised the speed to one that presents the highest degree of probability that I will play correctly all the notes and with confidence.”

The time of the lesson was up.  I said: maybe the main point today is that everything you are doing is under your control.

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Concert Pianists, and their Performance Arcs

“A. B.” came for his regular Thursday lesson.

Today we examined how a particular pianist puts together their experience of being  in control of a musical passage while performing.   The pianist forges their experience and control of a piece through various parts.  For diagnostic purposes we did these preliminary exercises:

We played a Bach Chorale, looking at the keyboard only for the placement of the beginning chord of the chorale, and then not looking at the hands at all from that point on.  The purpose of the exercise is for the pianist to discover how they form their intuitive sense of where their hands and fingers are on the keyboard, and if they get off course, whether they can find their way back without looking at their hands.

Next we did the same for a I-V-I in all keys.  We used this particular chord-spacing: c3-g3–c4-e4   g2-g3–b3-d4   c3-g3–c4-e4 (Root-fifth-root-third, root-root-third-fifth, root-fifth-root-third).

I asked him not to look at is hands, neither when going from one chord to the next within the three chord progression in one key, nor when moving each of the notes of the third chord up a half step to begin the progression in the next key.  This proved difficult for him.  I said “I think we are starting to hit ‘pay dirt'”.

Then we did the same for the first prelude from Book One.  This was relatively easy for him.  So I added this twist.  “Pick a random measure, make a simultaneous chord out of the notes in the measure, release the chord, send the hands to some far away place, then without looking at hands or the keyboard, find your way back to that chord.”  As it turned out this was quite easy for him!  I said: “I think there is a moral to this story.”

We moved into the second movement of the Bach Italian Concerto, a piece he knows well.

I have come to understand that A. normally bases his  performance of a piece mostly on muscle memory, with his ear standing vigilantly as a guard against any wrong note.  I said, “You have spent a lifetime carefully building this relationship between muscle memory and the ear.  Now I am going to ask you to go into an uncomfortable place.  Take any spot in the movement, and as you play the notes, say the names of each note you play in the right hand.  If there is any hesitation in your voice, we’ve uncovered even more pay dirt.”  We want gradually to shift the identity of a note to something due to a union of a sense clear placement of the hand on the keyboard joined with a clear sense of the name of the note being played.

He said: “I can’t say the note I’m playing play at the same time that I play it: not if I try to say it, not if you do it for me, and not if I say it only in my imagination.” Boom. “I think we just hit the mother lode because of how difficult this is for you to do.” And what an incredible discovery–to find the missing link in the mind, and work towards an exercise to correct it.

To put this in perspective,  consider that doing this is not an unusual thing to ask of the student.  For example, whether playing either from the score or by memory, I am always conscious of what note I’m playing, even when I steer myself through a group of notes by following the ascending or descending pitch curve of the notes. This awareness keeps me from getting lost in a piece, even when I am struggling. I am not playing by rote or muscle memory and relying on habit: I am choosing what I play and when.

Considering the difficulty of naming the notes as you play them, I recommend that he try to perfect a particular measure in this regard.  It is the ‘trying’ to do that is more important than doing it correctly.  It is the trying that opens up new possibilities in your mind.

Later in the lesson we went back to the I-V-I exercise we did earlier without looking at his hands, and I asked him to try to name the notes in each of the three chords in each of the three note progressions starting with the bass voice of each chord and proceeding to the soprano voice.  This  proved far more difficult than he imagined it would.  I was pleased with this: he was gaining a direct insight into how his musical brain works.

Returning to the the second movement of the Bach Italian Concerto:

How many, “rhythmic words: are there in the ‘vocabulary’ of this movement.  It is a limited set.  A word a distinct rhythmic pattern, for instance a word might consist of series of four sixteenths, or a dotted eighth followed by a series of sixteenths, or some other combination of rhythmic note values that repeats frequently in the movement.  Note that there is only a limited number of such combinations in this movement. Be aware of which such ‘word’ you are saying at every moment in the movement.” Playing this movement is like speaking a language of rhythmic words, a vocabulary consisting of just a dozen or such words (although they can be put together in many different ways to create different meanings).  When I  play it I ‘speak’ each such word with its own definite and unique form of expression and inflection – one that pertains just to that rhythmic word.

He objected that the expression of each word would change dependent on the varying setting of the musical context. To which I replied, “I agree that the same word in different settings should be spoken differently, but at first make all the same ‘words’ sound the same“.

