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#503807 - 11/06/06 06:41 PM Every pianist should play the clavichord!
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
After playing the clavichord for many years, and now on an unfretted instrument, I can say that every pianist should have the opportunity to at least try one.

After playing the clavichord on Friday, I practiced the piano on Saturday. What was coming out too harsh and loud previously, was now comfortably soft and even. Some of the more difficult passages, like in Schubert's Op. 90 No. 2 and No. 4, flowed like butter, and were even under my fingers.

I attribute the following virtues to this instrument:

1) The tone is very soft.
This is a percussive instrument like the piano, and is capable of expression albeit at a very low volume, This makes the ears work harder so you have to listen more attentively while playing.

Going back to the piano, makes you lower your volume down so it's not harsh, and by listening carefully, you can then bring out melodies and other things totally missed by just playing on a piano.

2) The touch needs to be absolutely precise and even.

The instrument, due to the nature of the action, requires that each note be played at the front of the keys and absolutely evenly. If you play the notes towards the center, like you can on the piano and still get away with it, the sound is clipped because there isn't enough leverage to hit the tangent against the string with enough force to produce an even tone. The other thing too that helps with the tone, is staying absolutely relaxed. The minute I stiffened up, the tone became clipped and clunky.

After practicing the even touch on the clavichord, my piano playing was more even. I found myself playing towards the front of the piano keys, and I had more control on the piano as well.

Granted, I can't playing anything more than some of the earlier Classical-period keyboard works on the unfretted-clavichord, but the instrument has proven to be more useful as a practice instrument then a digital piano. My suggestion to other pianists - go out and try a clavichord for few days or longer, and see what it does for you!

John
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#503808 - 11/07/06 10:38 AM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
Shosti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/16/06
Posts: 433
Loc: Boston
Wow, I really agree with you. I had the opportunity to play one a few times several years ago, and I recall trying out some Bach and stuff. When I went back to the piano, I felt I had really sensitive touch and control. It was difficult but fun to play!

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#503809 - 11/07/06 11:45 AM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I don't understand how fretted or unfretted relates to a keyboard instrument? What don't I understand? Thanks

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


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#503810 - 11/07/06 12:29 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
A clavichord has brass tangents that hit each pair of strings. The tangent serves to strike the strings as well as to define the speaking length of that pair of strings. Each pair of strings is tuned to a single note.

Single fretted = only one tangent (one note) per pair of strings. (C)

Double fretted = two tangents (two notes) per pair of strings. (C,C#)

Triple fretted = three tangents (three notes) per pair of strings. (C,C#,D)

It gets quite challenging to play a triple-fretted clavichord. With a double fret you cannot play minor second intervals simultaneously (not a big deal in baroque music); with triple frets you cannot play adjacent major second intervals simultaneously.

However, all this depends on the key you play in. If F and G are on the same string pair, you cannot play them together (triple fret); if they are on adjacent string pairs, then you can. You just have to modify your technique accordingly.

What happens when you play two tangents on one pair of strings? The higher note "wins", plus you get a bit of noise from the other tangent hitting the backside of the string.

Fretting has the advantage of making the instrument louder and smaller. I have a triple-fretted clavichord; it is amazingly small and simple. However, you cannot play some of the very complex works of Bach very easily upon it. You must be VERY careful to articulate exactly in order to avoid brushing or playing adjacent pairs. I always feel my piano playing improves immensely as a result.

An interesting result of having tangents remain in contact with the string: you can modulate the pressure on the key to create a vibrato, called bebung.
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#503811 - 11/07/06 12:32 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
buxtehude Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/07/06
Posts: 499
Loc: Copenhagen, Denmark
The difference between a clavicord and a harpsichord (the later of which I have tried)...?

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#503812 - 11/07/06 12:47 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
A harpsichord has a jack with a plectrum (quill). Think of a skyscraper with a "V" shaped balcony at the top. \:\) At rest, the plectrum is beneath the string.

When you press the key, the plectrum plucks the string as the jack pushes it up; the felt damper is lifted from the string.

When you release the key, the plectrum retracts as it brushes the string on the way down (creating a bit of noise). The damper comes down on the string.

With a clavichord, one end of the string is damped; the other is not. When you press the key, the brass tangent hits the string AND determines its speaking length. The tangent is between the bridge end of the string and the damped end of the string; as long as the key is depressed it will sound. When you release the key, the tangent falls and the damped end of the string stops the tone.

The clavichordist can create dynamics by striking the string harder or softer. The range of expression is magnitudes softer than the modern piano, but it exists nonetheless. Because you can strike harder/softer it is more like a piano than a harpsichord.

The harpsichord has only one dynamic (which is why some have more than one stop, and/or keyboard). If you play too forcefully, the jack jangles and you get an ugly sound. A harpsichordist spends much time learning how to "restrain" their touch to match the instrument.

