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Topic: The role of mass in tone production, invitation to debate (Marik, you there?)  (Read 2660 times)

Offline iumonito

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The question: what's the role of mass in tone production?

First among the things I think we should explore here are the myths and truths about playing relaxed, with weight, to the bottom of the keys and with the shoulders and back as opposed to the forearms and hands.

Another important segway is the aesthetics of piano sound, which in another string has boiled down to whether Horowitz had a beautiful tone.  I adore both Gilels and Horowitz, so I am very curious where this will take us.

Last in my agenda (although perhaps not in yours) is the discussion of light and heavy action, which should also touch on hammer size, immediacy of sound and hall accoustics.  Should you want to, feel free to include comentary about the realities of playing the piano in public and most importantly on injury prevention and anatomy.

Very curious,
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Offline xvimbi

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The question: what's the role of mass in tone production?

Before venturing into the abyssmal depths of this topic ;), let's take a step back. What aspects are actually involved in tone production and how does mass then factor in? I assume, at this point, we are talking about aspects relating to the human playing apparatus.

Tone depends on the acceleration of the key at all stages of its downward and upward motions. This includes the attack, the way a key is accelerated up to the point when it breaks through the escapement barrier as well as the key hitting and staying in the keybed. I believe mass only factors into the last aspect, i.e. the interaction of key and keybed.

Offline ramseytheii

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As to did Horowitz have a beautiful sound, I don't udnerstand the question - which sound?  He made all of them, beautiful, ugly, harsh, etc. 
Anyways we all know that beauty is in the "eye of the beholder."  Just because he didn't do things in a conventional way, or because his physical approach seems to defy logic, doesn't mean it's not "right" or beautiful!

Walter Ramsey

Offline iumonito

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Hi Xvimbi,

I am very interested in your comment about the influence on piano tone that the follow through after striking the key and while in the key bed.  Naturally, this will raise a damper, so it is pretty important to stay there, but how does that affect the tone color?

I would rather we do not narrow the discussion to the human apparatus, as the mass in the hammers specially (and the counterbalancing weights in the keys) are, IMO, crucial to the discussion.

Walter, we are of the same mind on Horowitz' tone.  There seems to be a contrary view out there, maybe it was all a missunderstanding.
Money does not make happiness, but it can buy you a piano.  :)

Offline xvimbi

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Hi Xvimbi,

I am very interested in your comment about the influence on piano tone that the follow through after striking the key and while in the key bed.  Naturally, this will raise a damper, so it is pretty important to stay there, but how does that affect the tone color?

The issue whether tone color can be influenced by aspects beyond merely the velocity with which a hammer strikes the strings has been investigated in quite some detail. Pianists insist that it is possible, and scientists have been looking for possible physical phenomena that would support that notion. So far, only two aspects have emerged (to my knowledge anyway; I'm not an expert in piano acoustics). One is the amount of flex in the hammer shafts that builds up during the specific acceleration of the hammers. The flex gets released when the hammer strikes the strings and adds components to the resulting sound. Thus, a hammer that strikes the strings with velocity v and no additional flex in the shaft will produce a different tone quality than a hammer that strikes the strings with the same velocity v, but that has flex in it. A pianist can affect the amount of flex in the hammer shaft by chosing a certain acceleration scheme for the key. Starting out slow and accelerating to the final speed will produce a different amount of flex than depressing the key with uniform speed. Piano makers carefully match the proper hammer shaft for the keys depending on the intended pitch. I have read (I think on this forum, in fact) that they drop the hammer shafts on a table and listen to its internal resonances to chose the right shafts.

Second, when the key hits the keybed, additional resonances are being introduced that affect the resonances of the soundboard (and the whole piano in general) that in turn affect the resulting tone. This, I believe, is the bigger component in affecting the tone. Therefore, how one slams into the keybed and how long one dwells in it plays in important part in the resulting tone.

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I would rather we do not narrow the discussion to the human apparatus, as the mass in the hammers specially (and the counterbalancing weights in the keys) are, IMO, crucial to the discussion.

