Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc

Posted by: lilylady

Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/26/08 03:28 PM

I am posting a thread here as well as the 'Tech's Forum' and the 'Piano Forum' the following for your input and discussion.

Just some ideas about THE PIANO - THE INSTRUMENT and how we, as teachers, might explore improving learning and sharing the knowledge of the instrument to our students and the community.

I hope that you view this as an interesting topic to explore and share your ideas here as well as on the Piano Forum posting here:

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/ubb/ultimatebb.php?/topic/1/22089.html


I confess.

As a music educator since teenage years, I had not been exposed to much of the piano innards and workings, and different brands and what they had to offer to a pianist.

Sure I knew a little about action, hammers/dampers/pedals, and somewhat about the difference of uprights and grands. I taught at the local Baldwin Piano and Organ studios and was somewhat versatile in pop music as well as classically trained on both.

But I really didn't know much when it came to pianos, other than playing. For instance -

What makes a good piano the best, and what other brands other than Baldwin, Yamaha, Kawaii, and of course Steinways were available? I had barely heard of Bosies and Bechsteins. They were 'up there' in the land of mucho money and my one time playing of them left me bewildered as to why and what was the difference? Did I hear the difference? Yes. But didn't know the why of it.

I have come a long way since then. Mostly recently and mostly due to the internet, this forum, and my travels exploring and learning. Once I was about to spend more money on 'the piano to last me a lifetime' than I did on my first home purchase, I listened, learned, and studied.

But that is not the point.

Craigen in a recent post, mentioned that piano teachers don't know how to teach about the difference in a piano's touch and repetition concerning an upright and a grand.

Rather than getting defensive (as a teacher) and uptight about this...I reflected and thought - you are so right. Many pianos teachers teach music - NOT the instrument. And I thought that we should have a thread on what can be done about this.

So, here it is.

How can we promote a change?

- What suggestions might you have to help educate the many piano teachers out there as they teach their flock?


- Might there be piano techs willing to speak at local Piano Teacher's Guilds? And how could we promote this?

- Might there be more education when you purchase a piano?

- Might their be courses at the college level to teach about the piano/the instrument?

- Could piano manufacturers offer more educational programs?

- Could the local piano stores offer more programs?


Do teachers even explore the insides of the piano during some lessons? (I always used make up lessons to do so) Could something like this be part of the standard curriculum?


I will probably also post this on the Teachers Forum and on the Techicians Forum but will refer to this thread as the mother thread - hoping that we might get some ideas to share with the teachers / techs / manufacturers / pianists / students / buyers in one thread.

Always dreaming, the lilylady
Posted by: Gyro

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/26/08 04:50 PM

I don't believe this is important. All
keyboard instruments--grand, upright,
harpsichord, clavichord, fortepiano,
organ, digital piano, synth, electric
piano, 61-key portable, etc.--are of the
same instrumental species and are played
in essentially the same way: you read
the score and then play all the right
notes in the right time at full tempo.
The process of doing that is the same on
a concert grand or on a 61-key portable.
Any keyboard player should be able to
plop himself down on any type of keyboard
instrument and play the same pieces well--
this is why an organist can switch to
the piano with no problem. If a player
finds that after practicing his pieces
to perfection on, say, an upright at
home, that he can't play them on a big
grand with a heavier action, then there
is something fundamentally wrong with
the way he's playing: most likely he's
come to rely on emotion and the "feel of the
keys" when playing, which will then limit
him to playing well only on the instrument he
has at home--he is then no longer a
real keyboardist but a strange sort of
musician, a "home-instrument" player,
capable of playing only the instrument
he has at home.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/27/08 01:55 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by lilylady:
Many pianos teachers teach music - NOT the instrument. And I thought that we should have a thread on what can be done about this. [/b]
Guilty as charged! But I'm not going to change this. I will always teach music first.

However, I certainly don't know enough about the innards, and I'd take advantage of any opportunity to learn (I do deal with the basics of how the piano works with my students). Great ideas, LL.

Interesting point someone made on this thread in the tech's forum about pianists not knowing when their piano is out of tune - true in many cases, however I've found the worst are string players. So picky about the tuning of their violins/cellos, yet owning some of the most out-of-tune pianos I've played. And I had to show one of them which note was out \:\) .

(a bit of a generalisation - sorry, string players \:\) - just reflecting recent experience)
Posted by: currawong

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/27/08 02:56 AM

Incidentally, and totally off-topic, you've probably noticed that any editing of posts now carries a note to say when it was edited. However, this is not adjusted for different time-zones, apparently, so on my computer I appear to have edited my post 13.5 hours before I posted it. How clever \:D . Remember how your mother always told you to think before you spoke?
Posted by: Innominato

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/27/08 04:01 AM

If you buy Larry Fine's book (the big one, not the one with the prices), it has very good descriptions about the various components of the piano and the features of the single parts. For example it will go in details about several methods of building soundboards and the reason to do so etc.

