Momentum Is Your Friend

My partner often says this to me when we are out on our mountain bikes. Momentum will enable you to cruise over uneven ground, tree roots, and other gnarly features on single-track paths. But reach for the brakes and, at worst, you might tip over the handlebars; at best, you’ll lose speed, stop even, and then find it hard to get going again over rougher ground.


© Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

The same applies to playing music, where momentum does not necessarily mean speed or tempo, but rather forward motion. The ability to maintain momentum is as important in slow music as it is in a piece marked prestissimo!

Momentum in piano playing often refers to the continuous flow and energy that a performer sustains throughout a piece of music, but you should be bringing momentum into your playing from the get-go, not just in performance.

When you’re first sight-reading a new piece, the temptation to stop, make corrections, or look in detail at certain sections is very tempting, but in that first read through try to maintain a sense of forward motion. This will provide a good sense of the overall structure and shape of the piece.

For students practicing sight-reading for tests in exams, encouraging them to play without stopping can be quite a task, when there is a strong tendency to stop and correct mistakes. But examiners aren’t expecting a note-perfect performance in a sight-reading test, but rather a competent “overview” of the music, with a clear sense of flow and forward motion (momentum!).

a pianist's hand

© Dolo Iglesias/Unsplash

Later, when a piece is more familiar, it’s important to finesse details within the music but to regularly play through the entire piece, without stopping and regardless of errors, to remind oneself of its overall structure and to appreciate the ebb and flow of the music. This is a crucial part of preparation for performance where maintaining a sense of flow, understanding phrasing, dynamic changes and fluctuations in tempo will bring the music alive for listener and performer alike. Here again, momentum is your friend.

Isaac Albéniz: Suite española No. 1, Op. 47 – V. Asturias (Leyenda) (Alicia de Larrocha, piano)

Piano music often demands intricate and rapid finger movements. Momentum helps in the fluid execution of these technical passages. Without it, a pianist may struggle with inconsistencies in tempo, uneven rhythms, and unintended breaks in the music. Maintaining momentum helps overcome these technical challenges.

Claude Debussy: Images – Book 1 – No. 3 Mouvement (Péter Frankl, piano)

In performance, momentum brings a clear sense of forward motion, flow, and fluidity to the music. Momentum enables the pianist to seamlessly connect phrases and convey expression. A clear sense of momentum ensures that the emotions and intentions of the music are not lost, creating a compelling performance for the audience.

It goes without saying that the ability to captivate and engage the audience is a fundamental goal of any musical performance. Consistent momentum holds the listener’s attention and creates a sense of anticipation. It allows the audience to become immersed in the music, enhancing their overall experience and emotional connection with the performance.

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