I was not trying to narrow down the discussion but wanted to separate the different issues. I wanted to start out with differences in tone production on the same piano, then perhaps move on to what happens if one changes the hammers on that piano, etc.

Again, I am no expert, and I am not even sure if I can actually reliably perceive the subtle nuances that many people are talking about.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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The thing is, yes we can measure the touch required for a beautiful tone, but this doesnt help us. If i say, the star over there is 10 billion light years away I measured it with a ruler, then you ask me, ok then how far is that one? Do I take out a stick and start to measure again?

The sounds from the piano cannot be changed beyond "merely the velocity with which a hammer strikes the string"

It is the physical nature of the instrument, you cannot blow into a piano different like you would a flute to change to sound, nor can you adjust the exact frequency of the note as you can do with voilin.
 Piano has this standard, but how you actually reach into the actual colors and tones that can come from the piano is as difficult as measuring stars. It is not something done with a measured implement but using musical knowledge and experience. Its like how scientists measure the stars in the sky, no rules just theory and logic. Piano is so much the same. Don't think you can control it with measurable or procedure. It is learn with experience and time, pushed in the right direction by musicians better than yourself.

I firmly believe we should search for the effortless touch required to play the pieces we memorise. This is where we not only play the notes of the piece without full conscious effort but also without physical effort. Our hands have to be completely relaxed no matter what we play. That is of greatest importance because around that forms the basis for our control over our expressive ability with the music.
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Offline xvimbi

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I firmly believe we should search for the effortless touch required to play the pieces we memorise. This is where we not only play the notes of the piece without full conscious effort but also without physical effort. Our hands have to be completely relaxed no matter what we play. That is of greatest importance because around that forms the basis for our control over our expressive ability with the music.

Dear lostinidlewonder: I get the idea by now that you want to do everything with your stomach and don't want to think about what you are doing. So, then  please let at least others reflect on what they doing, and stop ridiculing those who are trying to understand and explain things. Frankly, it's getting annoying. And your notion that the only parameter a pianist can affect is velocity reveals that you have an incomplete understanding of how a piano works. But you are obviously not interested in that, anyway, so then please let us be. Thanks.

Offline iumonito

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Dear xvimbi,

I am sure you can debate the present question without attacking or feeling attacked.  Relax.

I actually agree with lost that an over-rational approach may be detrimental here.  If you spend a lot of time considering the precise speed with which you press the second and fifth note of the phrase you are not spending a lot of time internalizing the phrase you are playing, and letting your id do its job and provide means for your musical dream.  If you want to sound like Alexander Kobrin at the past Van Cliburn, disregard.

On the other hand, Lost, consideration of the whys and hows of playing the piano can give your id the seeds to incorporate new tools in the arsenal of atavic responses we play the piano with.  This concept of relaxed hands I find to be a myth, or at least a semantic misunderstanding: if your hands were truly relaxed, you would be playing mushy clusters all over the piano, and such is not the case.  You need eutonic, strong fingers which do not collapse (so there is no loss of energy) and nimble grasping motions that convey to the keyboard your musical thought.  Le strictement necessaire.

I personally like to talk about tension release where unnecessary, weight, mass and speed of attack more as general concepts, and always associated with a type of sound, not with a sound in a particular spot.  Simple example: if you play the great gates of Kiev with a fast ket attack, you are likely to get a piercing sound that for the most part is not as satisfying as if you think of slow, heavy, mass driven, piano touch, as if you were playing on mud.  You should not, though, be thinking about mud or speed of attack when you are playing it.  You should be just involved, stomach and all, with the music as you play it.

For some mysterious reason, the latter approach will result in a louder, richer tone, closer to the golden tone so coveted by the likes of Gilels, Pogorelich and Rachmaninov.  Why is one of the questions posed here.  How to practice it and develop it we should talk about.

