Articulation and Touch – Part 1

Articulation is used to both language and music. In spoken language, we used our tongue, jaw, mouth, throat and nasal to create the articulations and nuance for the spoken words. Although articulation is not the only tool to determine a quality of a speech, but it is one of the precondition for the listener to understand what was being heard.

If the articulation is unclear, it leaves the listener frustrated and annoyed.  The listener spent all the energy into grasping the nuance behind the words resulting in escaping the overall meaning of a conversation. Contrarily and less frequent than not, over-articulations cause listener to capture the sound of the speaker causing him not concentrating on the meaning for what was expressed.

In music, there is no dissimilarity. What makes an outstanding performance during a recital, exam or audition is the performer brings out the clarity of tone, character through articulations. The motives, themes, shape and phrases become distinguishable and bring pleasure to the listeners with all the subtle nuances.

The clarity of touch in piano playing is grounded by the articulations that create the timbre, quality and variety of tones as well as dynamic shading. The wrong choice of touch brought a wrong kind of tone which diverts the intended expression. If a piece requires amorous and affectionate touch but was conveyed in a marching style, it leaves the listener’s ear feeling unrefreshed after a while and attention will go astray.

The varieties of touches are to be discussed below:

1. Legato

In order to technically achieve this process, the touch is defined as:

‘The relation between the speed of the movement and the pressure exerted to the key’.

This can be achieved by dropping your hand with some distance above the key, first by touching the surface of the key and upon landing with minimal pressure, allows the fingers to gently but firmly pressing the key again with minimal pressure.

Further to this, to join two or more keys, allow the wrist to be flexed and prepare dropping again a distance slightly above the key. Using all joints fixated and upon landing, use the wrist as a support will create nice warm tone. Nonetheless, a rigid or harsh tone will produced if the hand landed without the support of the wrist.  Next, glide the next finger while still holding on the previous key. There will be a momentary overlapped. Not until the next key is depressed, released the key that was first struck. Repeat this process for a successive series of notes.

The hand is remained in a fix position with a relaxed forearm, weight to be transferred from one note to the next by increase or decrease the pressure to achieve dynamic tension of a melodic line.

2. Portato

This is typically being called as ‘arm weight technique’.

  • Lift and drop the lower part of the arms like in the non legato
  • Use the wrist as a guide to apply varying amount of natural weight to shape the melodic line
  • The movement of the wrist is chiefly vertical, the fingers are mainly passive. Given the right moment, they approach the right key surface and press the key down assisted by the gradual wrist motion
  • For continuity of movement, the lower part of the arm is raised by the elbow, enabling the wrist to reach its highest point and hands hanging down at its most relaxed way before the next process begin.
  • In varying the degree of speed and intensity (loudness/softness), we would increase or decrease the distance between the wrist and the key complete the desired sound.
  • Slower wrist movement and closer distance between the wrist and the key = softer sound
  • Fast wrist motion and larger distance between the wrist and the key surface = louder sound
  • In both legato and portato cases, the wrist and arm remained an active part. The onus of responsibility remains with the fingers to release the fixation of muscle located at the 1st and 2nd joints of the finger

3. Staccato

We increase the key speed by pushing the key down more or less energetically depending on how strong the tone you want to achieve. The fixation of those fingers involves all 3 joints so the fingers resemble a ‘hammer’.

Depending on the character and the speed of the staccato line, different parts of our hands are used:

  • For a lighter staccato touch, a slight stiffen of our lower arms, flexing the wrist and using the fixation of the fingers, we push it down in a rebounding movement.
  • For a stronger staccato, not only we use the wrist unit, lower arms, we need to extend the whole upper arms and elbow to support a stronger staccato with the rebounding movement. The whole unit requires a controlled stability throughout the passage. The stability is passive therefore the fixation of finger is not required. Aiming at a level of 1 cm distance above the keyboard surface, push down with the fingers with utmost speed and rebound back to its original height where you first begin.

4. Non –Legato

This touch is produced with a joint movement of the finger and the lower arm.

  • Raised the forearms from the elbow and the flex the wrist for preparation. The hands and all the fingers relaxed. The forearm is dropped onto the keyboard while the finger designated to play ‘prepares for a controlled landing’ Tightens the muscles of the two front joints of the finger which will ensure a certainly of an exact position of the finger tips on the keyboard.
  • As soon as the wrist reaches the keyboard surface, use the finger as a device to press the key down.
  • Continue the dropping movement until you reaches the point of complete relaxation which is slightly below the keyboard surface. The key is being held naturally without extra pressure of the finger, hand and arm.
  • When the rebounding movement of the wrist lifts the arm above the key, the sound is then interrupted. Repeat the same process for the subsequent note(s).

5. Legatisimo

  • This process is produced by a sustaining position of the forearm with slight finger activity.
  • Each single note is not too clearly distinguishable. It requires interlinking of successive notes by conscious process of keeping each note pressed down longer than its written note in a slower tempo.

The sustained length of the legatissimo depends on the context. In scales context, it should sound no longer than the half duration of the following note. It can be kept with a longer duration of time for broken chord.

As we gain speed, such consciousness becomes less and less impossible. It is perceived visually ‘a heavy hand’ will cover a larger context in a faster tempo. This is achieved by adding extra pressure to the hand as a whole and NOT the finger. The pressures applied on the fingers are reduced to normal to medium in order to counteract the extra pressure added by the ‘heavy hand’.

Part 2 to be continued.

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