Speed, Weight and Compression

Speed, Weight and Compression


Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft

can you be extremely hard and strong.

~ Zen Proverb



Every touch is balanced between three forms of energy – Speed, Weight and Compression.  Usually, however, one of the three predominates, often to the extent of seemingly negating the other two.  It’s important to learn to separate them as much as possible and master all three.


Speed is simply a way of defining weightless, free-flowing energy.  It’s the Chi, the life-force.  Argerich embodies it.  The energy of each attack passes out of the arm and finger, leaving them relaxed and refreshed.  It can have the power of a violent storm or the tenderness of a whispered secret, but all energy remains flowing.

The technique of Deflection, even when combined with Weight, is linked more closely to Speed because it’s thrown and not absorbed back into the arm. 


The arm is relatively heavy.  The higher you drop it from, the heavier it falls.  The forearm has its own weight, as does the hand and each individual finger.  Be sensitive to each unit of weight and learn how to use it.  I find Weight-based playing to be the most relaxing and often the most emotionally satisfying.  Arrau is its Master.

In order to play with weight, you have to drop it or release it into the keys through the finger-tip.  If the finger-tip is too relaxed and doesn’t direct the weight into the keys, the weight becomes useless, ineffective.  You can drop from the finger, from the hand (or wrist), from the forearm, or from the upper arm. 

There are two basic approaches to weighted playing:  Drop-and-Bow and Drop-and-Lift.  Drop-and-Bow means dropping the weight in and then leaving it there as you play on, the weight transferring to each new note or chord, legato.  This gives the sensation and effect of bowing a string.  Drop-and-Lift means dropping weight in and then lifting it back out before you attack the next note or chord.  This allows the following attack to have that extra punch and definition that the drop gives.


Compression is an expressive energy which involves creating resistance to the sound in your arms, hands and/or fingers before you play it.  Imagine how a mime moves through artificially dense air. 

On the surface, Compression seems like a waste of energy.  If you establish the equivalent energy of one pound of resistance in your arm and play with a two-pound attack, the resulting absolute poundage will only be only one.  But that one pound will be more expressive and have a greater carrying power than a free-flowing,  Speed-based attack of equivalent energy { translate 1-pound of weight into 1-pound of energy to compare} or of a Compressionless Weight-based 1-pound attack.  Compression changes the quality of the sound and the intensity of the expression.  Essentially, Compression translates as espressivo.

Balancing and Combining the Three

A so-called Speed attack is generally about 80% Speed, 10% Weight and 10% Compression.  Any combination of the three is possible.  Try to be conscious when practicing of the basic ratio between them.

A colorful, orchestral pianism treats the three as orchestral color units.  Different styles and composers generally require an emphasis on one of the three, but all music employs all three approaches tastefully balanced. 

Let’s experiment with our Prelude, starting with Speed.  Play the whole first page using only weightless, compressionless energy-based attacks.  After gaining conscious command of that approach, try Weight, then Compression. 

Next see you can play the Red line and accompanying two colors with highly compressed attacks, and the remaining 6 Colors (Royal Blue and Company) with a weightless Speed attack.  Then reverse them. 

Now try the Red line as Weight, and the Royal blue as Compression.  Next the Red as Compressed Weight (50-50) and the Royal Blue as floating Speed.

Every note on the page can have its own unique ratio between Speed, Compression and Weight, so the possibilities are endless.