Piano Q&A: How do I play with different volumes in the same hand?

In today’s Q&A segment of PianoTV, we’ll be addressing this problem:

How do I play with different volumes in the same hand?

Today’s Q&A topic is one that is so important, especially when you start getting into more intermediate and advanced pieces. You’ll see it over and over again in pieces, so it’s a really important piano skill to master.

As always, please leave a comment with any questions you might have, and maybe we’ll take a look at it in the next video.

Question:

 

Answer

I actually learned this Liebestraum on the piano a while back, so I can use this very difficult piece as an example.

In the beginning segment, the arpeggiated harmony part is divided between the left hand and right hand. Meanwhile, the right hand has to play these long sustained notes. And these long sustained notes, being the melody, need to ring out loudly and clearly over the other notes being played.

What you’ll notice in situations like this is that it’s almost always one or two fingers used over and over again playing the “louder” part (usually the melody). In this case, it’s the inner fingers.

Simple exercise for different volumes/same hand

Knowing that, we can design a simple exercise. I’m going to play some two-note intervals in my right hand, and go really slowly while focusing on keeping the pinkie (or finger 4) louder.

When I first learned how to do this, I thought about literally creating more weight in that finger. I would lean into it a little more (without actually moving my whole body).

Once you can do this with a slow interval exercise, move on to full chords, again keeping the weight on the outer fingers. These don’t have to be any chords in particular. I like to keep things simple.

Studying this technique with easier pieces

From there, I might use another (easier!) piece as an etude/study for this technique. I can think of two examples off the top of my head, though there are likely many more.

The first example is Arietta from Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. I find it to be fairly similar to the third Liebestraum, except at a much more approachable level (it’s solidly intermediate).

I start by learning the tune of the melody on its own, so I know what to listen to and focus on.

Then I figure out the inner notes and just work on the right hand until I’m comfortable weighting the outer fingers.

Once I’ve got that down, I move on to adding in the left hand. This whole process is very slow and deliberate – if my ears start to lose the melody, or I can no longer focus on the volume of the melody, then I scale back and make it easier, maybe returning to hands separate. You want this weight to be a priority right from the first stages.

Another good intermediate piece that you can work on to develop your skills is the first movement of Moonlight sonata. Again, you have long sustained notes held over top of a moving triplet pattern. Those top notes need to really ring out loudly and clearly, without affecting the volume of the inner harmony notes.

A summary

As for actually accomplishing this, I find my students are successful when they follow this process I’ve outlined to you:

  • Learn how to create louder melody notes by doing simple interval and chord exercises (generally by “leaning” into the notes at first, but you’ll start to develop more coordination over time with simple exercises like this)
  • Learn some easier pieces that have notes weighted like this, and use them as etudes
  • Attempt your difficult piece again (Liebestraum)

There’s nothing magical about this process, but I can say that it seems to work for my students. The process itself is quite simple, but the coordination development can take a while (it depends on the person, though).

And like I mentioned before, it’s a skill you’ll use over and over in piano, so it’s well worth going back to basics for a bit to master it.

xo,

Allysia

 

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.