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I have been playing piano for 2.5 years now, and recently I started playing an arrangement for piano of "The Sugar Plum Fairy" from The Nutcracker.

Below is an excerpt from this arrangement. There are a few bars with tetrads in them.

When I try to play them I feel like I need to apply more force in order to play them as opposed to when I try to play only three notes at a time (I leave the 3rd note out).

Am I doing something wrong, or is it really physically harder (pressure-wise) to play 4 noted at once?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It is 33% harder to strike four keys than three.

If you have an acoustic piano, it's worth opening up the covers to look at the mechanism. You can see that the hammer mechanism for each key is completely independent of other keys.

The same goes for electronic keyboards, but often the mechanism is less accessible so you can see what's going on.

However you'll also get 33% more vibration, because of your extra string, which will be perceptible as loudness. The relationship between force and loudness is non-linear. The harder you strike the keys, the louder it gets, but the graph is not a straight line.

So use your ears, and get the loudness that sounds right in the context of the piece.

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You want to produce roughly the same acceleration to more mass (more keys + hammer mechanisms + strings). So, yes, more force is required. C.f. Newton's Second Law of Motion.

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This question is more appropriately answerable by a private teacher or pianist friend who can watch / listen how you play and make qualified statements.

That said, it may be possible that because you are using a fourth finger (a weaker finger perhaps,) then you are trying to compensate by playing the chords more aggressively. It could also be a psychological trigger in which you see large chords so you play aggressively. Wind players often suffer from something similar - what we call "black note fever."

I would strongly suggest talking to a real person about this, but in the meantime you may think about playing through the chords as softly as you can, working on having all of the notes sound as evenly as possible.

Much like playing percussion (which the piano is much closer to,) volume is determined by the velocity of the strike, NOT the ferocity of the fingers. Playing loud isn't a function of slamming the keys, but rather increasing the hammer velocity with your fingers. Thinking about it this way can help reduce tension.

Lastly, I must suggest that the term "tetrachord" is more commonly used than "tetrad."

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