weight of action -- choice of new piano

Posted by: dymnd

weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/17/09 10:58 PM

I have a 7 year old and 9 year old (and 1 year old). My older kids are starting lessons this fall. I am about to purchase a piano, and am hearing mixed suggestions regarding a piano with "heavier" keys (i.e., an Essex in the Steinway line - apparently with a touch like a Steinway) versus perhaps a Kohler & Campbell or another piano. I was told that kids should learn on a piano of as high a quality as possible -- which included a "heavier" touch, making it easier to play on a grand. Although I am sure my oldest would be fine, I am concerned that my petite 7 year old (and eventually, my youngest) would be deterred if it is too "hard" to play. Am I making too much of this issue or is this a legitimate concern? I thank you in advance for any input here.
Posted by: beccaY

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/17/09 11:16 PM

I started piano lessons when I was five and grew up on a 6 foot Steinway. I never had a problem. I would go with the best piano you can afford. Kawai and yahama are also good choices. I actually prefer heavier keys. Hope this helps some.
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 12:11 AM

Get a piano in your price range with the heaviest touch.

If your younger child is struggling with it, then get a used keyboard just for learning purposes. I have colleagues with keyboards in their studio for the little ones (5 years old).
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 08:54 AM

Originally Posted By: dymnd
I have a 7 year old and 9 year old (and 1 year old). My older kids are starting lessons this fall. I am about to purchase a piano, and am hearing mixed suggestions regarding a piano with "heavier" keys (i.e., an Essex in the Steinway line - apparently with a touch like a Steinway) versus perhaps a Kohler & Campbell or another piano. I was told that kids should learn on a piano of as high a quality as possible -- which included a "heavier" touch, making it easier to play on a grand. Although I am sure my oldest would be fine, I am concerned that my petite 7 year old (and eventually, my youngest) would be deterred if it is too "hard" to play. Am I making too much of this issue or is this a legitimate concern? I thank you in advance for any input here.


A couple of point here. Piano technicians who are lurking can correct me if I have this incorrect. All modern keys are weighted almost identically, but the Steinway uses softer hammers and thus needs slightly more energy to obtain the same volume. The idea being that this gives the performer slightly more dynamic range.

The problem, as I see it, is that many Steinway dealers do not perform the necessary final piano prep which their factory expects. That is, voicing the instrument to the customer's playing environment.

The European/Asian piano comes with harder hammers from the factory, so have to be "pricked" if too bright in the owner's home. You pay your money, you take your choice.

All that said, I was in Seattle yesterday at Sherman-Clay, among other things, looking for instruments for two students.

The 6' Essex is very good. The 6'4" Boston is better, and the 6'2" Steinway is outstanding. Their relative prices were $24k, $38k, $52. Sherman-Clay is one of those dealers whose prices leave more room for negotiation. Read Larry Fine's "Piano Book" Annual Supplement for help in making a major purchase like this.

Good luck.

John
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 11:13 AM

I don't see a problem with a heavier touch, and I think that at age 7 they will be developed enough to play without issues. Since they are starting out with relatively undemanding music (meaning that the music does not have demands of big sound), they will get stronger and be able to play the bigger repertoire when they themselves are bigger and stronger.

I'd go with the one whose sound and feel seems the best to you. It's a big investment, so go with whichever you like the best. The Essex sounds like it would be a great encouragement to your children. You want an instrument your children can grow into, not one they will grow out of.
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 01:03 PM

Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
All that said, I was in Seattle yesterday at Sherman-Clay, among other things, looking for instruments for two students.

The 6' Essex is very good. The 6'4" Boston is better, and the 6'2" Steinway is outstanding. Their relative prices were $24k, $38k, $52. Sherman-Clay is one of those dealers whose prices leave more room for negotiation. Read Larry Fine's "Piano Book" Annual Supplement for help in making a major purchase like this.

Good luck.

John


John, you really have students willing to spend that much?

I have just sold one of my upright pianos for a very small sum. None of my students wanted it because it was "too expensive" and most of the emails and enquiries I got were from people who wanted it for peanuts. I even had this one guy who came to look with his pianist son. The lad was an advanced player in his final year of school studies with a view to auditioning at national conservatoires. He currently has a Kawai digital but his new teacher has told him to get an acoustic. They decided my piano was out of their price range as they were only looking to spend around £500!
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 01:20 PM

Some people just have no clue what a piano costs. I try to educate my students so that they don't suffer from sticker shock. Like most things, you get what you pay for. A $500 acoustic piano most likely won't be much better than the digital.
Posted by: Gyro

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 02:05 PM

Dymnd, I saw your post in the acoustic
piano forum where you're considering
acoustic uprights in the ~$6000
price range as a very first piano.
This is completely out of date.
We are now living in the Digital
Piano Age, and for $6000 you can
get a digital that is essentially
a concert grand, for example, something
like the Roland V Piano, or another
digital in the same price range.

