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#2023818 - 01/30/13 04:14 AM Improving touch with a decibel meter?
willnapier Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/12/09
Posts: 10
Loc: London
Hello everyone. This is my first post outside the forum specifically about the instrument. I am the lucky owner of a Phoenix 212 (see elsewhere on this site). It is amazingly responsive and reliable. However I am not.

I was thinking about how many good teachers recommend using a metronome for basic training of reliability and regularity of passage work. I was wondering about whether there could be an equivalent for helping one to learn reliably to produce a ppp-fff range of dynamics. I then remembered my free/cheap iPhone app that is a decibel meter. It can be set to varying degrees of sensitivity. I have decided to experiment whether having this visual feedback (a traditional meter pointer on a semi-circular set of marks) can help me have better touch.

I'll let you know how I get on - but what do people think about this? I've never heard of it before yet it seems like an obvious equivalent to the metronome for dynamics training.

Best, Will
_________________________
Phoenix 212 (Acoustic body by Steingraeber)

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#2023821 - 01/30/13 04:20 AM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
Ian_G Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/07/10
Posts: 168
Loc: Germany
I think it's a nice proactive thing to do. Of course the dynamic range is finally one of color and character, but as a place to start, why not?

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#2023822 - 01/30/13 04:21 AM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5363
Loc: Europe
Problem with acoustic instruments is that it's not just the loudness issue, but the touch issue, the sensitivity issue, etc. So exactly as a metronome will help you initially and might be of aid in the initial stages of studying, later on one needs to keep in his head the tempo, and work on the rubato passages, and little nuances...

Same goes for a db reader I think... But I'd be interested in hearing about the results you get...

(Of course you could the same with a midi transmitter in your piano ;)).
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http://www.musica-ferrum.com

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#2023847 - 01/30/13 05:59 AM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5281
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
I was thinking about how many good teachers recommend using a metronome for basic training of reliability and regularity of passage work. I was wondering about whether there could be an equivalent for helping one to learn reliably to produce a ppp-fff range of dynamics.

It's called practice. I still practice scales and I've been at this for quite a long time. If you really want to hear how you progress regarding being able to play with varying degrees of dynamics, record yourself and use your own ears.

For many problems there are very simple solutions that really don't require advanced technology. If you want a piece of advice regarding metronomes, when you play in 4\4 have the clicks represent beats two and four thus making you supply one (and three).
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#2023988 - 01/30/13 11:22 AM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
willnapier Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/12/09
Posts: 10
Loc: London
Thank you Dave. Of course this process is not meant to be a replacement for patient practice of scales. The way I'm thinking about it is that since it is a fundamental skill to be able to decide that one wants to play at a particular dynamic level, and then actually produce that level within useful tolerances, there can be nothing lost in trying this method.

I find that the mind is very slippery and not entirely honest - for example I might start playing, telling myself that I'm attempting to play ppp. The third note might happen to come out p. I might then 'pretend' to myself that I was aiming for 'p' all along, but with an artistic crescendo into it from an initial ppp. I'm not saying this happens exactly consciously either.

Of course, really listening to oneself, and getting others to listen such as a teacher or skilled friend, is one way of making sure one is not deceiving oneself. I think this could be an additional one. I have so far found that the meter is picking up considerable changes in volume that I wouldn't have noticed were it not for the meter. I think this could actually educate one's 'ear' so that over time, one doesn't need the meter, rather as with a metronome or a pitch meter.

I have done something similar with driving speed - but one wouldn't be able to do this without first calibrating one's 'feeling' of speed against the actual speedometer.

Best, Will
_________________________
Phoenix 212 (Acoustic body by Steingraeber)

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#2024012 - 01/30/13 12:00 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5281
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
Will, what you suggested reminds me of an actual incident.

Back when I was in a military band one of the officer's was listening to an audition tape. Now I was good friends with the audio engineer and he passed on this story to me since it says volumes of how the military mind works. smile

This particular officer, who incidentally once auditioned for this very same band and who failed the audition as a performer only to return later as an executive officer, used the VU meter on the mixing console to see the dynamic levels of the individual auditioning for the band.

The concept of using one's ears for a musical judgment slipped right by him it would seem. (As I understand it, he's now selling tractors in Texas.)

I will often see similar posts here where someone wants a technological solution for a problem when simply using one's ears is the most straightforward solution. I love technology as much as the next person but if you want a skill set of being able to have great dynamic control it will come from practicing scales among other things ... and listening to the results.

Playing scales is pretty much a fool proof way to show flaws and inconsistency in technique. It is not an end unto itself but it is a quick and useful tool to evaluate one's playing.

I wonder if there are painters who use light meters to evaluate the subtle shades of their own work.



