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#87612 - 10/11/06 03:16 PM unbearable lightness of action
iconoclast Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/05
Posts: 389
Loc: Ancramdale, NY
Well it turns out I have one thing in common with Horowitz (besides the same birthday): I like really light actions. It's taken me a long time to come to this conclusion but the simple fact of it is that despite applying everything I know about wrist rotation, arm weight etc etc I can't reliably execute trills and fast repeated notes on anything but a light action. It is my understanding that lightening the action of a piano involves considerable re-regulation and re-hammering so my question is this: Are there brands of piano's that tend to be lighter actioned than others? I'm interested in uprights primarily.

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#87613 - 10/11/06 03:39 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Bob Newbie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/06
Posts: 1549
You raise an interesting question!..why on earth would a person want to make something more difficult..by have a heavy action in the first place? shouldn't playing piano be "enjoyment" rather than a form of laborious exersize for the fingers and forearms? I always hear "you need to strenghten your fingers" why..? why should it have to be that way..! you make a valid point!
why do pianos have heavy action in the first place! Bob

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#87614 - 10/11/06 04:03 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
canonball Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/16/06
Posts: 95
Loc: Austin, TX USA
Iconoclast, Have you tried the Petrof Sterling action? It's very light and has incredible repetition capability. New technology incorporating magnets in the action and no weights in the keys. Not for everyone, but pretty cool.
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Voice/Piano/Hammond B-3

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#87615 - 10/11/06 04:15 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
Heavier actions have quite a few benefits; some that I can think of:

A heavier action allows one to strengthen the fingers, a really good thing. I've never known a pianist to endorse "weak fingers"! \:D It is just common sense to build up the finger muscles.

One can control the action better.

Pianissimos can be easier to produce.

Repetition might be better - maybe significantly better.

If the action is truly 'featherweight', then you risk bumping notes accidentally; I've played actions like this and find that tension creeps into my playing - I feel like I'm walking on eggshells!

Finally, if one practices on a heavy piano then it becomes easy to play on just about any piano. If one practices on a light piano, then it is very difficult to instantly adapt to playing on a heavy piano. This could be disastrous if playing an audition or performing.

Of course, a heavy action can be harmful if one is not careful.

If given the choice, I would choose a piano with a heavier action.
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S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#87616 - 10/11/06 04:25 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Roy123 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/20/04
Posts: 1708
Loc: Massachusetts
...whereas a heavy action may make fff harder to control and produce, and its repetition may be slower or faster. Also a heavy action is more likely to cause tendinitis! I think its quite obvious that depending on hand size and other physiological parameters, some people will do better on a light action and others on a heavy action.

Piano companies could make pianos with variable weight actions if they so chose. Kawai makes some uprights with a variable touch. The Hickman action had a variable touch feature about 70 years ago. The magnetically balanced actions are adjustable, but I'm not sure if it's quickly done or involves some time and minor disassembly.

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#87617 - 10/11/06 04:29 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Sarah M Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/27/06
Posts: 293
Loc: California
Iconoclast, I have found Yamahas to have the lightest actions.

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#87618 - 10/11/06 04:29 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
 Quote:
Originally posted by Roy123:
...whereas a heavy action may make fff harder to control and produce, and its repetition may be slower or faster.
That's also true.

As I've recently posted, the action is fraught with compromise. You have to choose what is right for you, but realize that if you go to either extreme you may have problems later.
_________________________
Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#87619 - 10/11/06 05:01 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
terminaldegree Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 2658
Loc: western Wisconsin
Through the course of my job I have to play many institutional pianos both in practice and concert settings. Many of them suffer from deferred maintenance and tend to be feather-light because they are worn. They are difficult to control, just as much as an overly heavy action can be. I believe there is such a thing as a piano that is too easy to play.

