Legato (meaning “tied up” or “tied together” in Italian) is a character of playing notes in a way that the notes will sound smoothly connected with each other. When a legato occurs, a note or several notes will have to retain its sound until a new note is produced so that there is no silence in between the notes. It is what makes melody sound seamless. A succession of notes should be played in legato when it is labeled with a slur, a curved line on top or below the notes, like an arc.
Learning how to play legato is a vital skill when it comes to piano playing because unlike singing, the piano cannot simply create legato notes with one action. As a piano player, It is important to learn how the keys of the piano function, so that the piano player will understand and know how to effectively execute notes with legato marking. Playing legato on the piano does not only help in phrasing a group of notes but also provides an effect where the melody is like being sung.
Legato playing is achievable for all levels to learn and is easy to acquire, you just have to understand the mechanism of how sound is produced on the piano and learn the skill to effectively play note per note in creating a beautiful legato sound.
C-5 Finger Scale
The 5 finger scale is the most basic and the most accessible exercise for all adult piano beginners because it is pretty straight forward, no hand shifting(changing of hand position over the keys) and no thumb-under motions yet. The 5 finger scale is a good exercise to help in improving legato playing because of its simplicity, you will have the advantage to concentrate in working on how you press each key of the piano, it enables you to focus on practising in producing legato sound.
When practising legato playing with the C-5 finger scale, you would want to start by playing very slowly and carefully observing how the sounds resonate when played one after the other. In this way, it will enable you to grasp legato playing even in simple passages.
Scales in Contrary Motion
Learning scales and arpeggios are good exercises to develop strong and independent fingers which will help to manage in controlling how to press each key of the piano. Playing legato on the piano means that you will need to press each key carefully and not to release too early so that it does not cut the sound of the note that is currently sounding.
Playing scales in contrary motion is one of the best ways to learn scales especially for beginners. The contrary motion helps you become familiar with the finger pattern because you will be using the exact finger for both hands which makes it easier to learn this way compared to learning scales in parallel motion.
Scales in Parallel Motion
Parallel motion in scales is a perfect exercise to improve legato playing with thumb-under motion. Playing scales in parallel motion will also aid in hand coordination as both of your hands will not be using the same fingers at the same time all the time. Learning how to play the thumb-under motion skillfully is useful especially when playing melodic lines in many of the classical pieces for the piano. Because in classical music, groups of consecutive 16th notes and 32nd notes are common which makes thumb-under a prominent skill in piano playing. It will surely help in playing legato on passages that have thumb-under motions.
Arpeggios or Broken Chords
Arpeggios or broken chords are notes of a chord played in a consecutive manner, either ascending or descending order. Arpeggio exercises is a good exercise when it comes to playing distant notes, it gives you the advantage to learn how to play notes that are a bit far from each other which requires your fingers to stretch a little. Piano pieces are not always composed with notes that are next to each other on the piano keys. It varies especially when playing more advanced pieces. But when playing notes that are distant from each other, you should be cautious and keep in mind that you should not stretch too much to avoid any kind of injury. It is best to seek advice from a professional piano instructor for better piano technique.
60 Exercises by Hanon
This work by Charles-Louis Hanon is one of the most useful exercises that were ever made for the piano. It is extremely essential in improving finger technique on the piano. It is also a useful material when it comes to improving finger strength and dexterity. The exercises in this work were created with a lot of variety that aids in improving almost the overall technique of a pianist.
Exercises from this work is a good tool when it comes to legato playing as it provides different patterns that are present in plenty of works or pieces for the piano. The set of exercises also has the exercises for scales in all keys including major and minor scales which is extremely helpful in getting familiar with all the key signatures.
Legato is what makes melodic lines beautiful as it represents how melodies are executed and phrased. By learning how to play legato, it allows the musician to effectively express melodies according to the interpretations made by a composer. Legato is present in all music pieces and learning how to play them skillfully will make your performance more engaging for the audience.
Improving legato playing can be done in different pieces and exercises. It can be practised even on a simple tune or melody. You just need to understand how legato playing works. When you are studying how to play the piano, don’t be afraid to explore different ways to make your piano playing better as there are countless ways to become a proficient piano player. Every individual does not learn the same way. So, go ahead and make your piano playing more fulfilling and beautiful by trying this exercise on your next practise!