A clavichord has an odd but pleasant "spongy" feel, as you have the sensation of stretching the strings as you press into them.
_________________________
Grotrian 225
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M&H "A" at home

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#503813 - 11/07/06 01:04 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I'm beginning to get it with Whippen's post, but I'm still not clear. For instance, if the tangent serves as both the hammer and the nut (the nut would be the end piece that defines the length of the vibrating string), why wouldn't the string vibrate on both sides of the nut? Both sides are being equally struck.

I've been googling around looking for a drawing or illustration to help me see what is happening inside a clavichord, but I haven't found one yet. I'll paste it up if I do.

"Bebung" is a great word that I haven't heard before. I'm going to add it to my vocabulary for those occasions when I feel like a wise acre. Possible uses: "there's a lot of 'bebung' in her walk, if you know what I mean;" or, "I think I'll add a little more 'bebung' to my martini."

Try to say it three times quickly.

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


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#503814 - 11/07/06 01:23 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
Say bebung three times fast after drinking a martini! \:D

I'll try another description of clavichord action, looking from left to right along the string:

key at rest:[/b] string termination, felt damping, main part of string, bridge, tuning pin.

key playing:[/b] string termination, felt damping, tangent in contact with string, bridge, tuning pin.

Wikipedia has an excellent photo, which you can enlarge several times.

Tomasino made a very excellent observation - yes, both halves of the string should be considered - however, the back part of the string is perpetually damped.

In the Wikipedia photo, you will see LOTS of felt snaking its way closely along the line of the tangents.

A clavichord does make a "thud" when you strike the note - it is from the the deadened back end of the string.
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Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#503815 - 11/07/06 01:34 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17804
Loc: Victoria, BC
... and simple-minded idiots such as I are supposed to take all this in and try to play the thing, too! Sheesh!
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#503816 - 11/07/06 02:00 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
This web page has a fun recording of a large clavichord.

Here is a diagram of both a clavichord action (top) and a harpsichord action. Unfortunately, the felt damping and tuning pin are missing from the clavichord drawing. Just imagine that felt is wrapped around one end of the string, and the tuning pin is at the other.

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Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#503817 - 11/07/06 03:00 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Thank you Whippen Boy for the pictures and links. This helps to explain the action to the others not so familiar with these instruments.

Tomasino you brought up an interesting point about the clavichord.

(WB) "yes, both halves of the string should be considered - however, the back part of the string is perpetually damped."

There is an instrument called a clavichord d'amore, which was developed during the mid 18-century by Silbermann. This is the same person that worked with the early pianos that Bach tried.

This instrument takes into consideration the two halves of each string. In the clavichord d'amore, there are two bridges instead of one, and the string is struck directly in the middle of the string length. This makes the instrument louder than a regular clavichord, but of course still less than an pianoforte. These instruments are rare, and are pretty large.

A contemporary builder named Hugh Gough built a couple of them.

Here's a link on the instrument by another builder named Lyndon Johann Taylor.

http://www.harpsichord-sd.com/clavichord/cembal.html

John
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#503818 - 11/07/06 04:34 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
As Spock says: fascinating. \:\)

Too bad the author did not post a recording of his Cembal d'Amour - what a valuable archive that would be.

Now on to another question that has been in my mind since this thread appeared:

Were there no harpsichord builders who thought of lifting all the dampers with a pedal (à la piano)?

Perhaps the fortepiano's pre-eminence forestalled such further developments in the harpsichord (?). Or, perhaps the harpsichord's tone - so rich in upper harmonics - would be too "dirty" to let ring (?)...
_________________________
Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#503819 - 11/07/06 04:42 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
OK. Got it. They dampen one end of the string with dampers, just like the felt threading through the strings on my piano on the far side of the bridge. Can't believe that didn't occur to me.

They have some vintage clavichords at the Schubert Club's Piano Museum in St. Paul. Next time I'm there, I'll take a close look. They may even let me play one.

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


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#503820 - 11/07/06 05:21 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by whippen boy:
As Spock says: fascinating. \:\)

Too bad the author did not post a recording of his Cembal d'Amour - what a valuable archive that would be.

Now on to another question that has been in my mind since this thread appeared:

Were there no harpsichord builders who thought of lifting all the dampers with a pedal (à la piano)?

Perhaps the fortepiano's pre-eminence forestalled such further developments in the harpsichord (?). Or, perhaps the harpsichord's tone - so rich in upper harmonics - would be too "dirty" to let ring (?)... [/b]
This is indeed fascinating. ;\) I agree hearing one would have been a treat. Maybe I can talk my brother into building one. \:\)

Re: A harpsichord with lifting dampers...

The harmonics would probably be too dirty as I have found out with some leaking dampers on my virginal. Keeping this in mind, the pianoforte definitely sounds better in this respect.

I believe you hit the nail on the head about the fortepiano. While the harpsichord had pretty much reached its limit by 1760, further developments were being made in the fortepiano that brought it well beyond what the harpsichord was capable of doing.