Measuring the distance bettwen the stars and knowing they are balls of gas burning millions of miles away is one thing.  Holding the hand of your beloved as you gaze at them another.  I think only a fool would be considering a measurement of light years when a feeling is what's happeni'n, maybe a kiss.
Money does not make happiness, but it can buy you a piano.  :)

Offline pita bread

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Measuring the distance bettwen the stars and knowing they are balls of gas burning millions of miles away is one thing. Holding the hand of your beloved as you gaze at them another. I think only a fool would be considering a measurement of light years when a feeling is what's happeni'n, maybe a kiss.

You, sir, are a romantic.

So how do we practice weight-drops for chords? I find myself having to gain some slight altitude above the key and then releasing my arms so they drop down into the chord. Shouldn't there be a way of doing this without any altitude, like just releasing your muscles with your fingers already resting on the keys, so that the weight presses the keys down? How do I learn/practice this?

Offline leahcim

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The issue whether tone color can be influenced by aspects beyond merely the velocity with which a hammer strikes the strings has been investigated in quite some detail.

Yeah, I was looking for papers on physical modelling, [which is more an application if you know rather than papers that tell you how it works, the wrong end in a sense but...]

I haven't read much of it yet, but here are a couple of links I'd saved :-
Physical modelling
https://www.music.mcgill.ca/~gary/614/week6/piano.html
Lectures on piano acoustics [which mentions some of the aspects you have]
https://www.speech.kth.se/music/5_lectures/contents.html

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Dear lostinidlewonder: I get the idea by now that you want to do everything with your stomach and don't want to think about what you are doing. So, then  please let at least others reflect on what they doing, and stop ridiculing those who are trying to understand and explain things. Frankly, it's getting annoying. And your notion that the only parameter a pianist can affect is velocity reveals that you have an incomplete understanding of how a piano works. But you are obviously not interested in that, anyway, so then please let us be. Thanks.

I am not at all saying do things by feeling, or by the stomach as you say. And I am NOT Ridiculing others, i am stating my OPINION for the billionth time. If people like it or not so be it, I don't really care. And it is YOU who is being deconstructive and ANNOYING people by saying, ooo dont make me sad laaa diii dah, i wish you could write a recepie book for piano playing. The thing is, there is no bit of instructional text which will ever teach anyone how to play piano, but if we try to understand what does it mean to do things EFFORTLESSLY we are getting somewhere. This is not just a word it is a whole understanding of how to PLAY piano right.

Meditate on it. I am not going to explain how to play piano with an EFFORTLESS touch because 1st it would be impossible and 2nd i would probably write 1000 pages. So difficult things are explained with generalisations and directional pushes. GET OVER IT. Effortless is definatly a part of GREAT PIANO TECHNIQUE, it is not a requirement for piano playing. But if you understand what is the effortless touch you will realise that once that is aquired then your interpretation and  musical ideas flow much more readily and uninterupted physically. If there are any Effortless procedure you want to discuss fine, get the score the bars lets discuss. Everything in piano can be done without effort. If you need effort you are not playing it with mastery.
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Offline xvimbi

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Dear xvimbi,

I am sure you can debate the present question without attacking or feeling attacked.  Relax.

I actually agree with lost that an over-rational approach may be detrimental here. 

...

On the other hand, Lost, consideration of the whys and hows of playing the piano can give your id the seeds to incorporate new tools in the arsenal of atavic responses we play the piano with.  This concept of relaxed hands I find to be a myth, or at least a semantic misunderstanding: if your hands were truly relaxed, you would be playing mushy clusters all over the piano, and such is not the case.  You need eutonic, strong fingers which do not collapse (so there is no loss of energy) and nimble grasping motions that convey to the keyboard your musical thought.  Le strictement necessaire.

...

For some mysterious reason, the latter approach will result in a louder, richer tone, closer to the golden tone so coveted by the likes of Gilels, Pogorelich and Rachmaninov.  Why is one of the questions posed here.  How to practice it and develop it we should talk about.

First, I am quite relaxed. I simply get annoyed when one is talking about one thing, and somebody else insists on talking about something else and only distracts from the subject at hand. I just vented my frustration accumulated from other threads.

