Teaching Forte vs Piano

As with staccato versus legato, first your student must know how to produce these two articulations. Beginners usually must be coached in legato playing.

The next idea to cover is why forte vs piano is a necessary skill. The reason: so the player can bring out the melody. Play some simple tune like "Mary Had a Little Had" or "Jingle Bells" and use a very note-y LH (such as Alberti bass, boom/chick/boom/chick) and play both hands evenly. Guide the student in identifying where the melody (probably) is and in assessing that it's hard to hear! How could this situation be improved? And which hand do you think should play more loudly? Why?

I have used two approaches to this skill. The first one works better than the second, in my opinion, but there have been occasions when the first approach did not work for a particular student, but the second one did. So, keep the second idea in your back pocket.

Just so I can keep track of things, I start with the LH (just as I do when playing staccato vs legato). This discussion is predicated on doing LH forte first. There's another reason to start with LH; most people have more trouble controlling that hand, even lefties.

There are 4 steps:

With wee ones (say, ages 4 through first grade), it may be necessary to spend more than one week on steps 2 and 3. If so, don't despair. And don't give any indication that the student's progress isn't exactly the norm. Praise improvement each week and wait for the lightbulb to come on. Most elementary children can do one step per week; some can do two. Adults often can do all but will want to take a week at "RH press" before going on to "RH piano."

It also may take several weeks for the correct amount of piano to be produced (step 4) and for all fingers of the RH to produce equal amounts of piano. Again, patience is the watchword.

Sometimes students want to do two steps in the same week, with the earlier step as a review. I am always careful to say, "Go to on [whatever] -only- if you feel you are ready to do it. -You- are the one to decide." As with staccato vs legato, the student does the rhythms, and then reverses hands.

The second method is three steps:

As you can imagine, this is a more difficult approach, but it does work because I taught many students for many years by this method until I devised the other one.

Also, as with staccato vs legato, do one hand at a time.

There is another technical challenge having to do with forte vs piano, called voicing. This is when one must play or more fingers -in one hand- forte while the others play piano. I consider this an complex technical study, not to be undertaking until the middle- to late-intermediate stage. Its basis, though, is one hand forte and the other one piano.

copyright 1998, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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