In an attempt to give the harpsichord some of the shading capabilities of the fortepiano and clavichord they did however, add swell pedals to some harpsichords - particularly by the English builders Kirckman and others. This was a shutter mechanism that gave the instrument shades of loudness.

There are other instruments that came out of the clavichord. There is of course the square piano, and the other instrument called a tangent piano.

An early square piano... Looks familiar! http://www.hammerfluegel.net/viewer.php?albid=391&stage=2&imgid=129

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangent_piano

http://www.hammerfluegel.net/viewer.php?albid=392&stage=2&imgid=152

John
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#503821 - 11/07/06 06:24 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
bukopaudan Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/06
Posts: 506
Loc: USA
WOW!

That's amazing! I wish there was a clavichord around where I am. I probably might have to hunt one down just to try it!
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#503822 - 11/08/06 01:39 AM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
buxtehude Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/07/06
Posts: 499
Loc: Copenhagen, Denmark
Some real great recordings with clavichordists or harpsichordists...?

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#503823 - 11/08/06 07:08 AM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
caperflutist Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 124
Loc: Cape Breton
I want to try one, but I doubt there are any here on the Island. There is only one harpsichord here and that is at a museum and can't be touched....


Anyways, if you guys want a great legato and to be free of over pedal usage, I recommend playign the organ;)
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#503824 - 11/08/06 10:58 AM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by buxtehude:
Some real great recordings with clavichordists or harpsichordists...? [/b]
Check out the following link:

http://www.bostonclavichord.org/recording/record.html

Check out the main site too for other neat information about the instrument.

http://www.bostonclavichord.org
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#503825 - 11/08/06 11:45 AM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by caperflutist:
I want to try one, but I doubt there are any here on the Island. There is only one harpsichord here and that is at a museum and can't be touched....


Anyways, if you guys want a great legato and to be free of over pedal usage, I recommend playign the organ;) [/b]
I've played the organ too, but I prefer the stringed keyboard instruments. ;\)

The clavichord was developed as a practice instrument for organists, and eventually became a solo instrument for others.

You maybe able to get an inexpensive kit (relatively speaking) or pre-built instrument from a number dealers. Here's a few I can think of off hand.

Zuckermann Harpsichords ---- Kit manufacturer and also supplies completed instruments.

www.zuckermann.com

Harpsichord Clearing House ----- Used and new instrument dealer with instruments available worldwide including Canada.

www.harpsichord.com

Claviersbaroques - Toronto ----- Custom instrument builder and used instrument dealer.

www.claviersbaroques.com

John
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#503826 - 11/08/06 08:59 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
Palindrome Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/22/01
Posts: 3914
Loc: Chicago, IL USA
 Quote:
Originally posted by John Citron:
...Claviersbaroques - Toronto ----- Custom instrument builder and used instrument dealer.... [/b]
Just returned from Toronto a few hours ago. I was going to stop by their place but they told me that although they do make clavichords to order, they don't have any finished ones in their possession at present.
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#503827 - 11/11/06 11:42 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by Palindrome:
 Quote:
Originally posted by John Citron:
...Claviersbaroques - Toronto ----- Custom instrument builder and used instrument dealer.... [/b]
Just returned from Toronto a few hours ago. I was going to stop by their place but they told me that although they do make clavichords to order, they don't have any finished ones in their possession at present. [/b]
Thank you for the update. How did you contact them? I've been calling them off and on because I want to setup an appointment for next spring. They will most likely be travelling down to the Early Music Festival in Boston, and I want them to do some maintenance on my virginal and my clavichord.

John
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#503828 - 11/12/06 03:09 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
Palindrome Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/22/01
Posts: 3914
Loc: Chicago, IL USA
Well, I e-mailed them at mail@claviersbaroques.com, and, because they warned they're having trouble with a spam filter, also telephoned their area code 416 number and left a message with my e-mail address. Right now they're a bit busy providing continuo services to Cosi Fan Tutti, which might hinder their responses.
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#503829 - 11/12/06 08:04 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by Palindrome:
Well, I e-mailed them at mail@claviersbaroques.com, and, because they warned they're having trouble with a spam filter, also telephoned their area code 416 number and left a message with my e-mail address. Right now they're a bit busy providing continuo services to Cosi Fan Tutti, which might hinder their responses. [/b]
Thank you for the email and update! I tried emailing them, but their mailbox is full. I'll try the 416 number tomorrow.

John
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#503830 - 11/13/06 12:07 PM Re: Every pianist should play the clavichord!
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21207
Loc: Oakland
 Quote:
Were there no harpsichord builders who thought of lifting all the dampers with a pedal (à la piano)?
The dampers and jacks are the same parts on a harpsichord, so lifting the dampers would play all the notes, unless that rank of jacks were turned off first. If you turned off the rank of jacks, you could not play the undamped string. Of course, it could be used to vibrate sympathetically with another choir of strings. There were, in fact, apparently harpsichords that had a stop that held a rank of jacks up, but the references I have read did not indicate that that it was used as a damper pedal.
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