He tried this and was surprised that this added to his musicality in playing rather than making it seem less musically nuanced.  I said, “The final musical result needs to rest on something solid before the nuances are added.  This might not be true of other pianists who can manage both at the same time right from the start, but you often get bogged down coping with the details of the musical meaning that you want to convey before attending to first principles.  Start with the language and the vocabulary.  Wait until later on before you change it into Shakespearean English.”

We turned next to Mozart’s Adagio in B Minor:

“You and I often have different agendas as to what to work for and what needs the most reinforcement.  Today will prove to be no different.”  What is missing for me is the basic and constant “flow” wherein you carry each note through its duration of time to the next note, and then that next to its next, etc..  Each note is directed to the next note.   I hate to use an analogy that uses the word ‘weight’, which is usually anathema to me, but it as if the note has heft and you have to pick it up and move it through time (or space if it helps to think that way) to the next note*.  Every note should  experience the full pressure of time – which I call the ‘flow’ of time – to bring it to the sound experience of the next note.  Each note has to experience that dynamic sense of motion to the next note.  It is hard to describe how to do this other  than my making certain gestures as you are playing, but though these are spatial motions, what we are looking to experience is the motion of consciousness through time, without abatement, and mostly felt between the beginning of one note and the beginning of the next note.  It is the inevitable and relentless pressure of passing time.

* If you do think of this spatially then let the direction always to the right and not in the direction of the pitches as the arrow of time in Western math and physics is usually depicted rightwards (as it is in the convention of the musical score).

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I’m back! Revving up your engine. Change of register within a theme. State “A” and state “B”

I haven’t blogged for a while.  It’s been a rough month health wise and mood-wise. But here I am again.  I’ve nothing too organized to write about today, so please indulge me is I am desultory in this blog entry.

#1 Revving up your engine for a moment before playing a difficult passage.

When confronted with a rapid passage that that moves in a series of notes of equal duration, let us say eighth notes in the right hand, covering several bars of 4/4 time, it is useful to rev up your engine (like a race car driver awaiting the flag to drop to start the race) and then overflow those four notes as the race begins and you cruise through the passage.  This ‘revving’ up can consist of playing the first four notes over and over again in a loop, until the thrust of your “jet engine” has increased to the amount when you can then let off the breaks and sail down the runway.

#2 Change of register within a theme statement

When a melody is transferred by the composer from one octave range to another, it is important that the pianist “carries” the sound of the note from one octave to the other.  Sorry to mix metaphors, but the listener has to be “led by the hand” from one range to the other, so that the new destination note sounds as alike as possible to the starting note, but for the accident of pitch range.  Usually changing the octave of a note causes a major change in the quality of a note.  But in this case we want to stress the sameness of the note despite its appearance in different ranges on the piano.

We want the listener to feel that it is the same sound that has taken off one outfit and put on a second, while still being able to recognize the person wearing the clothing.

#3 State “A” / State “B”

Solving technical hurdles, simplifying a passage,  If you are not already familiar with the idea of state A and B, see:

https://joebloom.com/solving-technical-hurdles-in-difficult-passages/

and also:

do a ‘search’ on the front page for “practice technique

With my students, I often use the terms “state A” and “state B” when referring, in the first case, to some altered way of playing or approaching a  difficult passage that sheds new insight on its meaning or which unlocks the technical difficulties involved in the passage. State B, which follows upon state A, is playing the passage again, but this time as written in the score (in its performance form).  The idea is that the insight gained in state A carries over into state B.

The important question is what to do after doing state A followed by state B.  Many students will do state A, realize the benefit of doing it as they then play state B, but if they play the passage a second or third time, simply in its state B form, the benefits from having done state A gradually wear off and the passage begins to resume the state it had been in originally.  When the student has completed the cycle state A – state B, she should resist the temptation to try the passage again in state B, almost as if to test whether the benefits previously gained are still showing in state B, or perhaps to try to improve the passage even more.  Unfortunately the benefit from state A though it normally carries over automatically into the first iteration of state B, by simply following state A closely in time, becomes lost and diluted if you simply replay the passage in state B, over and over, without going back in between to state A again.

Always go back to state A, before doing another try at state B, for state A stands to state B as a going back to the well, the fountain, the source of the inspiration and insight that enlightens the passage.

Thus concludes a series of scattered thoughts. Let me know what you think  or have questions about in the comments, and also tell me if you would like me to write about something specific next time. Some health stuff has burdened me, so the posts might be a little scattered. But stay tuned, I’m here.

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Wandering Hands in a Performance

Certain pianists are so dependent on their physical sense of where their  hands are on the keyboard, that if they go off track in a piece, by playing a note or notes incorrectly, it is difficult or almost impossible for them to get back on track so that they can continue into the next measure without having to stop and go back.  This was the case with “B.” today.

