How to Perform Musical Expression Like a Professional Pianist

by Rico
(Puerto Rico)

I know that (usually) the expressive part of classical piano playing is left up to the player with maybe some light guidance from their teacher at some point.

Still I've noticed professional players tend to do certain things that, while subtle, appear to me to have been learned.

Am I correct to think there is some sort of formal training that is usually reserved for people who reach advanced levels?

Are there any educational materials in regards to expression for amateurs interested in more than just simply go at it by feel?

Thank you for your time.

Maria's Answer:

Hello! Interesting question.

A trained and experienced classical piano teacher should work with the student from the very first lesson to develop expression. Even with young little ones.

  • First, to develop an awareness of sound, how to play loud and soft, how to play with a singing tone and how to «breathe» between phrases, for example.
  • Then to tell little stories with your playing, and to really, really listen to what you play.

So, you are right when you say that professional players tend to do things that seem learned, because it is!

Part of any piano technique is to learn to control what you want to say with your music.
  • You learn how to control weight to make a dynamic crescendo and diminuendo, you learn how to aim your focus and attention to that part of the phrase you want to be the most important, or the peak.
  • You learn to analyze a composition to figure out how it is built and so, but more importantly; What to express and how to express it.

The foundation for a professional performance is the study and knowledge about the composition- in the tiniest detail- but then, when performing, you have to let your own «magic» happen as well.

You have to let your own imagination guide you, using the tools you've acquired.

When you reach advanced levels, your teacher will focus almost entirely on how to develop your awareness of expression and interpretation.

S/he will no longer teach you note reading or basic technique, and will assume you are in control of your instrument. So the foundation has to be laid very early.

I would recommend you to watch inspiring master classes with fine pianists, to learn how advanced pianists work with expression.

I would also recommend you to find a very good, and highly recommended piano teacher who teaches at the level you are at, and even take just a few lessons. Declare from the start that you want to learn to play with expression, and help to develop the tools to do so.

Here are some more tips:

Check out this masterclass on Youtube: Barenboim Masterclass

And this lesson with a beginner with a skilled piano teacher: Beginner Lesson

Finally, here are two books I love about how to develop expression (and more):

Hopefully this was helpful. Good luck!

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