There are a lot of different issues here. First, and foremost, playing the piano is not a mystical activity. When two pianists sit down at the same piano and generate different sounds, they must be doing something differently. These differences can be analyzed, and often rationalized, in an objective way. So, generally, there are a lot of things about playing the piano that can be understood in concrete terms. Understanding is the basis for teaching, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Remember, I am not talking about what makes Horowitz Horowitz on a metaphysical level, or how to develop a personal touch, develop musical ideas, etc. I am trying to understand what these guys physically do differently in the first place. There must be a physical reason why they sound different, and to explore this is the idea. Not to put off lostinidlewonder too much, what he (and you) are talking about are very valid questions, but they are separate from clear questions such as "what is the role of mass in tone production?".

The point becomes a bit clearer when one considers pita's question: "How do I learn/practice this?" Simply saying, "just let it flow out of your fingers" is not helpful. We are no Zen monks pondering koans, we need clear instructions for the basic aspects. In order to give helpful advice, we need a good understanding. If we don't have this, we need to resort to shrugs and say "just do it". Of course, the first step is always to imagine the sound that one wants to achieve. The question addressed by this thread, as far as I understand it, is then, what do I need to do to get the sound and how can I describe this in clear terms that everybody can understand.

It's physical, not metaphysical.

Quote from:  lostinidlewonder
Meditate on it. I am not going to explain how to play piano with an EFFORTLESS touch because 1st it would be impossible and 2nd i would probably write 1000 pages. So difficult things are explained with generalisations and directional pushes. GET OVER IT. Effortless is definatly a part of GREAT PIANO TECHNIQUE, it is not a requirement for piano playing. But if you understand what is the effortless touch you will realise that once that is aquired then your interpretation and  musical ideas flow much more readily and uninterupted physically. If there are any Effortless procedure you want to discuss fine, get the score the bars lets discuss.

This is very lame, but it's exactly what you were saying all along. You are saying the key is EFFORTLESNESS, and then you say you won't explain it, because it would be IMPOSSIBLE. This is the whole conundrum that we would like to resolve. What should a student do with such a statement? You will probably say, "well, I have to demonstrate". I doubt this will work.

No, it is not impossible. Many things can very well be explained for the benefit of students or anybody who wants to advance their skills, so stop throwing monkey wrenches into other people's attempts to rationalize things. It almost looks like you are afraid that one could understand the principles of mastery piano playing.

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Everything in piano can be done without effort. If you need effort you are not playing it with mastery.

I completely agree, but repeating this over and over again does not help anybody. The idea of this discussion is to understand and explain how one acquires the ability to play effortlessly. I'm looking forward to your 1000 pages :D

Offline nyquist

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Tone depends on the acceleration of the key at all stages of its downward and upward motions. This includes the attack, the way a key is accelerated up to the point when it breaks through the escapement barrier as well as the key hitting and staying in the keybed. I believe mass only factors into the last aspect, i.e. the interaction of key and keybed.

Could you elaborate on this?

n.

Offline xvimbi

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Could you elaborate on this?

n.

Ha, you changed your post, while I was replying to it...

Just to answer your now deleted question: velocity is not the only aspect, because hammers do indeed "remember" how they got accelerated. I have already exlained this above. It's an effect of hammer flex.

Now back to why I think mass plays a role only when the key hits the keybed: Let's consider we want to play a note with a certain loudness. This means the key needs to be accelerated to a ceratin velocity at the moment it goes through the escapement barrier. At this point, the hammer will be in free flight, and nothing we do to the key will change anything about the hammer. Let's further assume that we depress the key with constant speed. The force required to depress a key is very small. It can be achieved by only moving the finger from the knuckle while holding everything else still, or - the other extreme, by using the entire body to direct its force through the finger onto the key. To stress the point: the force is the same in both extremes, but the mass behind it is vastly different.

