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#487785 - 05/03/08 04:29 AM How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
cdw Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/02/08
Posts: 3
Hi, my name's Charlotte, I'm new here. I am doing my final thesis at the conservatory about how important it is for a pianist to know his or her instrument inside out. How the mechanics work, the pedals, etc.. A friend of mine told me I should post here to get more opinions about this topic, as I need as much input as possible \:\) .

So what do you all think what is important about your instrument that influences your performance the most? This can range from name (how you think you play better on a Steinway than on a Yamaha, f.i.), price, mechanics, piano history, types of material the keys are made out of, heaviness of touch (everything about touch in general), and anything else you can think of.

This could also be a nice discussion I believe, any reply is very much appreciated!
I've also posted this on a couple of other forums, but the more the better \:\)

- Charlotte

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#487786 - 05/03/08 06:47 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19098
Loc: New York City
I can still remember from over 40 years ago when I asked my piano teacher in college something that revealed I knew absolutely nothing about how a piano worked. He really gave me a disgusting look, as if to say how can you expect to be able to play well if you don't understand the actual mechanism of the action, pedals etc.

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#487787 - 05/03/08 10:11 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
lilylady Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/17/05
Posts: 4974
Loc: boston north
Good morning, Charlotte and welcome to PW!

I agree that a pianist should know more about their instrument and what differences there between different piano mfg. as well.

What is it about a particular piano that makes me play better? 'Range of tone that I can produce' from a well designed, well prepped piano and how differently I can play on a particular piano depending on the piece, my mood, and the piano itself. Some pianos can bring out the 'better' in me.

I have experienced it on several makes but on a particular piano for the most part. One Steinway yes, but more than one MH (BB and CC), certainly the Steingraeber 272, a Bosie, and recently the new Charis Grotrian.

I started a similar thread just recently. You might like to look at the contributions. Same thread on the Piano Forum, the Teachers Forum and the Techs Forum. Different contributions on each.

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?/topic/1/22089.html

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?/topic/27/2024.html

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?/topic/3/3727.html

LL
_________________________
"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything."

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#487788 - 05/03/08 10:43 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11182
Loc: Canada
I hardly knew anything about how a piano works when I did my recital last year, after having just started again. However, I knew what the hammer does, and how strings vibrate, and what the damper pedal does. I also knew that if I hold down a particular key and keep holding it down, the damper is disengaged and the string vibrates freely. As a strings student, I also knew how partials work, that they vibrate responsively essentially along the circle of fifths in that order, and that this would be enhanced in a major chord.

I used all of that knowledge to create the "morendo" on the final note of my piece, allowing the note to die one way with damper down, and then shift in tone colour by holding the keys down with damper released.

I also knew that my DP would not allow me to develop this effect.

Therefore those few facts I knew enabled me to add musical expression to my piece by deliberately using my knowledge of how a piano works.

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#487789 - 05/04/08 12:36 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
cdw Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/02/08
Posts: 3
Thanks LL!
Helps me a lot forward!

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#487790 - 05/04/08 07:31 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Larisa Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/03/08
Posts: 498
Loc: Philadelphia
I'm actually thinking of taking a piano tuner's course, just to be able to repair the horrible, horrible pianos on which I play. (in practice rooms at the university).

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#487791 - 05/05/08 11:25 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
U S A P T Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 1645
Loc: An Indiana University
It never ceases to amaze me how many accomplished pianists don't really know or understand the acoustic differences or characteristics between brands.

It further amazes me that pianists will only play a certain brand, even if that particular serial number sounds awful. People convince themselves of the superiority or deficiency on the most illogical criteria based on lack of overall knowledge.

It never hurts to know what makes a piano -- instead of just a brand -- sound the way it does, and you only do that by learning a bit about how it works and how it's built.
_________________________
Full-Time Music/Entrepreneurship Major: (Why not compose music AND businesses?)
Former Piano Industry Professional
************
Steinway M
Roland Atelier AT90R
************
All Posts are Snarky Unless Otherwise Noted
************

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#487792 - 05/06/08 02:21 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
Most important is to get aqauinted with the various action feels and sound characteristics of different pianos, and be prepared to unpleasant experiences and how to cope with them. Understanding the theory and construction details does not make you a better pianist.