I'd say it is more than most people who don't work in the technical field will ever need to know and being in the practical book format you can learn the information you want at your leisure in the comfort of your home instead of, say, having to drive to a specialised course about "how a piano is done and why", which might not even exist in your area and would probably be costlier.

But frankly I do not think there is any need for "change". I don't know if Schubert had a deep technical knowledge of how a piano works but I doubt that, if he did, this had a role whatsoever in making Schubert out of him.

Fascinating as a piano is in itself (as a machine).
Posted by: lilylady

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/27/08 06:47 AM

BTW, I should add that a couple of mfg DO offer insite on how pianos are made and quite the demos and lectures to go along with that. I have been to 2 Mason Hamlin factory tours and I know that Steinway offers them as well.

MH has a video (is it on YouTube?) and Steinway something as well (where?)

But that doesn't mean teachers go or watch and not everyone lives close enough to Boston or NYC.

The tour was extremely informative!
Posted by: currawong

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/27/08 07:03 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by lilylady:
not everyone lives close enough to Boston or NYC. [/b]
Very true \:\)
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/27/08 12:49 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by lilylady:
Craigen in a recent post, mentioned that piano teachers don't know how to teach about the difference in a piano's touch and repetition concerning an upright and a grand. [/b]
The biggest problem with this is that ALL pianos are different. Two grands can have completely different feel just as much as two uprights or an upright and a grand. I don't think you need to teach this. It is something you learn to deal with by experience of performing on a variety of instruments.

I always have a big problem with this repetition thing. On a decent, well regulated upright you can repeat notes as fast as you will ever need to. So what if a top grand can handle 12 repetitions per second? Show me a decent piece of music where you need that. Isn't it just pub trivia?
Posted by: pianoobsession

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/30/08 08:40 AM

Well, I do think it's important. Not so important that it takes away from the "music", but why wouldn't it be a good thing to be "well rounded"? Seems to me that knowing about your instrument increases your respect for it and therefore how well you may or may not take care of it over time. It also seems to me that if you know what makes it work, you have the opportunity to use it to its fullest potential. Just my 2 cents, but it seems a good idea to me to know your instrument even in a very basic sense.
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 04/30/08 08:51 AM

It is useful to mention the basics of how the action works as this will have an effect on technique. For example you can demonstrate how the action will respond to speed rather than weight. Also, it's good to show why there is no point in continuing to press the key down after the hammer strikes the string. All of this is fine and will help a student to understand the mechanics. But to go as far as to 'teach' the difference between brands and styles of piano seems pointless.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/04/08 02:13 PM

 Quote:
true in many cases, however I've found the worst are string players. So picky about the tuning of their violins/cellos, yet owning some of the most out-of-tune pianos I've played. And I had to show one of them which note was out
Currawong, I found that when I returned to piano after starting to really listen to intonation and tone colour on the violin, some of the tunings were really unpleasant to hear on the piano. Intonation is part of the expressive palette. I had to tune out to overcome the urge reach in the piano's innards and "fix" that note in that interval or memory. Could it be that strings players actually do tune out?
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/04/08 02:31 PM

Something worries me here... I'm gathering so far here that nobody seems to think it's important to understand the instrument they are playing on. Am I right? But yet, some of you seem to think it's okay to make a recommendation on what your student should purchase without that understanding? Is that what I'm gathering here?

What sense is there in this? That would be like me looking at a car for a friend. Because I drive 50,000 mile a year, that qualifies me to say hey, it's in great shape man? So, I say, buy it and 2 months later they find out that it's not much good after all when the mechanic tells them they just made a major mistake.


I can't tell you the countless times, a music teacher has sat down, supposedly, checking out the piano, tells the parents to "buy it, it doesn't need 'Much'" and I come along to find a split bass bridge, loose tuning pins, 12 cracks in the sounding board and a piano that is condemned after they had just spent $800 on as 'a starter piano.'

Without the proper understanding of what can and does wear out and go wrong in the inside, one should not be making any recommendations one way or the other either.

I think it's a great to increase ones knowledge in these areas. It'll save all of our customers future grief and much needed money. Or I am just reading things wrong here?
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/04/08 05:36 PM

Jerry, I think you are reading things wrong. Most of us would advise our students to have a prospective piano checked out by a qualified tech. I know a local, reliable and reputable dealer who sells starter instruments at fair prices. I am confident that he will not rip my clients off so I send them to him. If someone were to ask my opinion on a private sale which I knew nothing about I would tell them to have it checked out.