So far, so good. Now, in the case of using only the finger, if we stop the depression of the key, once the key has gone through the escapement barrier, the resulting sound will have a certain quality. If on the other hand, in the case of using the entire body, we continue and hit the keybed and stay there for a while, the resulting sound will be different. This is the whole idea behind "harsh" and "lush" or "smooth", etc. sounds. It comes out best with chords, and it requires an excellent piano to generate these differences, but that's the key to tone quality. So, it makes a difference if we only lightly touch the keybed, or if we press down on it with our entire body and stay there for a second. In other words, it depends on how much mass we use for the interaction with the keybed, because the keybed does affect the resulting sound. To make sure, it has nothing to do with the dampers. One can hear these effects with the pedal depressed.

Offline iumonito

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In fact, I would say it is most noticeable with the right pedal down.  Try this:  Just for experiment play Chopin Prelude Op. 28 # 20 all staccato and lightly, with pedal.  Then play it as legato and pesante as you can.  You will get a very different sound.

Xvimbi, is this a fair illustration of your point?

That, though, I think has little to do with how much mass is involved.  I think you will get the same difference if you play it with your fingertips or with the bed of your fingers.  (I readily admit at this point that one would tend to use more weight playing it pesante, though).

?
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Offline xvimbi

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In fact, I would say it is most noticeable with the right pedal down.  Try this:  Just for experiment play Chopin Prelude Op. 28 # 20 all staccato and lightly, with pedal.  Then play it as legato and pesante as you can.  You will get a very different sound.

Xvimbi, is this a fair illustration of your point?

That is certainly a good example, although only one of millions where these aspects come into play.

Quote
That, though, I think has little to do with how much mass is involved.  I think you will get the same difference if you play it with your fingertips or with the bed of your fingers.  (I readily admit at this point that one would tend to use more weight playing it pesante, though).

OK, this requires a clarification. The interaction between the keys and the keybed depend on the force with which the keys are pressed against the keybed, or perhaps even more precisely, the pressure that's acting on the keybed. There are several ways to generate that pressure. One could use mostly the fingers, as you described, but this is to some extent an illusion. The fingers must act against a lever to generate the force. The lever in this case are the knuckle joints. They in turn have to work against some other rigid structure, that is elbows, shoulder, etc. So, in the end, muscles all the way down to the feet are being used to press the fingers against the keybed. On the other hand, one can let gravity do the same thing and simply lean forwards a bit. Although the end effect will be the same, i.e. the force applied against the keybed will be the same, one way will be a lot "more effortless" than the other. So, it is not absolutely correct to speak about "mass" in this context (it's pressure), but rather how mass is used properly to create the pressure so that we can achieve the effortless playing that lostinidlewonder is rightly advocating.

Offline Nordlys

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When the hammer hits the string, it has a certain velocity, but how can it transfer a "quality of tone" to the string? Even If we use different mass (only the finger or the whole body) to depress the key, the mass of the hammer is still the same? It seems to me that velocity is the only thing that can vary.

I read once a reference to a scientific experiment, where famous pianists were told to play one note with different kinds of attack. The only difference they could measure, was the velocity of the hammer. (I think I read this in Gerig: famous pianists & their technique).

This is from the point of view of physics. I believe, however, like most pianists, that the way you depress the key and how you think about piano playing is very important for the sound that comes out. If we play with weight, the sound relationship between the notes will be more "round" and "smooth". And with certain movements it is easier to make the phrase just so organic you want it. We cannot think only about hammer velocity when we play, because we are not robots.

I understand sound mostly as relationship between tones:

 - relationship between tones in a chord. Normally we want the top note louder than the others. This creates a warm sound.

 - relationship between the tones in a melodic line. If the transitions from note to note are smooth, it will sound smooth. If the loudness of the notes are very different and chaotic, it will sound more hard. A phrase will also sound more smooth if you begin soft, make crescendo and than decrescendo towards the end.

- the piano sound in itself also has different qualities. Fortissimo and pianissimo on the piano will come out not only as different volume, but as stringent, hard, and soft, subdued. But this is controlled only by velocity.

The issue whether tone color can be influenced by aspects beyond merely the velocity with which a hammer strikes the strings has been investigated in quite some detail. Pianists insist that it is possible, and scientists have been looking for possible physical phenomena that would support that notion. So far, only two aspects have emerged ...

