Amaze Your Friends and Confound Your Enemies with two neat tricks, or rather, one trick with two uses: playing a note forte-piano, and playing a note both staccato and tied. (And you thought these were impossible, eh?)

You can drive a car, brake, then lift your foot with the car only partly stopped; and the car's residual energy will carry it forward.

Similarly, you can play a piano note, damp it, then lift the damper with the sound only partly gone; and the strings' residual energy will continue the note.

Demo 1: Pick a note near the bottom of the keyboard. Play it staccato with the index finger of your left hand. Immediately use the index finger of your right hand, not to play it, but to depress the key just enough to raise the damper. Hold it in that position, and you hear the sound continuing at reduced loudness.

Demo 2: Do the same thing higher on the keyboard, and you discover that it's trickier; and if you go high enough, it's impossible. Why is this? Because higher notes damp more quickly; so the sound dies completely, or almost, during that short moment of damping. How high we can go on the keyboard and still succeed with the trick depends on the piano and on us.

Demo 3: Back near the bottom of the keyboard, do the same thing again using two fingers of the left hand—5 and 3, say—with no right-hand involvement. (A quick arm motion away from the keyboard—elbow moving straight back—helps with playing the third finger.) Use this where the score calls either for fp or for a staccato note to be tied.


With this technique, I can reliably do fp where Beethoven calls for it in the Bagatelle, Op. 126/2; it's on the F an octave and a fifth below middle C. On the C below middle C, Leonid Hambro could reliably do the staccato-tie specified by Prokofiev in the first movement of the Sixth Sonata, Op. 82 (m. 97). Both techniques are the same.

Leonid played that Prokofiev on WQXR, in New York City, in the years when he was on the air live every week. A few days later, he found himself in an Midtown elevator with Vladimir Horowitz. Leonid introduced himself, and expressed his admiration for Horowitz's playing. Horowitz replied, "Leonid Hambro? I hear you on the radio. You played Prokofiev Six last week."

"Why yes, Maestro, I did."

"Tell me: In the first movement, how do you play this C staccato and tied?"

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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