When I was reading a lot of resources searching for the “holy grail” of the ultimate piano technique advancement, there was this recurring theme I found common in various books, and it went like this:
Legato on the piano is an illusion.
At first I was not sure what exactly it meant. Wasn’t it that when you played the notes consecutively you would get a legato line?
I guess it was not like that at all.
Sure, the notes would be somewhat linked together, but there are actually different levels of legato, and in order to produce an ultimate level of legato and expressiveness, you have to do something called, the FINGER PEDAL.
Now, we know what pedals are all about (more or less, as pedalling is an entirely different topic necessary for specific discussion in details), and a lot of the times many players try to use so much of the sustaining pedal (so-called the right pedal) to do a legato line and basically just drown everything in, without paying enough attention to differentiate the various melodic lines/voices and chords/harmony.
Finger pedaling is the delicate way to express legato in an advanced level. With finger pedaling, you can decide to show more connection at specific notes or spots of contour without drowning the whole harmony by pedaling with foot.
So how can you do it? The concept is simply OVERLAPPING.
By holding onto one note then playing the next note, therefore overlapping some length of the two notes, you create a true sense of legato playing.
And depending on how much you hold the first note and overlap it with the second note, and then the notes following them, you can create the different levels of legato playing in one single melodic line. Simply put, the various degrees of legato subtlety can be expressed by the different amount of the overlapping among notes, all by finger pedaling.
This technique is quite magical once you have discovered it and fully utilised it, because from the day you realise it and start to apply it more often to the point you can use it at the tip of your fingers (literally and metaphorically), you do not have to rely entirely on the sustaining pedal anymore. And that, my friend, is not only a liberate feeling, but what we call the ADVANCED TECHNIQUE.
This technique is especially useful in music of earlier period. For example in baroque period, we apply little pedaling in this music of the polyphonic texture, but there are times we need to express smooth lines, and these are the perfect occasions to use finger pedaling. Also in classical sonatas, there are many occasions of sweet and expressive melodic moments in the second movements. With the skillful combination of finger pedal and a little sustaining pedal, an elegant and cantabile phrasing can be beautifully achieved.
Certainly we use it all the time in Romantic music, to create a beautifully legato and singing line in Chopin’s nocturnes for instance. More elaboration in the next post..