Xwimbis idea about "hammer flex" is interesting, but I don't understand it. Do you have some reference to these investigations?
The other aspect, about the keybed, do you mean the noise the key makes when it goes down? It clearly adds to the sound, but I think that is a sound that we want to avoid. Actually when I listen to piano music I soon become unaware of the key noise; it is filtered out.

Offline leahcim

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Quote
Xwimbis idea about "hammer flex" is interesting, but I don't understand it. Do you have some reference to these investigations?

The second link in my post above, the lecture "from touch to string vibration" talks about some aspects of it.

Offline xvimbi

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When the hammer hits the string, it has a certain velocity, but how can it transfer a "quality of tone" to the string? Even If we use different mass (only the finger or the whole body) to depress the key, the mass of the hammer is still the same? It seems to me that velocity is the only thing that can vary.

See hammer flex.

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I read once a reference to a scientific experiment, where famous pianists were told to play one note with different kinds of attack. The only difference they could measure, was the velocity of the hammer. (I think I read this in Gerig: famous pianists & their technique).

I don't know this experiment, but if they could only think of velocity than it must be an old experiment.

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This is from the point of view of physics. I believe, however, like most pianists, that the way you depress the key and how you think about piano playing is very important for the sound that comes out. If we play with weight, the sound relationship between the notes will be more "round" and "smooth". And with certain movements it is easier to make the phrase just so organic you want it. We cannot think only about hammer velocity when we play, because we are not robots.

To think quantitativley does not make us robots. To do the same thing over and over agin in the same way makes us robots.

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I understand sound mostly as relationship between tones:

 - relationship between tones in a chord. Normally we want the top note louder than the others. This creates a warm sound.

 - relationship between the tones in a melodic line. If the transitions from note to note are smooth, it will sound smooth. If the loudness of the notes are very different and chaotic, it will sound more hard. A phrase will also sound more smooth if you begin soft, make crescendo and than decrescendo towards the end.

This is certainly true. The psychology of perceiving sound depending on the succession of notes is mind-boggling, but is not quite the issue here.

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- the piano sound in itself also has different qualities. Fortissimo and pianissimo on the piano will come out not only as different volume, but as stringent, hard, and soft, subdued. But this is controlled only by velocity.

No, other factors play a role as well :): hammer flex, interactions with the keybed, etc.

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Xwimbis idea about "hammer flex" is interesting, but I don't understand it. Do you have some reference to these investigations?

This is not my idea at all. As I mentioned before, acousticians came up with this when they were pressed to explain the differences achieved by pianists, which they could not simply explain through velocity.

I don't have an exhaustive reference list, but check out the links that have already been listed here, as well as
https://www.pin.ca/ari/qanda.htm

and
https://members.aol.com/chang8828/techniqueIII.htm
where CC is summarizing the issue nicely.

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The other aspect, about the keybed, do you mean the noise the key makes when it goes down? It clearly adds to the sound, but I think that is a sound that we want to avoid. Actually when I listen to piano music I soon become unaware of the key noise; it is filtered out.

No. Perhaps this will clear things up: when we strike a key, the entire piano will start to vibrate. All parts on the piano will affect the sound that is being produced, even the varnish. This is what makes a piano unique. The proper choice of wood, the correct orientation of the wood with respect to the main directions of a piano, its water content, etc. all affect the resulting tone. When a major piece of wood is vibrating as a result of us playing the piano, this piece is participating in the generation of the resulting sound. When we press against that piece of wood, e.g. by pressing down the keys, it's contributions to the sound will be different compared to when it is allowed to resonate freely. Usually, there will be a "pleasant" contribution when we press against the keybed. This is the reason for the advice "always play all the way down to the keybed" when it comes to generating a warm tone. Velocity alone is not sufficient to explain the "warmth" of a tone, only its loudness.

If you have the chance, bang on a timpano or a drum, then press your hand against the metal bowl and see how the sound changes. This is an analogous situation.

