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#609405 - 04/17/03 11:38 PM Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
Mathilde Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/05/03
Posts: 309
Loc: Decatur, Illinois, USA
I've been reading about Beethoven and Lizst breaking strings by playing so hard, and then the books say, "...But after the invention of the iron frame, pianos got sturdier and strings stopped breaking".

So is that true? Pianists really don't break strings anymore because pianos are sturdier? Or is it because of a change in playing technique?

The reason I'm asking is because my daughter gets frustrated occasionally and slams her hands down on the keys, you know, "kraaannng!!" and I was always told, when I was a kid, "Don't do that, because you might break the strings." So I find myself dutifully repeating it to her, but I got to wondering if it was true. Or is the danger more to the hammers and other widgets under the hood?

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#609406 - 04/18/03 12:27 AM Re: Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
Yes you can break them. I know professional entertainers who do it quite often. I think the record was 8 in one week.

Regards,

Rick Clark
_________________________
Rick Clark

Piano tuner-technician

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#609407 - 04/18/03 05:29 PM Re: Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
Brian Lawson, RPT Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/04/01
Posts: 647
Loc: South Africa
Usual answer is to increase let off and have monitor speaker next to pianist's ear \:\)
_________________________
Brian Lawson, RPT
Johannesburg
South Africa

http://www.lawsonic.co.za

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#609408 - 04/18/03 08:37 PM Re: Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
Bill Bremmer RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/21/02
Posts: 3169
Loc: Madison, WI USA
The reason I'm asking is because my daughter gets frustrated occasionally and slams her hands down on the keys, you know, "kraaannng!!" and I was always told, when I was a kid, "Don't do that, because you might break the strings." So I find myself dutifully repeating it to her, but I got to wondering if it was true. Or is the danger more to the hammers and other widgets under the hood?[/QB][/QUOTE]

It is possible to break strings while playing but it usually only happens with pianos which are played long and hard every day and which develop deep grooves in the hammers. It is really just metal fatigue.

Once this occurs, the strings may literally start breaking right and left. The pianist may claim that he/she wasn't playing loudly at all at the time and it may be true. It may just be a case of the "straw that broke the camel's back".

It is often associated with Jazz or Rock and Roll playing because those forms of music can be loud, hard and repetitious but it is also found among classical pianists and church pianists who perform shall we say, the more "spirit filled" kinds of music.

One of the most chronic string breakers I know of is the shyest, inarticulate, most weak looking, slight of build teenager you've ever seen. Yet when he plays his classical repetoire, he turns into an absolute monster. I guess it's all in the speed and the leverage. He won a full scholarship to Indiana University not as a performer but a composer.

This kid and his family and a young lady at the "United Community Bethesda Christian Evangelical Fellowship" were the people in my clientel who got the most upset about the chronic problem. They just could not buy my explanation of what was happening.

In the case of the church, it was the pianist before the gentle young lady who did the damage. They fired him when the strings started breaking and hired the young lady because her music was so gentle. Everyone thought it would be the end of the "Ka-SPROING" sound and the wound strings literally shooting out of the piano during church service. Metal fatigue cannot reverse itself. It made matters all the worse when this happened during her soft and gentle playing.

The young classical pianist's parents finally came to understand and accept that their son was rather, "special". After all, Dad didn't have to pay for college even though he could afford to easily. Now that he is away most of the time, it is giving the piano a well deserved rest. Dad is planning to buy a brand new Shigeru Kawai as a graduation present and will sell the Yamaha C6. (Let the buyer beware). Meanwhile, he'll just pay to have the broken strings replaced when they need to be.

Having said all of that, let me state that this is a very rare problem. Most people never come close to the point where they would cause the strings to break during playing. What your daughter does in a moment of frustration might sound terrible but it is probably not forceful enough and repeated enough to be of any undue wear and tear at all.

One suggestion might be to find a really terrible sounding chord that can be played with all 10 fingers. When feeling frustrated, play that chord instead of just banging. It won't be of any more stress to the piano than keys which are just struck at random. It may well vent the frustration a little better since the pianist will know that it has structure that comes right from herself.

It is, of course, possible to hit piano keys so hard that something might break, a string, the key itself, the hammer shank, a jack tender but it is usually only a piano technician who ever hits a key quite that hard. ;\)
_________________________
Bill Bremmer RPT
Madison WI USA
www.billbremmer.com

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#609409 - 04/19/03 12:03 AM Re: Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
Mathilde Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/05/03
Posts: 309
Loc: Decatur, Illinois, USA
Thanks, Bill. \:\) That's fascinating stuff.

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#609410 - 04/19/03 02:50 AM Re: Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
KlavierBauer Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/02
Posts: 3773
Loc: Boulder, Colorado
Usually if a string is going to break it will. What I mean is, if there is a weak spot in the string, or a weak becket, the string will break (usually while the tuner's there working on it). But as for new pianos, (assuming there are not "weak" spots in the metal) strings can still be broken, solely from hard playing.

Picture the wave traveling through the string, and picture that getting amplified with each strike of the key. I'm talking about pieces like the Liszt Sonata, or other pieces where rapid repitition is occuring at the FF level. This causes a lot of "bending" in the string at termination points. If you picture the extreme, think of a paperclip being bent back and forth, back and forth, etc. This friction in the metal weakens it. And in certain circumstances, it is definitely possible to break a string.
Again, this isn't uncommon with performers, especially if they're playing something very fast/loud.

KlavierBauer
_________________________
Outlive Yourself - Become an Organ Donor

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#609411 - 04/19/03 07:04 AM Re: Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
PNO2NER Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/26/01
Posts: 128
Loc: Traverse City, MI
What has been posted is correct, but lets take string breakage one step further: When a paper clip or coathanger or piano string is bent back and forth repeatedly, that motion can create heat which actually hardens the material at that point. The metallurgical term is "work hardening." The metal becomes brittle, THEN breaks as a result. Just for clarification.....
PNO2NER.

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#609412 - 04/22/03 12:44 PM Re: Can you still break a piano's strings by pounding on the keys?
reblder Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/21/01
Posts: 1237
Loc: Sherman Oaks, Calif.
I have one customer with a Yamaha S400 which in its prime was probably a great instrument. However, her constant heavy pounding(along with an overuse of the sustain I'm assuming)resulted in numerous string breakages. Even the replaced strings broke.

I called the Yamaha people who said it most definitely was not the piano's fault. So the only conclusion I came to was that the effect of this "Keyboard Karate" was to harden the hammers and create deep enough grooves in the Capo D'astro bar to make the strings susceptible to the breakage. I eventually replaced the hammers and that with some extensive voicing and regulating pretty much stopped the breaking. The Capo bar should eventually be filed though, all the moreso because many strings in that section buzz rather audibly.

Mark Mandell
www.pianosource.com

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