What is the pianistic tone?
When I arrived in England, I started hearing about this term: "tone". The word was used to talk about different things, all grouped and named the same. The concept of "tone" covered elements like the duration of each type of articulation, the quality of the attacks, the release of the keys and the relation of intensity between one note and its surrounding ones. I was really interested in this concept as it really brought my attention to the phenomenon that each note represents as a single musical event that is a part of a more complex performance challenge. The aesthetical power we have to influence the quality of a piece by operating on each one of its notes goes beyond the notes themselves. The way we approach each note-attack will affect the speed of our performance, its character and most importantly, our way of understanding the whole structure that supports our musical performance.
Finding the right tone - Achieving the proper control
When I start studying a piece, the first challenge I face is to define the right "tone" for the type of work it is. The "tone" will set up the character of my performance and will influence the tempi. The tone is defined by both the instrument characteristics, the piece and the performer preferences.
Putting the necessary effort in establishing our tone quality at the beginning of our studies will save us from overusing the pedal and will also aid us in defining the phrasing and articulations.
When we work on the "tone", we automatically become more prone to keeping each note sounding for longer; mainly because we are more sensitive to the sound phenomenon as a whole. This kind of work opens our senses, so we pay more attention to the quality of our attacks and how we relate them in time intensity-wise. This work also brings us closer to the challenges faced by the string performers and singers. Each note becomes the main focus of attention.
How it influences the quality of articulations
When playing a classical piece, it is easy to produce staccati which are excessively short, too bright or just inappropriately "sharp". In general, when I work with piano students, I see their tone lacks "body". It is easy when we are studying to forget about the quality of sound and focus too much on the lines. Mainly because of the depth of detail that opens up to us when we start deviating our attention to the notes and singular events. The latter might become too overwhelming for the students, and therefore, they just avoid that course of action.
The first thing I ask my students when we agreed on undertaking this kind of work is to forget about using the pedal. The pedal stands exactly in between us and achieving the clarity of perception needed to accomplish a right "tone" quality. Staccato and legato get directly influenced by the characteristics of our general "tone" as it directly modifies the length of each note. These change in the character of our articulations will also influence the way we deliver our weight to the keyboard.
Whenever we produce an attack, we should try and focus on feeling the end of the "key trip". I define key-trip as the distance the piano key travels between being on standby and in action. The weight should be entirely delivered in each attack; the latter being the basis of any relaxed performance.
The tones and the singing - The exploration of the “tone” itself never ends
When we explore the "tone", we should always refer to how we would sing the melodic line in question. In many ways, this work resembles the everyday work of a singer. We should analyse and feel each detail of the sound. How it starts, how it sustains, how we release the key, and how the sound faints then after. It is a beautiful work, and the results change the way we approach music as a whole.