We analyzed the situation, tried to think of remedies, but found that we had to reject one after another because they were too hard to implement.    We finally distilled down the essence of the problem to a point where a first “exercise” suggested itself to us: a first, simple enough, and thus doable exercise to help with the general problem.

This is the procedure we concocted:

He closed his eyes, and reached out in a random direction with his right arm and played a single note on the keyboard.  Now, often a person will “feel out the immediate neighborhood” of the physical key on which they have put their finger, to confirm its identity by seeing whether its nearest neighbors are black and/or white notes.   But I advised B. to avoid any such almost instinctive exploration.  I wanted the only thing to identify was sound of its pitch.

Next, eyes still closed, he brought his right arm back to his side and then reached out with his left arm to try to play a note that he thought might be in the same general area of the keyboard as the one his right hand played.

He listened to this new sound, and made just one judgment: is this new sound higher in pitch, lower or the same as the first sound.  Repeat this exercise many times.*

When comfortable with this procedure, a next step could be begun: start making a series of corrections to the “second” note until it is identical with the first note.  This is still done with the eyes closed.  If the second note was recognized as being higher in pitch than the first note, then try another note after moving further left on the keyboard.  If that is still higher, try another further to the left.  If it is now lower than the first pitch, then try an adjustment to the right.  Basically we are in what is a sound-driven feedback process of gradually better guesses as to the pitch of the first sound.

There are many more steps and gradations of exercises that we will have to invent over the next few months, but the ultimately the pianist, if they make a mistake in playing the current note or notes of a piece in a performance, will be able to course correct while as soon as they hear the wrong note and almost immediately recalculate how far they have to move on the keyboard to put things back on track by the next note.

What is gradually being developed is a close association of aural cues with a clear mental image of the keyboard. There will be less need of looking down at the hands to figure out what notes are being played instead of others, and then try to make course corrections.

* By the time he had repeated the first exercise about ten times he was able to add information to his feedback … such as: “the second sound is higher than the first but by a single half step”.

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Meddling with the Pedal

J told me today that she always eschews using the pedal. “It makes things sound more cacophonous and confusing”.  In particular she used the word “clangy” to describe to describe what the piano sounded like when the right pedal was depressed.  It simply wasn’t pleasant to her ear.  At best, J. wants to wait until she knows how the to play the piece very well and what it sounds like before adding any pedal at all.  In general I think that’s great  …. I could take a lesson from her on this subject.

I used the next portion of the lesson to describe other ways of using the pedal than she may have thought of, some or all of which would meet with her ear’s approval.

#1:

Putting it down for a single note – to make that note slightly more resonant, when sounding by itself, than without the pedal down.  I explained sympathetic vibrations to her.  I had her shout into the piano when the pedal was depressed and that the piano’s sound mimicked her voice.

#2:

That the effect of the pedal is mitigated by the tempo.  A slow tempo allows for more of the notes to subside before their longevity is extended by the pedal into the next notes.

#3:

Cases where we specifically want each new sound to blur into an  accumulating mass of previously begun sounds.  That there is a fine aesthetic balance between using the pedal to contradict and mar the previous sounds, and to simply update at the last moment the previous sounds.    And that doing the latter alters the subtle timbre of the sound, and causes that sound to be more at ‘evolving’ than getting lost in the shuffle of time.

#4:

Being aesthetically selective as to which specific notes react well to being united briefly by the pedal.   Even if you are playing a series of notes from a common chord, there are moments when one of those notes creates a good effect if held over into just the next note, and when it mars (spoils) the sound of the passage.

For instance the two first and lowest notes in a chord being held down with the pedal.   It is brief enough that the ear doesn’t immediately know why the sound was enriched at that very moment, without listening to it a second time from the beginning.   The pedal is gone by the third note.  This is useful when the pinkie plays a bass note in the left hand and then other notes are played also by the left hand but in the tenor or alto range (for instance the more familiar Chopin Nocturne in E-flat major).  If you choose to keep the pedal down during the first two of these notes, then it has the added benefit of prolonging the low bass tone – just long enough for its impression to linger even if it is not sustained throughout the rest of the figuration.  It adds to the identity, definition of the harmony.

Ultimately the number of notes through which you hold the pedal down varies more with the tempo of the piece and how many notes are played throughout the course of just beat.  The faster the tempo and/or the greater the number of notes sounding within a given duration, less time in general you should keep the pedal depressed.

#5:

A ‘forced’ or ‘coerced’ diminuendo.

Sometimes a held note does not decay or die away fast enough for the dramatic effect desired.