Of course there are all kinds of psycho-acoustic phenomena that result in thinking a piano is "light" or "heavy" that have little to do with what you'd think physically... but I'll let the techs speak to that, as they have to deal with pianists' requests on the subject on a daily basis.

A technician who does action regulation can really do amazing things with how we perceive a particular piano. I almost had buyers remorse with my Schimmel, but am once again happy once my tech dropped in for 3 hours or so and tuned/regulated the thing...
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Piano Review Editor - Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer
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#87620 - 10/11/06 05:15 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
If we could agree on a middle-on-the-road-heavy action, and all gradually got used to this, the pianist's life would be much easier. There are enough with other stuff to cope with when you sit down at a piano you have never touched before.

Unfortunately there are many types of heavy and light actions. As playing is a dynamic process, and the action is mechanically very complicated, simply testing with weight on the keys does by far not tell the whole truth. A lot of friction is surely a drawback as makes the repetition slower.

My impression is that light actions generally make pianissimo playing more easy, as you need not fear that a light touch (slow pressing) of the key results in no sound at all, as on many heavier instruments.

With light hammers the energy is more depending on the hammer speed, and that gives you a wider useful dynamic range. Hence the dynamic response is better.

The best upright actions I have have experienced have been Bechstein, Yamaha, Kawai, Rösler, Klima. Most grands that I have played have had an agreeable touch. The most horrible pianos have been uprights - I do not want to mention the brands, because they may have been wrongly regulated.

I would like to test the new Fandrich action.

A light action can also feel firm! I like the Schwander action of my Bechstein A, which I use as benchmark.

P.S. As Schimmel has been mantioned here, I once played a small Schimmel grand in a shop in Cologne and was very dissappointed with the action - difficult to play pianinissimo and
legato. Nor did I rank the Schimmel upright the best either - because of the hard sound ("knallig" auf Deutsch). There a second hand Yamaha U1 won the first price.

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#87621 - 10/11/06 10:14 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
sepstein Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/05/05
Posts: 83
Loc: Near Boston
Could someone discuss the role of inertia on the action?

I have found that some pianos have a deceptively light action with a fair amount of inertia in the keys. I find it makes it very easy to develop power, but harder to control a pianissimo.

Steve
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Mason & Hamlin AA #92126 (2004)

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#87622 - 10/11/06 10:21 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Bob Newbie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/06
Posts: 1549
Rather thinking along the lines of strength..
I would say its finger dexterity..some strength
gains would be made..but based on dexterity..
Bob

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#87623 - 10/11/06 10:48 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
chopin952 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/06
Posts: 492
Loc: North Carolina
I've found Yamaha, Estonia, and new Petrofs to be on the lighter side, and Baldwin, M&H, Grotrian, and many Steinway to be on the heavier side just to name a few. I agree with the notion that it seems more beneficial to practice on medium-heavy and perform on medium-light.

There are also some factors that make you perceive a lighter or heavier action regardless of actual weight. If a piano is super mellow, to me it feels like a heavier action because it takes more effort to achieve forte. If a piano is super bright, it feels light since you can glide on the keys and get mezzoforte easily.

I'd say stick to a medium weight action to get the best of both worlds. A high quality piano with high quality hammers also helps to achieve good dynamic range.
_________________________
-chopin952 (NY S&S B) (On YouTube)

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#87624 - 10/11/06 11:30 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
schwammerl Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/06
Posts: 2012
Loc: Belgium
One of the best discussions I found on this forum is: http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?/topic/35/16.html

Particularly read the posts of Del and BDB from ost 6 onwards.

schwammerl.

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#87625 - 10/12/06 09:00 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
iconoclast Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/05
Posts: 389
Loc: Ancramdale, NY
 Quote:
Originally posted by canonball:
Iconoclast, Have you tried the Petrof Sterling action? It's very light and has incredible repetition capability. New technology incorporating magnets in the action and no weights in the keys. Not for everyone, but pretty cool. [/b]
I've tried a couple of Petrofs but I'm not sure whether they had the Sterling action or not. Is the Sterling one of those things like Kawai's millenium II action that they only put into higher end models?