_________________________
website

mp3\wav files

AvantGrand N3, CP5

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#2024028 - 01/30/13 12:33 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19578
Loc: New York City
If you're having difficulty with dynamics, I think you should ask a teacher for technical advice. I assume you can hear it when the dynamic you want doesn't come out of the piano and don't need an electronic device to tell you. But if you cannot consistently produce the sound you want, you may have to learn some basic technical improvements or specific approaches to controlling the volume.

I had a problem with ghost notes(notes not sounding when one is playing very softly)for many years. When, at the suggestion of a PW poster, I tried a famous pedagogue's(Palmer?) suggestion of keeping my fingers firmer, the problem almost disappeared after a 1/2 hour of practice.


Edited by pianoloverus (01/30/13 12:38 PM)

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#2024050 - 01/30/13 01:06 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: Dave Horne]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19833
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Dave Horne
....record yourself and use your own ears....

I'm totally with Dave, with the possible exception that I'd put those things in the opposite order. grin

For things that might help, I doubt you can do better than rely on your ears. Recording yourself can maybe help extra, although of course beware of the limitations of accuracy of what the equipment puts out. Either way, it's your ears. Screw the decibel meter. smile

Will, I think there's a fallacy within what you're asking. It seems like you think dynamic range and control depend mainly on the fingers. IMO they don't. They depend much more on your ears; the fingers are the much easier part.

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#2024155 - 01/30/13 04:43 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2383
Loc: San Jose, CA
Besides what others are saying, you'll need to have a good understanding of how the differences in pitch content between passages will affect the decibel reading. Particularly if you're playing very high or very low on the keyboard, any decibel meter will read low at the extremes, unless you use a specific filtering method to reduce the attenuation.

http://www.studiosixdigital.com/iphone_hardware/db-vs-db----understanding.html

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#2024164 - 01/30/13 04:49 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
wouter79 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3603
Originally Posted By: willnapier
Hello everyone. This is my first post outside the forum specifically about the instrument. I am the lucky owner of a Phoenix 212 (see elsewhere on this site). It is amazingly responsive and reliable. However I am not.

I was thinking about how many good teachers recommend using a metronome for basic training of reliability and regularity of passage work. I was wondering about whether there could be an equivalent for helping one to learn reliably to produce a ppp-fff range of dynamics. I then remembered my free/cheap iPhone app that is a decibel meter. It can be set to varying degrees of sensitivity. I have decided to experiment whether having this visual feedback (a traditional meter pointer on a semi-circular set of marks) can help me have better touch.

I'll let you know how I get on - but what do people think about this? I've never heard of it before yet it seems like an obvious equivalent to the metronome for dynamics training.

Best, Will


I suggest to just make a recording. You can then see the volume (dB) but hear how it sounds as well.
_________________________

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#2024205 - 01/30/13 06:17 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: jeffreyjones]
MarkH Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 867
Loc: Seattle, WA
Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones
Besides what others are saying, you'll need to have a good understanding of how the differences in pitch content between passages will affect the decibel reading. Particularly if you're playing very high or very low on the keyboard, any decibel meter will read low at the extremes, unless you use a specific filtering method to reduce the attenuation.

http://www.studiosixdigital.com/iphone_hardware/db-vs-db----understanding.html


Along with what Jeffrey says here, keep in mind that if you're playing more than one note at a time, the voicing/balance between the notes can matter as much or more than the net decibel level of the notes together.

Also, about 10 years ago I actually played around a fair amount with a decibel meter while playing the piano - not for evenness sake but to be aware of what average amount of sound I was exposing myself to in the practice rooms. At least with the meter I was using, there was about a half second lag between the note sounding and the readout. Thus, the kind of practice you are suggesting would probably only be accurate if you were working on the initial attack of a single note.

Ditto to what everyone else said: work on using your ears and you'll be time ahead smile
_________________________
Currently Studying: Debussy - Pagodes; Alkan - Cello Sonata 4th movement (duet transcription by Alkan); assorted Dvorak Slavonic Dances

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#2024798 - 01/31/13 05:38 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
willnapier Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/12/09
Posts: 10
Loc: London
Thank you all for such good quality engagement. What an excellent resource is this site!

Davehorne - Loved the pictures on your website. I have been playing pieces just for pleasure for too long now, and have decided to work on the minutiae of technique, esp touch, for a while, before going back to note-learning. Mind you I'll allow myself some Bach! I don't have a huge amount of time for practice at the moment to it is pretty much a choice of this kind, for now.

Pianoloverus - Interesting about the ghost note thing. I guess that individual pianos vary in how likely one is to get a ghost note. What do you mean by keeping the fingers firmer?

MarkC - it seems we both enjoy piano as a break from therapeutic work. Thank you for your suggestion of an alternative use of the decibel meter.