If you want to connect to the
internet today, you don't
time-share on a mainframe
computer, you get a pc. If you
want to take photos or movies,
you don't bother with film cameras,
you get a digital camera. If
you want to type something, you
don't use a manual typewriter,
you use a wordprocessor. If you
want to travel, you don't hitch
up the horse and buggy, you get
in an automobile. You need to get
with the times with respect to
the piano.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 02:10 PM

Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 03:30 PM

Originally Posted By: Chris H.
John, you really have students willing to spend that much?

Yes.
Posted by: gooddog

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 03:33 PM

Of course, the best advice is to buy the best piano you can afford. If by heavy action you mean the keys need more pressure to get a sound, I'd be very wary. I spent 45 years learning on a Baldwin with incurably heavy action. It made my hands strong but my sound harsh. Now that I have my Steinway, I'm working hard to unlearn all that force to get a sweeter sound. It's not easy. Also, you can't go only by brand names. The heaviness of piano action varies a great deal from piano to piano. Sometimes it is adjustable, sometimes not.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 04:05 PM

Chris, just an added note - I ran a quick search and there are 2,096 households who are homeowners and have incomes over $150,000 within a 10 mile radius of my studio.

Just wish they were all taking lessons!
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 05:54 PM

Well we all know that what people can afford to spend and what they are willing to spend are two completely different things! I teach plenty of kids from wealthy backgrounds but none of them have ever bought a new grand piano.

As far as action weight goes I woudn't worry about it. If you are spending $6k on a new piano then the action will be just fine.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/18/09 07:37 PM

Originally Posted By: Chris H.
Well we all know that what people can afford to spend and what they are willing to spend are two completely different things! I teach plenty of kids from wealthy backgrounds but none of them have ever bought a new grand piano.


Their loss!
Posted by: dymnd

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/24/09 11:29 PM

I went shopping again and spent time at Yamaha and at Steinway. I found the Yamahas more expensive for pianos of the same height. For the price, it is down to the Kohler & Campbell KC-247 (a 46" upright)(on sale through the end of the month for $4K) and the Essex EUP-123S (similar to the easier-to-find 123E). I took a musician friend with me and she oohed-and aahed over the touch of the Essex. The sound was clearly richer with the Essex -- in part because it was 1-1/2 taller. I can get the Essex on sale through the end of the month for just over $5K. I'm excited to get my new piano!!
Posted by: survivordan

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/24/09 11:34 PM

You took my best advice right out of my proverbial keyboard-typing mouth. Take a pianist with you that you trust, and take their advice. Experience is the best teacher.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/25/09 09:41 AM

Congratulations. Enjoy.
Posted by: CC2 and Chopin lover

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/25/09 10:45 AM

John v.d. Brook said:
Quote:
A couple of point here. Piano technicians who are lurking can correct me if I have this incorrect. All modern keys are weighted almost identically, but the Steinway uses softer hammers and thus needs slightly more energy to obtain the same volume. The idea being that this gives the performer slightly more dynamic range.


Key weighting,(adding leads to the key to counterbalance the weight of the hammer, backcheck and whippen), should never be done "identically" for all pianos. The proper way to weight a key is to first determine the ideal strike weights of your hammers, as well as the weight of the whippens. Friction and leverage components also need to be determined. The idea is to minimize the amount of mass you add to the key in order to minimize the amount of inertia the player has to contend with during dynamic playing. Regarding New York Steinway hammers, while it is true that the hammers start out softer, Steinway has adopted a policy of soaking their hammers in lacquer in order to increase the volume, especially on concert grands. There is a way to instantly adjust the touchweight of any piano to suit the player's taste, so that those preferring a heavy touch can get it instantly, while those preferring a light touch, or anything in between, can have that as well.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/25/09 11:34 AM

Most of the new Steinways I've played over the last 10 years, in the store, have had very soft hammers. Is your experience different? Maybe Steinway preps pianos differently for different dealers? Any ideas on this?

My tech told me that the down weight pressure was pretty standardized. I don't remember what number he gave. Obviously inertia changes with hammer weight.

In re: grands - is the action weight changes you're talking about done by using spring tension or by adding/subtracting key weight?

Thanks for educating us teachers!
Posted by: CC2 and Chopin lover

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/25/09 11:53 AM

Quote:
Most of the new Steinways I've played over the last 10 years, in the store, have had very soft hammers. Is your experience different? Maybe Steinway preps pianos differently for different dealers? Any ideas on this?

My tech told me that the down weight pressure was pretty standardized. I don't remember what number he gave. Obviously inertia changes with hammer weight.

In re: grands - is the action weight changes you're talking about done by using spring tension or by adding/subtracting key weight?

Thanks for educating us teachers!


