The Intentions of Piano Touch

For pianists, touch is a corporeal tool that can be used not only to physically produce notes on the piano, but to mediate their expressive intentions for the performed music. This paper directs attention towards the cognitive decisions that result in these performed gestures, generating different types of touch for the pianist. An open-ended questionnaire concerning piano touch technique was sent to piano tutors from European conservatoires. Written or verbal responses were required, for the latter the questions formed a semi-structured interview. Results conclude that “touch” originates in the pianist’s musical intention, an intuitive response to the timbre of sound or specific mood they are trying to project, often manifested through the use of imagery or metaphor. Connecting intention to physical gesture,along with parameters such as weight and point of contact on the finger, the main concern for pianists is control of tension within the limbs, this helping to create different types of sound. A case study was examined where a professional pianist performs two pieces of different styles with two different sound intentions. Shoulder, arm and hand motion is recorded via video-camera with a side-view of the pianist. Results show that touch is heavily based on musical context with movement and tension within the shoulder-arm-wrist system changing based on musical intention. With the basis of touch rooted in conscious musical expression, this study provides a starting point for which to explore the connection between the conscious choice of the performer and the resulting physical gesture.