Quote:
Will, I think there's a fallacy within what you're asking. It seems like you think dynamic range and control depend mainly on the fingers. IMO they don't. They depend much more on your ears; the fingers are the much easier part


I'm not exactly sure what you mean by 'the fingers'. Do you mean 'fine motor control' - with all that involves physiologically? If so, then it seems to me that there is a feedback loop between this side of things and one's 'ear', ie ability to distinguish dynamics with high resolution. Given that it is such a feedback loop, could one say that one is more important than the other?

JeffreyJones: I read the link with interest. I think that it isn't too important for my purpose, as I am just practicing with sets of five white keys in the mid range at the moment.

Wouter79 Yes I could make a recording. I haven't looked yet but I imagine there are many threads discussing what equipment one might want for this sort of thing.

I have noticed that my reliability of touch is improving according to the meter and my ears. I am developing a taste for painstakingly slow, mindful playing of single notes, very slow trills, and simple scales.

Sorry to be stubborn, but so far I still believe that additional feedback that one gets from the meter may alert me to levels of unintended dynamic variation that I may not have noticed with the ear alone. Over time of course, I would expect to be able to kick away that ladder and climb the rest of the tree with my ears, if you will forgive the mixed metaphor.









Edited by willnapier (01/31/13 05:41 PM)
_________________________
Phoenix 212 (Acoustic body by Steingraeber)

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#2024837 - 01/31/13 06:31 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19833
Loc: New York
Hey, you gave me credit for what somebody else said!

Not that I'm complaining.... ha


That was MarkH. smile

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#2024927 - 01/31/13 10:37 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4816
Loc: Seattle area, WA
As everyone seems to be saying, playing varying dynamics is about hearing and isn't just about playing loud and softer. It also involves phrasing, voicing, tone and contrast between the hands.

Just today during my lesson, my teacher played a passage and I asked my usual astounded question, "How did you DO that???" The answer was: Play the left hand PPP, play the RH PP but play and phrase the top melody notes ranging from mp to f while fluttering the pedal. The overall effect was very soft even though the melody wasn't. He also told me to build to a crescendo by, (again keeping the LH soft,) gradually building the top notes of the chords, then adding more volume in the 2nd from the top notes and finally the entire chord just before the crest of the crescendo. And then there was the position of my elbow and where the force was coming from to produce a better sound when I play fff, and there was the suggestion to pull back before entering a crescendo...and...really, there's more... oh gosh, crazy I think I better go practice.
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Deborah

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#2024932 - 01/31/13 10:56 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: gooddog]
outo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/12
Posts: 802
Loc: Finland
I am not sure how useful a decibel meter would be...?
Since the dynamics are not about actual loudness (it all depends on the piano and space, you would need to project the sound even when you play pp). At least that's how I have been taught. To check the dynamics, it's pretty revealing just to record yourself. You don't need special equipment for that, any simple device that records sound will do.

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#2025050 - 02/01/13 04:11 AM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5281
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
Even knowing what you want to accomplish doesn't ensure that it will happen. It really takes thousands of hours to refine technique to master subtle control.

One thing about the piano, just about anyone can make it sound decent. Imagine those who decide to pick up the trumpet or violin. It takes much longer for those individuals to produce a decent sound let alone play with any subtle control. We already have a pretty good head start playing a keyboard instrument.

There really aren't any shortcuts to speak of. You can only really save time by having an excellent teacher show you how to approach the finer points of playing. I had my eyes opened back when I was 28 (decades ago) when I took ten lessons from a concert pianist. It was like having a golf pro show you how to correctly hold the golf club and how to swing. Those lessons forever changed my musical life.
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#2025088 - 02/01/13 06:26 AM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
beeboss Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/18/09
Posts: 1219
Loc: uk south
The best way to do this is with digital piano I think. Just look at the midi velocity values as you play notes.
I am not sure how useful it would be though. On the one hand each keyboard is different and requires a slightly different touch, but on the other we do still need to control as exactly as possible the velocity of every key depression, so I have no idea if this would be particularly beneficial (in comparison to other exercises).
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http://www.youtube.com/davebeeboss

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#2025526 - 02/01/13 07:07 PM Re: Improving touch with a decibel meter? [Re: willnapier]
Mark Polishook Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/12
Posts: 727
Loc: Leicester, UK
willnapier ... if you are receiving benefit from watching how a decimal meter responds to your playing then by all means, keep doing it! using visual feedback to sharpen your listening and hearing skills is absolutely a good idea - just as using audio cues to reinforce visual perception often is helpful.

beeboss is also quite right in suggesting the possibility of visual feedback from a digital piano. with a dp and midi meter, you can see exactly how loud or soft the individual notes are in a chord. this can be really helpful, for example, when practicing practicing things like bach chorales (which are wonderful pieces for study). as long as you correlate what you see with what you hear and what you hear with what you see you'll probably learn quite a bit. continue to be be stubborn! carry on!

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