Hi John,
When purchasing hammers from Steinway, my experience has been that they are hardened with lacquer. Those that come installed already on their bigger pianos are always soaked in lacquer as well. I'm not sure what their policy is for the smaller grands, like an "M". They may leave them soft for pianos they think will be going into a home setting, I'm not sure. Regarding down weights and upweights, these numbers have little to do with what the pianist actually perceives the touchweight to be, since they are measures of force needed to move the key from a static, resting, position. Inertia is much more a factor here, since that is what the pianist is perceiving as resistive, or not, while the action parts and key are moving. This has to do with all the components I mentioned earlier. The device I am referring to regarding instant change of touchweight is actually in prototype. It was created by David Stanwood and is called the Adjustable Leverage Action. As the name suggests, it works by moving the fulcrum of the key forward or back, thereby giving the player a lighter, medium or heavy action response, depending on where the fulcrum is adjusted to. This is done with two dials on the front of the keyframe. Essentially, it works by changing the action ratio, which, before now, was a very long and labor intensive procedure which left you with just one result-either a lighter, or heavier, action than you started with. There are only two in existence as we speak. One on David's own personal Mason and Hamlin "A" and one on my Steinway "M", but, before long, I believe this device will be an integral part of the piano industry.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/25/09 04:21 PM

Thanks for the explanation. Out here, the B's have come in with really soft hammers. They may have been lacquered, but sure don't sound like it. This past week, I tried both a B and A; the A seemed lacquered up to where the dampers end, but then really soft. I don't understand their voicing policy, but if any of my students actually end up with one, I will go through it and leave instructions for their technician.

Interesting comment on the inertia. So do I understand correctly that to get a lighter feel touch, the fulcrum is moved rearward? I suppose that means let-off has to be readjusted as well.

Thanks again. I'm sure this is helping many teachers.

John
Posted by: Gary D.

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/26/09 02:34 AM

Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Get a piano in your price range with the heaviest touch.

I agree but would warn that a rather heavy touch, on a great piano, can also feel remarkably "fast" and eventually just feels right.

If the touch is also sluggish (which can only be determined by an experienced player), it can be horrnedous to deal with.

In the end it is the responsiveness of the touch, the evenness (and so on) that makes it possible for fine players to "strut their stuff".
Posted by: CC2 and Chopin lover

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/26/09 07:00 AM

Quote:
Thanks for the explanation. Out here, the B's have come in with really soft hammers. They may have been lacquered, but sure don't sound like it. This past week, I tried both a B and A; the A seemed lacquered up to where the dampers end, but then really soft. I don't understand their voicing policy, but if any of my students actually end up with one, I will go through it and leave instructions for their technician.

Interesting comment on the inertia. So do I understand correctly that to get a lighter feel touch, the fulcrum is moved rearward? I suppose that means let-off has to be readjusted as well.

Thanks again. I'm sure this is helping many teachers.

John


Hi John,
Yes, you are correct that by moving the fulcrum away from the player you create a mechanical advantage that translates to a lighter touch, but this device in no way affects the regulation of the action and the let off will not be affected. Immediately after installation, the keys will need to be re-leveled, the dip reset and the piano regulated, but that is all a one time operation. As far as Steinway's voicing policy, I can't speak to that. Of course it makes no sense to lacquer the hammers and stop in the high treble. That's usually where you would want the greatest increase in volume and tone. Regarding inertia, it is the aspect of touch that is least discussed but, probably, most important. Adding weight to the front of the key to attain the desired downweights, without giving consideration to the friction, leverage and ideal hammer strikeweights is a self defeating approach. If the hammers are too heavy, or light, if the piano has an inordinate amount of friction at the bushings, or other contact points, and if the leverage components are not optimized, then you are adding needless mass to the system, which will only result in inertial buildup and the piano "fighting" the player at every turn. That is also why it is important to have hammers that also maintain their resiliency, so that they can recoil from the string as quickly as possible to allow for clarity of the fundamental tone and full development of the partial overtones. This is another aspect that is often overlooked. An overly hard hammer will have a damping effect on the string, by staying in contact with it too long. Another area where damping of the string occurs is at the front bridge pins, as they are traditionally angled over the string at it's termination point to prevent the string from riding up on the pin and losing contact with the bridge.
Posted by: Rachel J

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/26/09 02:05 PM

I wouldn't worry about the younger ones having a problem. I have a grand with a very heavy action, and five-year-olds play it all the time with no issues. I don't think they find it frustrating at all.

I think it is generally harder to go from a too-light action at home to playing a grand at a teacher's house. So, I agree with the others who've said to get the best piano you can with a nice, heavy action.

Good for you for giving your kids the opportunity to learn on a good instrument!
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/26/09 04:07 PM

An action that is very heavy or very light is usually not a good idea IMO.

If a person speaks of a "nice, heavy action" or a "light, responsive(some find heavy actions responsive)action that plays like butter(yuck!)", I think they're really saying that's the kind of action they personally like.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/26/09 04:21 PM

Thanks again. I hope both teachers and students are paying attention!
Posted by: Rachel J

Re: weight of action -- choice of new piano - 08/26/09 05:43 PM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
An action that is very heavy or very light is usually not a good idea IMO.

If a person speaks of a "nice, heavy action" or a "light, responsive(some find heavy actions responsive)action that plays like butter(yuck!)", I think they're really saying that's the kind of action they personally like.


Just to clarify, I said "nice, heavy action" as in an action that feels nice and not too light (like some pianos I've played that feel not much better than an unweighted electronic keyboard! crazy

I personally like a grand action somewhere in the middle range. I think the heaviness of my action is too much, and I've had technicians do as much as they can to lighten it over the years.

Since the original poster was looking at uprights, I don't "think" you normally find one that's too heavy.