Offline Nordlys

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... when we strike a key, the entire piano will start to vibrate. All parts on the piano will affect the sound that is being produced, even the varnish. This is what makes a piano unique. The proper choice of wood, the correct orientation of the wood with respect to the main directions of a piano, its water content, etc. all affect the resulting tone. When a major piece of wood is vibrating as a result of us playing the piano, this piece is participating in the generation of the resulting sound. When we press against that piece of wood, e.g. by pressing down the keys, it's contributions to the sound will be different compared to when it is allowed to resonate freely. ...

This could be true, but I don't think the effect would be noticeable. It is the soundboard after all which is important. Then we should hear a much bigger difference in the sound if we press the hand against the soundboard.


The article "from touch to string vibration" (https://www.speech.kth.se/music/5_lectures/askenflt/askenflt.html) was interesting. I read it briefly, and they actually said that they could measure a difference in the behaviour of the hammer, depending on how the pianist played (even at the same loudness). But:

Nothing definite can be said yet about the pianist's ability to influence the tone quality by controlling the motion of the hammer It is true that the entire history of the hammer motion during acceleration can be very different depending on the way the key is depressed (cf. Fig. 11). But this observation does not automatically imply that the interaction between hammer and string is influenced in some way. (from conclusion at https://www.speech.kth.se/music/5_lectures/askenflt/pianist.html)

So, the question is left open!

They also demonstrate that the "thump" of the key hitting the keybed is important for our perception of the sound.

Offline xvimbi

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So, the question is left open!

Quite right. That's why I was tryng to be careful, saying that acousticians, at this moment, think mainly of the hammer flex and the keybed interactions when trying to explain different tone quality. To my knowledge, no other aspects have seriously been considered.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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The search for "effortlessness" I guess is one of our two main goal in piano playing, the other being our search for our ultimate/ideal creation of the sound.

A lot of the times I meet students and great players who and make the right sound but the effortless procedure is not totally there. This is not altogether fatal for their playing not at all, the production of the sound might be fantastic! I feel personally that effortless piano playing is essential however for increased freedom to our future development of the piece. Secondly I also firmly believe from teaching older students that you cannot expect to be able to peform big loud sound and crazy acrobatics inefficienctly when you are older. You may be able to waste energy and control that in youth but when you are older your music has to be controlled with efficiency.

From my experince, teaching my age 50+ students, they can only produce the big sounds and fast arpeggio runs if they maintain maximum efficiency. I encourage them to  find how to PUSH the notes with the entire body affecting the individual fingers instead of isolating and using individual fingers to play. Press into the notes and control the movement groups, that is, know exactly when the hands has to move and when it rests and maintains a center about a group of notes. I drill these procedures with all my students and ensure when they push off from notes, when they drop onto notes, where the centre of the hand is every movement group.

It is very small issues about our efficiency that we have to target. I really have to sit down and watch someone play to give good advice on their energy transfer to the piano. And I am also not an expert on energy transfer to the piano nor do I think anyone is. I only know from my experience and from what I have learnt and watched from masters of the piano.  In the end we have to sit back and critically look at our hands. Ask ourselves questions, is this the easiest way? What am I missing? Do I know exactly where the centre of my hand is, how is that centre effected when we move? What does that feel like on our hand. How can we use the feeling of the centre of our hand to aid in the control of our playing? Are my fingers aligned appropriately to the keys?

I also look for changes in their hand form. If it leaves the natural piano posture Chopin encouraged. If it does leave it, what is the reason for it? Is the reason justified? Does the hand tend to the natural form when it can? Is the natural form utilised in some respect when it cannot be totally used? Perhaps between a few fingers instead of the entire hand. Is this used to enhance the effortless procedure on the piano?

