Shape phrases with playdough

playdough phrase shaping post Didsbury Piano

A quick technique activity to develop phrase shaping.

Musicians often talk about ‘shaping the phrases’.  OK, there are countless ways to shape a phrase, but your classic phrase shape is the arch-shaped phrase.

Here the first note is lighter, then the tone deepens as we reach the middle of the phrase, then ends more softly.  AKA  ‘sneaking in and out.’

Elementary pianists can learn to do this and make a great sound.

What we don’t want here, is a hard ‘attack’ especially if the phrases begins on that pesky super-strong thumb.   Playdough to the rescue!

shaping phrases with playdough at Didsbury Piano

To help them really see how much pressure they are using, I put balls of playdough on a keyboard mat, and have them ‘play’ a 5 finger scale ascending.  The aim is to squash the playdough more and more by the time they reach finger 5, but not squash it so much on the thumb key (the first ball on the left).

playdough on keyboard for teaching phrase shaping at Didsbury PIano

I also have done this on an actual piano.  Now they feel it, see it, AND hear the difference in the sound.  But you do need to be so careful that the playdough isn’t going to get between the keys, if they enthusiastically squash it- so it’s probably not worth the risk!

After looking at their little hollows which are hopefully gradually deeper and deeper like the ones above (if not, we do it again) we go back to playing the phrase, imagining the playdough is still there. 

Time and time again I’ve seen pupils then adjust their tone to create some beautifully shaped phrases.  And had fun in the process! 

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