Some understanding of how the instrument works is obviously helpful when talking about piano technique. I bring it up as and when. But getting back to your car analogy, do you really need detailed knowledge of car mechanics in order to drive a car? I don't think so. I can check the oil and fluids, change a tyre, change bulbs etc. but that's about it. I suspect this is the same for most people.

I would say that any music teacher who plays a piano with split bass bridge, loose tuning pins and cracks in the soundboard and does not notice that something is wrong is probably not a very good musician. A piano like that would not play well or sound good would it?
Posted by: currawong

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/04/08 06:01 PM

Jerry, I think I said in my post that I felt I didn't know enough and would be happy to learn more, also that I certainly introduce my students to the basics of how the sound is produced. So I don't think I was saying it was UNimportant, just that it's not my main focus, obviously.

There's also a down side about a little knowledge \:\) . For me, the more I know, the more I realise I don't know, but for some, the more they know, the more they think they know it all. Not only might people want to tell you techs how to tune the piano, they might want to do it themselves! (see thread about bow-wows in the tech forum \:\) )

But seriously, I might go along with a student who is shopping for a piano for the purposes of playing it, but I'd always advise getting an expert opinion. I, like Chris, have a great tech whom I recommend to my students.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/04/08 06:09 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
Could it be that strings players actually do tune out? [/b]
Yes, I think that's likely. It sounds bad anyway, whether it's in tune or not, because it's a piano. \:D

From something one of them said, I gather too that it's a "I tune my own instrument and it's annoying to have to get someone in to tune the piano, so I don't bother" thing. But if they thought of it as "maintenance" rather than just "tuning", they might be happier. One of them has an old violin which needs regular (and not cheap) maintenance, and she accepts that.

btw, I'm also a string player \:\)
Posted by: keystring

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/04/08 06:14 PM

Yes, I remember that you play viola. Could the perception be that the since the piano is a percussion instrument, it actually *is* ;\) ?
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/04/08 10:09 PM

Ok, just checking! ;\)

You don't need detailed knowledge to drive the car but, you might if you want to buy it or recommend it to someone else. That's all I meant with that one.

Thanks for letting me know! \:D
Posted by: Cy Shuster, RPT

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 02:01 PM

Every pianist should know a few mechanical basics that relate directly to playing the instrument. I played for many years before I became a technician, and I was astonished about what I didn't know about that box in our living room that I spent so many hours at. A piano teacher is not necessarily be qualified to evaluate a piano technically, any more than a piano tuner can evaluate a piano student, although as players/listeners respectively, we certainly have educated opinions. Here's a favorite example (I swear Albuquerque is just a coincidence!):
http://www.chicagopianos.com/wanted.htm

I love to show customers how the pedals work, which leads to identifying the hammers and the dampers. Few customers know what the middle pedal does, on either uprights or grands. It's fun to demonstrate sympathetic vibrations and overtones. Play a Cmaj chord very softly, starting at middle C, and hold the keys down until the sound dies. Now play a loud staccato C two octaves below: hear the chord again? Those notes are all in that lower C. It goes the other way, too: play the lower C slowly so it doesn't sound, hold it, then play the upper chord staccato. You can play a chord with one finger! (If this doesn't work, your piano needs tuning! :-)

Yes, a quality upright in good regulation can repeat very well. But I can tell the difference between an upright and a grand with one finger, with my eyes closed (and not by touching the cabinet!). Hold a key down. Let it come up a tiny amount (thickness of a penny), and try to play the note again. Nothing, right? OK, lift it two pennies, then three... how high must the key rise before you can play the note again? If it's about half the way to the starting point, it's a grand; it it's almost all the way up, it's an upright. (Grands have an extra part that makes this work.)

Another difference with an upright is that springs return the action to their starting point, while gravity does the work in a grand. In an upright, peek in the top of the cabinet and watch the hammers. Hit the key at random times with random pressure, and notice how the hammer can get wildly out of sync with the key, bouncing around on its own. With a grand, all the parts stay in touch with each other much more of the time.

The una corda is a much more powerful tool on a grand. Not only does it drop off one string when fully down, but it exposes relatively unplayed felt to the strings, giving a different timbre to the sound (if yours doesn't, ask your technician to "voice" the hammers between the string grooves). An upright simply moves the hammers closer, like hitting a bunt compared to taking a full swing at a baseball.

With the una corda held down on an upright, just touch a key as lightly as possible. Feel the free play? A gap is introduced between parts, which can be annoying. This is "lost motion", and it's necessary to repetition on an upright. It's present even with the pedal released. If it's not even from key to key (it increases normally with wear), ask your technician to adjust it. This is like adjusting the parking brake in a car to compensate for wear, and generally what regulation is all about.

