Many children are drafted into piano lessons at a young age and give it up as soon as they can fight back. For others, however, something about the play of their hands on the piano fascinates them, and their childhood lessons spawn a lifelong hobby, or more. What follows is a selection of the reasons we sit down in front of the piano, day after day. The antithesis of Für Elise, these are some of the things that make the piano continually interesting and fun to play:
  • Glissando is an easy one. Everyone's seen the way pianists slide their thumb rapidly over a series of notes. It's the first thing you see many people try to do when they first encounter a piano. And why? Because it's fun. Most people think of glissando as a fairly modern invention, but it was used all the way back in the Romantic era (1800's), most famously by pianists such as Liszt. Prokofiev's prelude for piano also contains a nice example of glissando at work.

  • Fortissimo is a direction to play extremely loud. Written 'ff', with subsequent f's denoting a further increase in volume. Wasn't it Beethoven who once marked a passage 'ffffff', showing that even the most professional musicians can't resist the temptation to make stuff really, really loud once in a while. Hammering as hard as you can at the piano is fun as long as you don't break it, and it's even more impressive if you hit the right notes once in a while.

  • Trills are the ones where the pianist uses two fingers to rapidly alternate between two notes, either one or two keys apart. Usually the aim is to play these as quickly as possible, while keeping the notes even in volume and duration. Rarely, the character of the piece will indicate a slower trill.

  • Tremolo is another one of those things that looks fun and is fun. Defined as 'the rapid alternation of the notes of a chord', it's the thing where the pianist rotates the arm very quickly - a bit like the trill above, except further apart and sometimes pressing down more than one note at a time. Sometimes (as in Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique) the tremolo must be played at an exact speed, and this can be difficult. But more often, you just play as fast as you like. Unlike trills, tremolos usually involve the thumb.

  • Mordents is like a mini-trill, involving just one alternation between one note and another, either a key above or below the first note. These aren't always played as fast as possible - instead, the character and era of the piece decide this. Bach's mordents, for example, must sometimes be played quite slowly.

  • Runs are the name given to a series of notes running up and down a scale (although the scale need not be a usual one). Much of the effort in perfecting piano pieces is given to these runs; they are difficult to execute precisely at speed, and therefore it's satisfying when you do get it right. Runs also sometimes involve hands and arms crossing each other and wildly flailing around, which is always fun.

  • Parallel thirds are notes played a third apart (a few keys on the piano); usually the name is used when a run or trill is played in thirds (ie. the notes are doubled on the piano). Chopin's Etude in G# minor is probably the most widely-known piece that takes parallel thirds to a new level, using them in trills and runs throughout the entire piece. It even has a run consisting of a tremolo scale in parallel thirds - which you would think pretty much summarises everything that is fun about piano, and it does - but it's a bitch to play.

  • The extreme upper and lower registers of the piano - sounds strange, but a well-placed note or two near the top or bottom of the keyboard not only sounds good, but is strangely satisfying to play too. Not to be confused with transposing an entire piece up or down 2 octaves (again, often done by newbies), which is simply irritating and makes a piece impossible to hear.

  • Staccato is the sort-of 'stabbing' motion performed with the wrist which makes the notes very short. When placed next to legato passages, the contrast between the two can be challenging to make, and is therefore satisfying when done correctly.

  • Black keys in abundance, contrary to many people's beliefs, are a good thing. While composing a piece in a distant key can make it more difficult to learn for many, it also can make it easier and more satisfying to play. When the hands play equally on the black and white keys, they can form a relaxed shape, as opposed to the slightly more strained position required for all-white or all-black keys (such as Chopin's Black Key etude).

  • Phrasing is similar to the breathing in a wind instrument, or the bowing of a string instrument. It separates logically related phrases of a melody or accompaniment. Because it's often one of the most difficult elements of a piece to perfect, the satisfaction of getting it right can be amazing. Not to mention the vast chasm of difference in sound apparent between a well-phrased and poorly-phrased performance.

While everyone obviously has their own things they like about the piano, the above is a collection of the ones that are easily visible or apparent to the casual observer. And although any of these can be made into a dreary exercise given the right (or wrong) teacher, they can also be a lot of fun, as long as you take the right approach to them. At the end of the day, most of them are only ornaments, and although they shouldn't be essential to the piece, they can still add that something that keeps you playing again and again.

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