You will not be a better rider either by knowing biochemistry, genetics, and the sceleton of horses. Nor a better driver by understanding the secrets of combustion and fuel injection!

What is behind the keyboard is really not necessary to know in order to play well. Even a child, knowing nothing about harmionics, string tension, scale design, hammer voicing,etc. can be a fantastic pianist, having musicality and good control over his fingers.

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#487793 - 05/08/08 02:08 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Olek Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 6369
Loc: France
It is very important for the pianist to know at last the functioning and the aging of his instrument.

That way he better care about his own pianos, he is also more inclined to understand what a technician say or propose (or not) . In the end his piano can last longer and be better than the one of someone that doe not know much about it.

But knowing acoustic for instance, while helping to have some understanding of different "strange things ", does not help to play better, and for a tuner does not help to tune better.

Expecting to regulate studio pianos is a good intention, you could train to recognize at last that the action screws are not tight and that the action centers need replacement because of the precedent not done in time but You will not be able to really help the pianos before some time, and you are at risk of breaking things while trying to help.

Basic maintenance of a studio piano is 1:15 for a year, only to keep the action parts at their original place and to avoid too large play from arise. But real maintenance is far more time as that, and is only possible if basic one have been done. if too late, the piano will never really hold well or get back to its precedent better state. These concepts pianists should learn and understand. BUT ALSO MANY TUNERS SHOULD. (sorry for the capitals)

While I understand that if at each vertical piano I tune I had to spend 30 min with a screw driver, and 45 min with some regulating tools, sandpaper, felt picker, my ankles would have broke since a long time. At last a tuner may not leave hammers not in place (the wear is twice as fast) , or he may say to the owner that some care is due.
here is a piano prep pics - 14 hours including cleaning, bringing back to pitch. not a school piano but a 8 years old Petrof 125 never prepped at the dealer's place.
http://picasaweb.google.fr/PianoOleg/RVisionEtFinitionsPETROF125MecaPetrof2002

I don't see much piano prep shown on the net, only rebuilds, a few repairs, we need to work fast , no time for pics !
_________________________
Isaac OLEG - http://picasaweb.google.fr/PianoOleg pro

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#487794 - 05/08/08 02:30 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
While I may not know the intimate history of each piano I play, I at least have a fundamental knowledge about piano brands, the differences in piano types, how an action works, what can harm a piano, how to remove a pencil, fix a strange noise etc.

It is not just some buttons I push on a big black box, wherein 'magic' occurs. :rolleyes:

Any instrument I play is my "musical partner" - it is a key element in my success as a performer.

In my opinion a lack of knowledge about your chosen instrument is like being married to someone without showing the least interest in them. Not a very good situation.

Why not learn about[/b] the piano? It could not hurt, and it may help.
_________________________
Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#487795 - 05/08/08 08:33 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
mozartian18 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/01
Posts: 88
This thread has been very interesting. Yes, it's very important to 'know' your instrument - the basics, such as how the hammers produce the sound, how the dampers work, how far the keys travel downwards, the different levels of the damper pedal, why the piano goes out of tune, etc. That basic info is necessary. It's not a guarantee, though, that one will play marvelously, if one knows the instrument. However, knowing how it functions will give a more accurate understanding on how the piano should be played.

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#487796 - 05/08/08 09:17 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Dan101 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/13/07
Posts: 45
Loc: Canada
Knowing the instrument is of benefit when purchasing a piano, although it is always beneficial to have a technician on hand for any major purchases.
_________________________
Daniel E. Friedman, co-owner of www.pianolessons101.com
You CAN learn to play the piano in a fun and positive way.

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#487797 - 05/08/08 09:54 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
monkmonk Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/08/07
Posts: 84
Loc: Osaka, Japan
Does anybody recommend some basic books about piano mechanics? Keyword: basic.

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#487798 - 05/08/08 10:28 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
Knowing the construction of a piano, features of famous brand and what is assoated with them (brightness, mellowness, Chopin, Hitler, unbeatable marketing, making piano playing affordable for hte great mass)is for many a hobby and knowing what is necessary for keeping a piano in good shape is important, but has little to do with the actual playing.

What you need to know for playing a certain piano, you learn only by sitting down and start playing.