Speaking of resistance to key travel, that's the major difference between pianos and digital keyboards. On a piano, we must learn to deal with the increase in resistance at the bottom of the keystroke (especially in an upright), to control the hammer as we fling it to the string (it flies disconnected from the key at some point, like a shuffleboard puck). On a digital, resistance is the same all the way down; there's no "escapement" or "letoff", as we call it.

Here are a few fun virtual piano actions:
http://www.rennerusa.com/VirtualActionModel.asp

This one is nice and slow. If you watch closely, you can see at what point as the key is released that the jack returns under the knuckle so the note can be repeated (click the word "Play" to repeat):
http://www.concertpianoservice.nl/

Education is a mission of the Piano Technicians Guild. We've started to put together some resources, and more are in the works. Here's what we have now:
http://ptg.org/learningCenter/

--Cy--
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 02:07 PM

What a great post, Cy! I can't wait to try out that "playing a chord with a single finger" trick.

This post should also be required reading for anybody on the main forum trying to decide whether a grand is really worth the upgrade over a vertical. It's a heck of a lot more informative and persuasive than simply saying "the action is better."
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 02:12 PM

Nice, very nice CY...
Posted by: lilylady

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 02:16 PM

Great post Cy!

THAT is the educational stuff that I think should be available to players, students, teachers, customers, clients and 'moi'!

Now, how do we get this available? How do we make what you just said exciting enough for pianists, customers, teachers and their students?

One way, as you have suggested is that the tech does it while at the home. 10 minutes each time?




That's a 3 thumbs up!

Edit...oh and Cy could you post this on the piano forum section by the same name for the archives?
Posted by: lilylady

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 02:18 PM

HEY PW Frank !

Nomination post for the archives!
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 02:28 PM

Concur - I'll be linking to this. Thanks very much.
Posted by: bitWrangler

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 03:17 PM

I think that one opportunity that teachers could be missing out on is using their knowledge of how a piano works to further engage kids. Maybe it's just me, but I think how a piano works is pretty darn cool. So for example, instead of just introducing the damper pedal as what you do to hold a note(s), go ahead and show them how pressing the pedal raises all the dampers. I think things like that would be a wonderful addition to a child's piano education (adults too).
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 03:21 PM

Actually, many of us do just that, though sadly, most do not. I always take off the front of an upright and go through the whole action with students, as well as showing them on the grand. And as it's easy to pull out a key on an upright, I do that as well, and let them handle it.

Manufactures are missing a bet on this one, however. I've asked several dealers about purchasing one of those mechanical key displays so I could have one in the studio. What a way to advertise for a brand name. But the prices were out of sight for a piano teacher.
Posted by: bitWrangler

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 03:28 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by John v.d.Brook:
Manufactures are missing a bet on this one, however. I've asked several dealers about purchasing one of those mechanical key displays so I could have one in the studio. What a way to advertise for a brand name. But the prices were out of sight for a piano teacher. [/b]
Question for lurking techs, how difficult would it be to take the action from a trashed grand and "slice" it up into working sections? There could be a market out there for creating these "displays" assuming one could do it in a relatively cost effective manner.
Posted by: lilylady

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 03:56 PM

Pull out a key?

HUH?

I guess I missed out on that Lecture 201!

HOW is that done?

I too have done the expose the insides and am so happy that other teachers are doing that...and hope that we can encourage more.

That action demo might be a great idea to get into teaching studios. I wonder if there is a way to make them up to be sold inexpensively. Don't many actions already come pre assembled?

What say you action companies? What say you manufacturers?

I remember last year at MH there was a box of hammers to be thrown away and several of us asked if we might take some home to use a keychains, earings etc...but heck wouldn't a young student like to have one? Can't the throw aways from factories be just given out somehow?

Oh, I can just see the MH factory going 'UGH' what is she saying - on that suggestion!

Promo and education, man, promo! Stamp your name on it!!!
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/05/08 07:00 PM

Hi LL,

On my Grotrian upright, it's very easy to remove the keys once the face board is removed (also an easy task). On my Boston, you'd have to remove the fall board, which is a bit of an operation. Next time your tech visits, find out if such is possible on your instrument. It really is a lot of fun to pull a key or two and pass out to students for examination.

John
Posted by: Cy Shuster, RPT

Re: Piano Teachers' knowledge of piano innards / brands / need to know to - etc - 05/12/08 02:17 AM

I just wanted to see if there any followup questions. Has anyone tried these experiments?

--Cy--

P.S. The demonstration mechanism is called an "action model". It's fairly easy to assemble one from spare parts if you just pin them to a piece of heavy cardboard... but they have to be regulated right to work! They show up on eBay from time to time, especially homemade ones. Some are made by piano manufacturers as sales tools; some are used by student technicians. New ones of the latter kind are about $500.