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#2158788 - 09/27/13 07:44 PM Escapement - what is it good for?
Vid Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/01
Posts: 1115
Loc: Vancouver, B.C.
The topic of escapement has come up in the Digital Piano forum within the context of digital piano designs are now including (or mimicking really) the feel of this in their actions.

I welcome this feature because it makes adjusting from my digital keyboard to a real acoustic action a lot more seamless. What came up in the discussion though is the idea that this escapement feature is perhaps an unfortunate 'artifact' in the design and mechanism of an acoustic piano action.

I've been taught to sense the 'let-off' when playing slowly and softly. There seems to be some tactile feedback when you feel the slight resistance in a technique I've seen called "playing off the jack".

What I would like to know is this feature of an acoustic action undesirable?

Would it be better if there was no 'let-off' point to make it easier for pianists to achieve more velocity and softer dynamics?

Would an ideal piano action minimize the escapement feel or remove it entirely?

I expect there are varying opinions on this but am really curious what people think about it.
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#2158791 - 09/27/13 08:13 PM Re: Escapement - what is it good for? [Re: Vid]
PianoWorksATL Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/09
Posts: 2955
Loc: Atlanta, GA
It's there because it has to be. It's similar to the artifact of a manual transmission. Modern automatic transmissions are seemless and approach the efficiency of manual but manual is still best for performance. The artifact is feeling the shift.

A piano action has many compromises to make it do different things well. If you look up the history of the development of piano actions, you'll see a variety of solutions that were not adopted, not just a linear progression to what is now standard. Piano could have become a very different musical instrument if the Jank├│ keyboard had become standard.
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#2158796 - 09/27/13 08:30 PM Re: Escapement - what is it good for? [Re: Vid]
Bosendorff Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/11/12
Posts: 389
Originally Posted By: Vid
Would an ideal piano action minimize the escapement feel or remove it entirely?

I expect there are varying opinions on this but am really curious what people think about it.


Sensing the escapement, as you mention, can be important for those who use a digital as a practice instrument when they can't use an acoustic piano. At the same time, with practice a good pianist doesn't really need to feel (or be guided by) that particular "friction point" so much. Even the softest passages imply a minimum of velocity, so it's just a matter of practice to use just enough finger pressure/force/weight while adjusting to the particular action. Of course, the better an acoustic piano will be regulated, the softer it can respond for ppp passages.

So for players who buy a DP as a primary instrument because they don't have the chance to play on a grand action (or don't plan to buy/play an acoustic piano), that feature isn't really needed. Same as other "imperfections emulation" on digital pianos like adding pedal noise, etc.

An ideal piano IMHO would be free of all unwanted noise, have dampers up to note 88, etc.

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#2158799 - 09/27/13 08:45 PM Re: Escapement - what is it good for? [Re: Vid]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 3020
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
The piano action is a mechanism for transferring variable momentum into musically significant periodic motions to create control over the sound volume of each note.
It needs to do this in the most flexible way to allow pianists the widest freedom of expression. Being able to do this many times a second across a wide range of the musical compass maximizes musical information.

Of most importance to the momentum transfer between hammer and string is the ability of the hammer to not damp the rapidly vibrating string just after it strikes. thus most actions have a method of disconnecting just before impact-escapement.

Often ignored is the inertia of the hammer in relation to the string period. Many newer pianos have hammers that are so heavy that the string is significantly damped during striking. Many of the older pianos had lighter hammers and thus they "escaped" quicker.

After escapement the hammer also helps return the key to rest. If the inertia of the action is properly established, this return is valuable for virtuoso repertoire because it informs your finger when the key is available for next use and the momentum of the returning key can help move your hand into other playing positions. Such as arpeggios.
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#2158809 - 09/27/13 09:14 PM Re: Escapement - what is it good for? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Ahmediy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/27/13
Posts: 43
Escapement makes it easier on my fingers.
I can know the position of the keys and do not have to hit them all the way down like with digital.
Some digitals feel like tapping fingers on the desk at school, not very nice!

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#2158813 - 09/27/13 09:34 PM Re: Escapement - what is it good for? [Re: Vid]
SBP Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/12/12
Posts: 258
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#2158819 - 09/27/13 10:04 PM Re: Escapement - what is it good for? [Re: Vid]
4evrBeginR Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/27/09
Posts: 1607
Loc: California
I was taught not to depend on the escapement even though it is obviously there. Once you've learned to relax into the keybed, it is possible to play softly regardless of upright, grand, or digital, with or without the feedback of an escapement.

It's all gimick. There are lots of little sensory "feelings" when playing an acoustic action whether it's an upright or grand. I can't imagine the maker of a digital simulating all of them, so just giving you the one thing means very little in my book.
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