Who has the time to think of what is happening inside the piano when playing Chopin's etudes, Rachmaninoff's preludes, or Greig's lyrical pieces.

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#487799 - 05/08/08 10:30 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
Knowing the construction of a piano, features of famous brands and what is assoated with them (brightness, mellowness, Chopin, Hitler, unbeatable marketing, making piano playing affordable for the great mass)is for many a hobby and knowing what is necessary for keeping a piano in good shape is important, but has little to do with the actual playing.

What you need to know for playing a certain piano, you learn only by sitting down and start playing.

Who has the time to think of what is happening inside the piano when playing Chopin's etudes, Rachmaninoff's preludes, or Greig's lyrical pieces?

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#487800 - 05/08/08 12:21 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Minaku Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/26/07
Posts: 1226
Loc: Atlanta
I think it's very, very important. It's not necessary to know how to do repairs yourself, but the little things like maintenance and general care should definitely be practiced. I always start new students by opening up the piano and showing them the magic inside. They have a ball playing and watching the hammers move. I tell them about the materials that go into making a piano and they ask questions about the history of it. The piano is a wonder of engineering. I don't see how anyone who's serious about playing it could want to turn a blind eye to how it works.

Yesterday I dropped a paper clip between my keys by accident. I'm happy to report that I was confident in unscrewing and removing my keyslip, pushing some spacers out of the way, and retrieving my paper clip.
_________________________
Pianist and teacher with a 5'8" Baldwin R and Clavi CLP-230 at home.

New website up: http://www.studioplumpiano.com. Also on Twitter @QQitsMina

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#487801 - 05/08/08 01:25 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
 Quote:
Originally posted by Jan-Erik:
What you need to know for playing a certain piano, you learn only by sitting down and start playing.

Who has the time to think of what is happening inside the piano when playing Chopin's etudes, Rachmaninoff's preludes, or Greig's lyrical pieces?
Jan-Erik, what you say is absolutely true. But my point is that there can be a broader approach, for people who are so inclined. In my opinion, this awareness of the instrument can bring another level to one's playing.

After learning more about pianos, I now am more aware of the bass/tenor break in each piano when I play - I might choose to play differently in that area. If a piano has a few treble notes out of tune, I might choose to selectively use the una corda if it bypasses the out of tune string (hopefully the one out of tune is the leftmost one). I know this trick cannot help me on a vertical piano.

I might have done these things instinctively before, but now I do it with full knowledge of what I am doing. Knowledge is empowering. \:\)
_________________________
Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#487802 - 05/08/08 04:13 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
quoting whippen boy:

"I now am more aware of the bass/tenor break in each piano when I play."

Whippen, what is this "bass/tenor break?" What causes it?

Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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#487803 - 05/08/08 04:59 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
The break is the dividing line between the bass strings (usually the copper wrapped bi-chord and monochord strings) and the strings on the other bridge, which are usually steel tri-chords. All pianos have this break; the size of the piano, the piano's scale design, and the voicer's skill (among other things) determine the character of the break. A pianist who knows their instrument can make a difference too. ;\)

Sometimes the notes nearest the crossover have a thud-like or 'honking' sound. I try to play those notes a bit more gently. \:\)
_________________________
Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#487804 - 05/08/08 05:07 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Olek Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 6369
Loc: France
 Quote:
Originally posted by monkmonk:
Does anybody recommend some basic books about piano mechanics? Keyword: basic. [/b]
Art Reblitz is very complete, but it explain how to do things.

A very good book which talks intelligently about pianos from different eras and actual ones is the Larry Fine "Piano Book".
Many illustrations, basics about regulation, and a good way of thinking about the brands , models and evolution. Even if it seem a book for the one who wish to buy a piano, it is worth reading in any case.
I translated the "check list second hand piano" in French. I did not find this kind of book before.
_________________________
Isaac OLEG - http://picasaweb.google.fr/PianoOleg pro

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#487805 - 05/08/08 07:44 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Thanks Whippen.

Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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#487806 - 05/08/08 08:35 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
hotkeys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/07
Posts: 788
Loc: Massapequa, NY
Welcome to the forums cdw!

I usually regard different pianos for their sound and not just their touch. If you have not, get a copy of Larry Fine's "The Piano Book". The book does a good job in explaining the workings of a piano.