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#87626 - 10/12/06 09:19 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
iconoclast Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/05
Posts: 389
Loc: Ancramdale, NY
I should probably mention that I'm not a professional musician so the additional complication of differing actions between my home and work pianos is not something I have to contend with. Having said that, I find that there is definitely an adjustment period required when (in my case) transitioning from my home piano to that of my teacher - and vice versa. This 'adjustment' has far more to do with getting used to using different arm weight and very little to do with finger strength.

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#87627 - 10/12/06 09:21 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
apple* Offline


Registered: 01/01/03
Posts: 19862
Loc: Kansas
good discussion (i myself prefer a heavier action - so much easier to control) and EXCELLENT thread title!

i would like a tightly regulated light action but have yet to find one i like.
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love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)

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#87628 - 10/12/06 04:03 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
As a breif test (A. Galembo "The perception of musical instruments by performer and listener, with special application to the piano") has shown, three grand of different brands could not be identified by the sound, but only by their actions. The action seems to play the most important role for the pianist, and I think there are much misunderstandings in this discussion. Light can be confused with excessive dynamic response etc.

And what does a tighly regulated light action really mean? Lighter or heavier, within an agreable range, the control of the power, from ppp to fff must be made easy. And you must be able to execute thrills and tremolos at the speed you are capable of. If a piano's action hamper your playing the slightest, you surely will not like it. You must be able to concentrate on your interpretation, phrasing etc. I believe sound character and long sustain comes second. A listener may experience things differently

The sound is very difficult to decribe and measure objectively, but that should not be the case with actions. There are many parameters that could be measured and based on them and your own experience you could from a brochure or from the net know what a piano is like.

The choice of brand and model could be made easier that way, provided the action quality is consistent. And I believe it can be made more consistent than the sound character, where many still not controlled factors influence on the final result.

I still do not understand how there are so many pianos, especially uprights, with unpleasant actions. The mechnical parts (lever ratios etc) could easily be copied from a succesfull design.
Detoa or Renner, it is the design that matters.

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#87629 - 10/12/06 04:43 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
iconoclast Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/05
Posts: 389
Loc: Ancramdale, NY
 Quote:
Originally posted by apple*:
good discussion (i myself prefer a heavier action - so much easier to control) and EXCELLENT thread title!

i would like a tightly regulated light action but have yet to find one i like. [/b]
I occasionally stumble across one (I can always tell because on a good one I can execute a trill damn near as quickly as on my unweighted synths). The last memorable one was a Schimmel 7' grand. unfortunately the bass in this particular instrument just didn't have enough POW for my liking (a chronic complaint I have with Euro voiced pianos). And the search goes on........

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#87630 - 10/12/06 07:16 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Derick II Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/13/05
Posts: 1426
Loc: New York
I don't believe the perceived lightness or heaviness of an action has any bearing on the ease of playability of a piano. Nor can one make general statements about the pros or cons of a light versus heavy action.

The linearity, and consistency of the linearity, across the piano's keyboard, separates a good action from a bad action, and distinguishes a good piano from a bad piano.

If the response one obtains from a piano is directly proportional to the force applied to the keys, and is consistent across the keyboard, the piano will be easy to play regardless of the perception of the feel of the action and players personal preferences.

I typically find that not all, but most pianos that I perceive to have a light(er) action, have a "linear" actions. Whereas pianos that I perceive to have a heavy action, are not very linear or consistent. This results in a feeling of "walking on eggshells" to get ppp out of the piano - touch it too light, no sound - and "fighting" with the piano to get fff out of it.

From my, non-pianotech, consumer, point of view, this is where many manufacturers make the biggest cost-cutting mistake as it is becomes the most obvious "weakest link". A non-linear action is a sure-fire way for a manufacturer to relegate their piano to the ranks of mediocrity even among amature pianists.