Furthermore I would look for alterations in the position of their entire hands. Does it turn in a particular direction? For example if we play a chord, C Gb Ab with RH 123 for instance (it might seem strange but perhaps imagine that 4 and 5 had to play some higher notes as well). We would see our hand slightly turns to the right. So if after this chord we had to play lets say a C major arpeggio of, C E G C, where the first note is repeating the C played in the previous chord. We here look at the turn of the hand. When we played this chord our natural hand posture was mutated and we had to turn to the right a little to compensate for the fingering. So then do we recover from this position effectively when our hand position straightens up for the C major arpeggio? Or are we somewhere inbetween the turned hand and straightening while we play the C major arpeggio.

This is a very simplistic idea but it highlights generally what we look for when we look at our efficiency. A lot of the times people don't even consider this and naturally do whatever they have to to produce the sound. But to have some control over your piano playing and to have some control over increasing your efficiency at playing you have to ask yourself efficiency questions when you practice all the time.

You may see musicians who bash the hell out of the piano to produce their wild sections and big sounds, but there is a great deal of energy lost by doing this and also a degree of loss of control of the music itself. Yes they may be able to control it eventually with continual repetition, but they will not be able to maintain it all their life. We will not always have our physical brute force with us.

How your arm moves is important when you focus on the direction of your playing. Sometimes if you move your elbow towards a note you need to jump to, the actual jump that is undergone with the hand seems a lot smaller. These efficiency discoveries are very important and very unique for many people.

Some people find that they always question where the centre of gravity is in the hand, or where the notes move around the hand, where is the centre of it all? Or which fingers share similar notes, which fingers support the other, why would you tilt the hand a little to the right or left etc. Nothing you physically do in piano playing is disallowed unless it increases inefficiency of your playing or works against a "musical" sound.
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Offline iumonito

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Interesting.

Let's try that same type of analysis with somethig a little more uncomfortable.  For example the A mayor and b-flat minor seventh measures of Chopin's Op. 10 # 1.  How does this principle apply there?

...and picking up another tangent of what you say, effortlessness can very well be detrimental to the music.  I enjoy much more Serkin's Brahms first than Pollini's:  I can feel the struggle in the former, while the latter is so smooth and easy that it's boring (matter of taste, of course).
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Offline nyquist

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So far, so good. Now, in the case of using only the finger, if we stop the depression of the key, once the key has gone through the escapement barrier, the resulting sound will have a certain quality. If on the other hand, in the case of using the entire body, we continue and hit the keybed and stay there for a while, the resulting sound will be different. This is the whole idea behind "harsh" and "lush" or "smooth", etc. sounds. It comes out best with chords, and it requires an excellent piano to generate these differences, but that's the key to tone quality. So, it makes a difference if we only lightly touch the keybed, or if we press down on it with our entire body and stay there for a second. In other words, it depends on how much mass we use for the interaction with the keybed, because the keybed does affect the resulting sound. To make sure, it has nothing to do with the dampers. One can hear these effects with the pedal depressed.

My guess is that if one could isolate the sound of the strings, it would be the same in both cases.  You seem to be talking about the percusive sound generated by the key hitting the keybed.  Is that the case?

n.

Offline xvimbi

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My guess is that if one could isolate the sound of the strings, it would be the same in both cases.  You seem to be talking about the percusive sound generated by the key hitting the keybed.  Is that the case?

n.

Well, if we would isolate ONLY the string sound, then perhaps, but that is not how a piano produces sound. Concerning the percussive sound, I have answered that question already at the end of my reply #18.

Offline iumonito

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Here is an experiment that should answer the question:

get your copy of Carnaval, play the end of Paganini (where you bang the bass with pedal, press a chord in the treble without sending the hammers to the strings and take the pedal off while holding the treble "leftover" chord with your fingers) then try the following:

1) let the sound of the leftover chord die out without pedal.
2) let the sound of the leftover chord die out, but pressing the pedal again, you should get sympathy sound and some marginal vibration (hopefully marginal) caused by the dampers leaving the strings.  Continue to hold with your hand until the sound dies out.
3) same as two, but take your hand off the keyboard after re-depressing the pedal, and hold the leftover chord only with the pedal.

I hear a difference.  Do you?
Money does not make happiness, but it can buy you a piano.  :)
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