How to get the sounds you want from the piano
Playing the piano is as basic as using your fingers to produce sounds on a piano keyboard! BUT – knowing how to get the right sounds at the right time… that’s where the beauty begins.
There are four basic different types of sounds we can make the piano produce. Another way to say that would be that we can vary the sounds of the piano in four different ways.
1. Pitch – This refers to the high and low sounds of music. On a piano, the high sounds are to the right, and the low sounds are to the left. Each key on the piano has a different pitch. When introducing this concept to young children, we play a few keys on the far right of the piano, and make them sound like birds up in a tree. Then we play a few keys to the far left, and make them sound like elephants or dinosaurs stomping around. The “high” and “low” come from the number of vibrations in the sound wave, but we don’t need to get that technical. The medium sounds can be found in the middle of the keyboard.
An interesting side note here is that the high notes on the piano will also be found near the top of our written music. Conversely, the lower the note on the piano, the lower the written note will be as well.
2. Volume – How loud or how soft the notes sound depends on the force used when pressing down the piano key. A gentle, soft touch will produce a quiet (soft) sound. In music we refer to quiet sounds as “soft” sounds. Playing a key quickly and forcefully will produce a loud sound. A medium amount of force will produce…. yes, a medium volume.
3. Length – The length of the sound we hear is determined by how long we hold the key down. A short sound is what happens when we just touch a key down and immediately let it go. The long sound is what we get when we continue to hold a key down. And, of course, there are medium length sounds as well.
4. Smoothness or choppiness – This is the difference between holding a key down until it’s time to play the next key and playing a series of keys where you put a small “break” between them. This is different from length because you can play short notes smoothly and you can play long notes smoothly… and the same with choppy.
One way to play around with this is to make a musical animal story on the piano. Choose at least two animals and decide what sounds might resemble their appearance or the way they move. You can use animals from the sea, the air, the land, under the ground, or… from your imagination! Use long sounds and short sounds, high sounds and low sounds, loud sounds and soft sounds, smooth notes, and choppy notes and tell us what they are doing with the music you create!