Derick
_________________________
"People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they avoid."[/b] - Soren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855)


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#87631 - 10/12/06 10:13 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
JohnEB Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/20/06
Posts: 754
Loc: Belgium
not siure that I understand what you mean by 'linearity' of the action, but I certainly do find that a firm action helps playability for me. What I like is to get some sort of feedback from the key about how hard I've pressed it, so it's not just a simple touch to get the sound. THat might sound weird, but I take an analogy with a computer keyboard. You get some 'touch' back from the keyboard when you press a key, so you know you've pressed it. If it was just a flat board and lightly touching a key gave you a response on the screen, I think it would be very difficult to type.

For me it's the same on the piano - I like to get some response back from the keyboard. Very light actions just don't do that.
_________________________
John

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#87632 - 10/13/06 02:22 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
i very much agree with Derrick II.

As the action's working principles have not practically changed at all for half a century, I cannot understand why there still are so many bad actions (and this must be the case, as people freakwently talk about those cases and the action lightness is really a big, interesting issue). Manufacturing an action with similar parts, but the rigth lever proportions, hammer weight etc cannot be more expensive than making all the wrong way. Final fine adjustment
is a different issue.

On uprights especially, the depth of the piano, allowing for shorter or longer keys might be an important factor, although I have experienced small uprights with very pleasant actions.

In these conmputer and moonrocket days, a piano action, althoug it lookes, complicated to a layman, is a quite simple piece of machinery. Why cannot piano builders make it perfect?

As A. Galembo said after his tests: The only thing we have to improve on our pianos to make them comparable with a tier 1 brand is the feeling of the action.

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#87633 - 10/13/06 02:28 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
pianistical Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/04
Posts: 1377
Loc: Stockholm, Sweden
I find a slightly heavy action in combination with a 9.5 mm key dip to provide me with the greatest dynamic range.
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“There are only two important things which I took with me on my way to America, It´s been my wife Natalja and my precious Blüthner.” – Sergei Rachmaninov

1913 Blüthner model 6
1929 Blüthner model 9.
1955 Steingraeber upright.

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#87634 - 10/13/06 10:43 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
chopin952 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/06
Posts: 492
Loc: North Carolina
 Quote:
Originally posted by Derick II:
I don't believe the perceived lightness or heaviness of an action has any bearing on the ease of playability of a piano. Nor can one make general statements about the pros or cons of a light versus heavy action.

The linearity, and consistency of the linearity, across the piano's keyboard, separates a good action from a bad action, and distinguishes a good piano from a bad piano.[/b]
Derick, I agree that a consistent action is more beneficial than an inconsistent one. However, I think too heavy of an action can still be more difficult to play, at least for me. I went to a store that had a C.Bechstein D280 and a Baldwin SD10 side by side, and both were very consistent throughout the entire scale, but the Bechstein seemed much easier to play. Either because it had a brighter crisper tone, or because the action was lighter. There are many factors.
_________________________
-chopin952 (NY S&S B) (On YouTube)

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#87635 - 10/13/06 02:35 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
iconoclast Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/05
Posts: 389
Loc: Ancramdale, NY
 Quote:
Originally posted by Derick II:
I don't believe the perceived lightness or heaviness of an action has any bearing on the ease of playability of a piano. Nor can one make general statements about the pros or cons of a light versus heavy action.

The linearity, and consistency of the linearity, across the piano's keyboard, separates a good action from a bad action, and distinguishes a good piano from a bad piano.

If the response one obtains from a piano is directly proportional to the force applied to the keys, and is consistent across the keyboard, the piano will be easy to play regardless of the perception of the feel of the action and players personal preferences.

I typically find that not all, but most pianos that I perceive to have a light(er) action, have a "linear" actions. Whereas pianos that I perceive to have a heavy action, are not very linear or consistent. This results in a feeling of "walking on eggshells" to get ppp out of the piano - touch it too light, no sound - and "fighting" with the piano to get fff out of it.

