C is for…..

As we continue through the pianist’s alphabet, next we land on C – which is actually a starting point for most beginner pianists.

C is for our first piano lesson: Middle C! The arbitrator of the two basic hand positions, the place we always return to, the sun our earthly hands rotate around.

C is also for cadence, those satisfying progressions that lead us to a harmonious end, and are so richly voiced on the piano’s many keys.

C is for Cat’s Fugue, Scarlatti’s Sonata for harpsichord that is often played on the piano. Which reminds me: C also stands for cats, who are so often part of a pianist’s practice time as they curl around us on the bench, paw the keys, and otherwise distract and complement our practice time!

C represents counterpoint, which brings me to Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ (which is a word worthy in itself, as it draws our attention to all of the piano-related instruments in the keyboard family). Bach’s fugues present the essence of counterpoint as the dancing lines of the different voices intersect across the keyboard.

C is for ‘Clair de Lune’, that most limpid and watercoloured  movement of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque.  

Lastly, C is for cantabile and colour, two of the most beautiful qualities of the piano. With our hands and our souls, we can produce that singing quality and an array of tonal color at the piano. The capacity for expression is infinite.

Written by Nadia Banna, piano teacher with TakeLessons (http://takelessons.com)  


Cantabile – there is no sound more wonderful nor more musical than that of a piano singing. Cantabile, playing in a smooth, singing style which imitates the human voice, is something all pianists strive for (or should strive for), and the ability to play cantabile well takes practise and a high level of artistry. Extreme tonal control is required to achieve a smooth singing and each pianist needs to develop a keen awareness of their own sound and the ability to listen to themselves and imagine the sound before they play. The fingertips provide clarity and focus, the equivalent to a singer’s articulation, and cling to the keys like suction pads or the feet of a gecko (to use an image favoured by the pianist Lang Lang). The firm finger-end is an integral part of playing because it supports the freely suspended weight of the arm. Guiding the whole process is, of course, the ear.

Opera singer Pauline Viardot, whom Chopin taught

The special cantabile sound which Chopin requires was modeled on Bel Canto, a style of singing popular at the time when Chopin was writing. In fact, the sound of this kind of cantabile is created by illusion: imagining the sound in your head before you play and then allowing fingers, arm and ear to guide you. More on tone control and cantabile playing here

Frances Wilson