I am shopping for an acoustic while I develop my skills on a digital. You need to play many pianos; If you can go to the websites of some dealers that have sound samples (i.e Rick Jones), you can get an idea what sound you would like. It is better to play the piano in person before you buy, especially if the instrument is used.

In essence, you need to know your instrument. Good luck on getting the piano you want!

- Mark
_________________________
...The ultimate joy in music is the joy of playing the piano...

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#487807 - 05/08/08 09:19 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20765
Loc: Oakland
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#487808 - 05/08/08 10:36 PM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17670
Loc: Victoria, BC
The analogy may not be a perfect one, but : You don't have to be a mechanic to know how to drive your car from point A to point B. If you know how your car works, however, and what it requires in the way of maintenance, then you'll always get from point A to point B.

I think it is helpful to know the mechanics of a piano, to know what you can do to affect the results, and to know what you need not waste time and energy doing because it doesn't affect the results. (Remember those who insist that they could produce a vibrato by moving their finger on a key after the note has sounded? Yeah, right, (as they say)!

Moreover, if you know how your piano works, then it is much, much easier to trouble-shoot problems for your technician as you'll have a better ability to describe symptoms.

I have a good technician whom I have tune my piano three to four times a year. Every time he comes, he spends a certain amount of time doing routine checking, adjusting and carrying out preventive maintenance on my piano, and he enjoys explaining what he is doing while I watch. While he tunes, I leave the room and leave him in peace and quiet.

I have learned much just by watching and listening, not only about the workings of the piano, what some of the esoteric parts are called and what they do, but I have also learned to have a great deal of respect for my technician's knowledge and his great skills. It's much easier to write a check (although we spell it "cheque" here in Canada) when you know how skilled the technician is and how valuable his services are.

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190 in satin ebony
Writing from Paris until 15 May, 2014

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#487809 - 05/09/08 02:18 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Late Beginner Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/08
Posts: 588
Loc: West Australia
Hi Charlotte,

It's as important or as unimportant as you want it to be. Fortunately we're all different. \:\)

I'm an engineer, so I like to know how everything works - from instruments to cars and computers. But not everybody is like that. Some racing drivers know very little about the engineering of their cars, yet others are experts. You can use a computer with great skill and success without having the slightest idea of how and why it works. Or you can even (shhhhh.... I'll whisper this very quietly Charlotte, and for your ears only... ) make quite pleasant music on a digital piano and dispense with most of the inner workings anyway.

So, for me, I can see some value in knowing tiny detail about a piano from the component parts right through to the properties of the wood and metal. But, equally, I have no problem in accepting that some players will have no interest whatever in the detail, and are unlikely to be that much worse off for not knowing it all.

Apart from some pretty basic understanding of levers, dampers, strings etc, which you can get by opening the lid and having a quick look, then if the player wants to pretend that it's a box full of pixies who make the music for them when they tickle their toes with the keys, then that's fine with me.

Cheers,

Chris
_________________________
Who needs feet of clay? I can get into enough trouble with feet made of regular foot stuff...

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#487810 - 05/09/08 04:39 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
Funny - BruceD reminded that by knowing the basic mechanical function of the piano, you know what you cannot achieve, eg. vibrato or other specific influence on the sound character. So are we back to the theme touch and tone? I hope not!

For playing, all essential knowledge including recognizing the breaks in the scale design, can be aquired by playing. Sometimes you really hear breaks where they theoretically should not be.

And at end of the day, it is the perception of the player and listener that counts. Here the brand or the history of the piano may have a certain influence on your subjective perception. But it is normally of no importance for your playing - except that you should of course not even try getting the projection of a modern concert grand out of an old square piano, but choose the repertoir according to the power of the instrument.

"Grau ist aller Teorie, grĂ¼n ist nur der Lebens goldener Baum" (Goethe)

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#487811 - 05/09/08 09:47 AM Re: How important do you think it is to *know* your instrument?
mozartian18 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/01
Posts: 88
The piano was not made to produce vibrato(unlike the clavichord); it's incapable of producing it. However, a certain 'vibrato' is used by very skilled pianists in terms of timing and in creating a visual illusion of a vibrato(Claudio Arrau used to do it in his concerts).

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