From my, non-pianotech, consumer, point of view, this is where many manufacturers make the biggest cost-cutting mistake as it is becomes the most obvious "weakest link". A non-linear action is a sure-fire way for a manufacturer to relegate their piano to the ranks of mediocrity even among amature pianists.

Derick [/b]
With all due respect, I think the 'linearity' and the (perceived) weight of the action are two separate things as anyone who's played a piano that has a uniformly sluggish action can tell you. My metric for a light action (admittedly a pretty simple one) is whether I can execute a rapid (~10bps) trill on it. This kindof gets around the perceptual effects that can definitely occurwhen you exploit the full range of the instrument. Could this be because the two keys I happen to pick are badly regulated? Sure. But if I try 3 octaves worth with the same effect then linearity is proably not the culprit.

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#87636 - 10/13/06 02:44 PM Re: unbearable lightness of action
iconoclast Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/05
Posts: 389
Loc: Ancramdale, NY
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianistical:
I find a slightly heavy action in combination with a 9.5 mm key dip to provide me with the greatest dynamic range. [/b]
Hmmm yeah - I'd forgotten about the key dip factor. Maybe a separate topic......

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#87637 - 10/14/06 05:12 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19267
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by Jan-Erik:
As A. Galembo said after his tests: The only thing we have to improve on our pianos to make them comparable with a tier 1 brand is the feeling of the action. [/b]
I would say that the tone is more often what distinguishes a Tier 1 from a Tier 2 or Tier 3. For example, many people think Yamaha actions are very good but few think that their C series are Tier 1.

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#87638 - 10/14/06 10:33 AM Re: unbearable lightness of action
Derick II Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/13/05
Posts: 1426
Loc: New York
 Quote:
Originally posted by iconoclast:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Derick II:
I don't believe the perceived lightness or heaviness of an action has any bearing on the ease of playability of a piano. Nor can one make general statements about the pros or cons of a light versus heavy action.

The linearity, and consistency of the linearity, across the piano's keyboard, separates a good action from a bad action, and distinguishes a good piano from a bad piano.

If the response one obtains from a piano is directly proportional to the force applied to the keys, and is consistent across the keyboard, the piano will be easy to play regardless of the perception of the feel of the action and players personal preferences.

I typically find that not all, but most pianos that I perceive to have a light(er) action, have a "linear" actions. Whereas pianos that I perceive to have a heavy action, are not very linear or consistent. This results in a feeling of "walking on eggshells" to get ppp out of the piano - touch it too light, no sound - and "fighting" with the piano to get fff out of it.

From my, non-pianotech, consumer, point of view, this is where many manufacturers make the biggest cost-cutting mistake as it is becomes the most obvious "weakest link". A non-linear action is a sure-fire way for a manufacturer to relegate their piano to the ranks of mediocrity even among amature pianists.

Derick [/b]
With all due respect, I think the 'linearity' and the (perceived) weight of the action are two separate things as anyone who's played a piano that has a uniformly sluggish action can tell you. My metric for a light action (admittedly a pretty simple one) is whether I can execute a rapid (~10bps) trill on it. This kindof gets around the perceptual effects that can definitely occurwhen you exploit the full range of the instrument. Could this be because the two keys I happen to pick are badly regulated? Sure. But if I try 3 octaves worth with the same effect then linearity is proably not the culprit. [/b]
The empirical evidence you offer for a "light action" is a speed test? With all due respect, action weight is measured in terms of grams, not how fast one can perform a trill.

I've played pianos with 55 grams downweight in the center octave that would meet your criteria for "lightness" and pianos with 45 grams of downweight that would not.

I suppose if Kirstie Alley and Kate Moss could run around the block in the same time period, Kirstie would no long need Jenny Craig?

Derick
_________________________
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