Using a “terraced” pedal effect, one can speed up, to any desired degree, the rate at which the note dies away.   While the note is decaying, at certain regular intervals of time, lift the pedal a bit but immediately quash it back down.   The more frequently one repeats this act during the full duration of the note, the more rapidly the note will die away.   Be careful just how little or far you lift the pedal, for it is very finely dependent on the mechanism of the pedal on your piano.

The extreme case is a very loud sound which is supposed to vanish almost entirely barely a moment after it is started.  For this effect, all that is necessary is to attack the chord without the pedal down, lift the hands suddenly off the keys, and a bare instant later push the pedal down.  At this point the dampers will not yet have completed stopped the sounds of the vibrating strings, and the little sound that is left will be caught by the pedal.  By varying the time unit between releasing the hands and depressing the pedal, from mere hundredths of second to tenths of a second you can achieve  everything from a fortissimo followed by a mezzo forte, to a fortissimo followed by a pianissimo.

#6:

To reveal notes that were sounding but could not be heard or singled out at the time.

This is achieved by releasing the pedal but keeping a chosen group of keys silently depressed.  Charles Ives uses this effect magically in the second movement of the “Concord” sonata.  A tumultuous and dissonant downward spiral of pitches is executed with the pedal held done.  The amalgam of sounds gets denser and denser and more and more cacophonous.   This accumulated cluster lingers for a few seconds, during which time the pianist silently depresses the keys forming a six-note open position F# major chord in the bass and tenor.

The pianist then lifts the pedal.  It takes a moment or two for the listener to realize that they are hearing the soft, steady resonance of the  F# major chord.

#7:

Half pedaling (my personal favorite), which is similar to number five.

This technique entails partially releasing the pedal, so that the entire sound is not cancelled out, and then pushing the pedal all the way back down again.    Some of the sound  persists as the pedal reaches bottom.   It is similar to the carpenter’s way of joining two pieces of wood creating a “tongue and groove”.  One piece of wood does not suddenly end and the other begin at the same place: their boundary is not a straight line.  There is a hidden or partial overlap.  This is especially useful for those who like the general sound of the piano with the pedal down, but restrict themselves because of the accumulating “clang” of the notes.  Again, how much you release the pedal is dependent of the unique mechanism of your pedal action.

#8:

Mimicking the pedal by holding down lower pitched notes without sounding them.

Sometimes a student will play a note and then release it, but is surprised that they still hear the note sounding.  I point out to the them that their left hand was inadvertently resting on some of the keys, either partially or completely depressing them, though without sounding any of them.

Holding a key down silently allows the string(s) for that pitch to vibrate.  It is exactly that same thing that the right pedal does.  In the latter case every damper is lifted off of every string, in the former a lesser but variable number of dampers are lifted from the strings.

Sometimes I will sit the piano to the student’s left and gradually, and silently, depress more and more adjacent notes.  The student is surprised to hear that what starts as a faint aura of lingering sound to their notes, gradually exactly gets closer to imitating the effect gotten by pushing the pedal down.

Another, more approximate way of reproducing the same effect,  similar to the “crescendo” pedal on the organ which at discreet moments allows more and then more pipes to be filled with air,  is to start pushing down the pedal, but just millimeters at a time.  In a well regulated piano all the dampers will begin lifting off the strings at exactly the same moment as the pedal, is depressed.  However, usually our piano has not been just regulated and pushing the pedal down slightly allows some of the strings to vibrate in sympathy.  The elasticity in some of the felt dampers may cling or linger on their strings.  Over the first few millimeters gradations of echo and resonance will be achieved until, at some point, probably nearer the ‘top’ of the pedal than the middle, all the strings will suddenly be able to vibrate in sympathy.

#9:

Exciting overtones.

Example: hold down, silently, the following notes: c3 g3 c4 e4 (c4 means middle C).  These strings are tuned approximately to the first through the fourth overtones of the note c2 (second C below middle C).  If, while holding these notes down, one plays c2 very loudly, suddenly and briefly, the other four notes will be heard sounding, especially after the low C goes away.   They will have been conjured into being as if by magic.

Request:

I am always looking for more odd ways to use the pedal.  If you know of one please share it on the site.

P.S.

A cousin to these techniques is used in Henry Cowell’s piece “the Aeolian harp”:

The pianist reaches into the piano and strums the strings back and forth in the middle range of the piano.  Most of the strings will barely sound, but certain strings will continue to vibrate after the hand passes them by – if the pianist, usually unseen by the audience, silently depresses first one group of keys then another.   These notes will resonate as a chord or cluster.

In the “Aeolian Harp” Cowell combines the above described technique with that of holding the pedal down while plucking, one by one, specific strings that belong to a common chord.

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