Explanation of sustain?

Posted by: Stevester

Explanation of sustain? - 02/11/04 01:14 PM

Could you please give me an explanation of sustain and what I should be looking for regarding sustain as I search for a piano?.

Many thanks,
Steve
Posted by: Dan M

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/11/04 01:34 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Stevester:
Could you please give me an explanation of sustain and what I should be looking for regarding sustain as I search for a piano?.

Many thanks,
Steve [/b]
Bang a note, see how long it plays, or sustains. It can differ based on octave.

While comparing pianos, be careful to try and hit the notes with an equal force. Some people actually time it. I just get a subjective feel for it. This is one of those features that seems to matter more in real life music rather than on a scientific measurement basis, in my small estimation. \:\)

Tone on the other hand, is something I feel comfortable 'measuring' separate from music.
Dan
Posted by: curry

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/11/04 01:55 PM

Stevester,sustain occurs in two parts. Attack,which would comprise the hammer hitting the string,and decay,the length of time it takes for the strings to stop vibrating.For example by depressing a key on an organ,the tone would continue until the key is released.We would call this sustaining the note.Drawing a bow across a violin's string would sustain that note until the bow stops moving.The attack and decay of the piano strings when struck by the hammers is of course much shorter in duration.Some piano makes are said to have a much longer rate of decay,Steinway,M&H,Bosie,Grotrian,Estonia,etc.They sustain or sing longer.Other makes like some of the asians, are described by many as having a short rate of decay.This makes \:\( playing some types of music like classical sound choppy.Players of jazz and other pop music like this and don't mind the sacrifice.
Posted by: Stevester

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/11/04 05:12 PM

Curry,

You answered my question, many thanks. It is the issue of decay that I was really questioning. I have noticed that the decay rate on my old upright is way to fast for a piece of music I am working on. This is unquestionably an important consideration for me when looking for my next piano. I am certainly glad I have this forum. Thanks Dan, now I have a better idea regarding testing of possible candidates.

Steve
Posted by: BobK

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/25/04 08:50 AM

There's another test for sustain - the pluck test, which Larry Fine describes in The Piano Book.

If some notes don't seem to sustain long enough when you play the keys, try the pluck test. According to the techs I've spoken with, if the strings sustain well when plucked, the problem might be remedied by such things as voicing or adjusting the strike point. If you like the piano otherwise, you could ask the store to have it fixed. If it fails the pluck test, that might indicate a more serious problem.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/25/04 11:56 AM

I feel that in judging sustain, it's not only the length of the sustain but the quality of the sustain that matters. If a piano's tone drops very sharply and quickly from the initial attack sound, then even if it lasts quite long(before becoming completely inadiable) I would say the piano has poor sustain.
Posted by: Del

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/25/04 12:30 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by curry:
Some piano makes are said to have a much longer rate of decay,Steinway, M&H, Bosie, Grotrian, Estonia, etc.They sustain or sing longer. Other makes like some of the asians, are described by many as having a short rate of decay.This makes \:\( playing some types of music like classical sound choppy.Players of jazz and other pop music like this and don't mind the sacrifice. [/b]
This is an interesting observation. And one which I shared until I actually started building pianos. Our upright had particularly good sustain qualities, especially through the upper third of the scale. When we started showing the piano I fully expected the classical pianists to notice and be impressed by this. But such was not to be.

The classically trained pianists — for the most part, there were some noted exceptions — raved about the precision of the action, the reliable repetition, the touch and feel of the action, etc. Few noticed or commented at all about the tone or voice of the piano.

It was the jazz pianists who came in for a quick look-see and ended up staying for hours. It was the jazz pianists who stretched the piano to its acoustical limits, especially exploring the extremes of pianissimo and the depth of the dynamic range — qualities that largely went unnoticed by the bulk of the classical crowd.

My business partner is a jazz musician (mostly sax but he also plays the piano professionally) and, though his piano training was classical, he is the last one I’d ask to evaluate the touch and feel of an action. He’ll play anything! It is his observation that, since jazz pianists are so often required to play on pianos that are in truly horrible condition, they actively work to ignore the performance of action. But he is also the one who has been prodding me to keep working on soundboard theory to improve both sustain time and the rate, or slope, of decay. It’s never (well, rarely) enough. “The notes have to connect…” Especially through “the melody line…,” or the fifth to seventh octave.

I realize this is a generalization but, after observing several thousands of pianists of varying skill levels and musical tastes, I’d say the bulk of the classically trained pianist pay more attention to the performance — the precision and control — of the action and the bulk of the jazz pianists pay more attention to the overall sound and voice of the piano.

Del
Posted by: Stevester

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/25/04 10:27 PM

Many thanks to everyone who has helped me with this important question, I have gotten a lot of valuable input.

Steve
Posted by: BDB

Re: Explanation of sustain? - 02/26/04 01:22 AM

In some sense, pianos don't have much in the way of sustain, not like an organ or a violin, which can hold a note at a given volume. What people speak of as sustain in a piano is really its decay. In some sense, the slower the better.

To measure it, you would plot the volume across time. You might want to say that a good sustain would be when the volume goes from the maximum (which is the end of the attack) to say, half that volume in so many seconds. A worse sustain would be if it takes less time, a better sustain, more time.

But within that framework, there are a lot of variables. It might depend on how strong the initial attack is, and although half the volume is usually measured logarithmically, it could be some other curve. It would take a bit of experimentation to decide.