Piano Forum



Who's in Charge? - Masterclass in Conducting from the Piano
The list of renowned pianists who have also conducted is long; Barenboim, Schiff, Ushida, Pletnev, Kahane, Anda, Solti and Bernstein. Is conducting from the piano "real conducting”, and what training do you need to be able to do it? The new project ”Conducting from the Piano” by the Géza Anda Foundation in Zurich offers masterclasses and rehearsals with orchestra for pianists wanting to take on the double role of soloist and conductor. Read more >>

Topic: Tone  (Read 2907 times)

Kapellmeister27

  • Guest
Tone
on: January 19, 2005, 11:07:29 PM
Ive been having an argument with my teacher for some time that for one note played on a piano the only factor that can change its tone is the speed with which the key is struck.  But she keeps giving my a bunch of psychological jargon about feeling the bottom of the key and such.  Now i know the way you approach playing a note or groups of notes can afffect how you play (much like follow through in gold, you don't absolutely need it but it affects the way you set of the shot), and for many notes of chords there can be a change of tone depending on how you press teh keys, but i still think for one note alone, it doesn't matter how you play it since the only factor that is a variable is the velocity.  Anyone else have any thoughts?

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #1 on: January 19, 2005, 11:27:52 PM
Ive been having an argument with my teacher for some time that for one note played on a piano the only factor that can change its tone is the speed with which the key is struck.  But she keeps giving my a bunch of psychological jargon about feeling the bottom of the key and such.  Now i know the way you approach playing a note or groups of notes can afffect how you play (much like follow through in gold, you don't absolutely need it but it affects the way you set of the shot), and for many notes of chords there can be a change of tone depending on how you press teh keys, but i still think for one note alone, it doesn't matter how you play it since the only factor that is a variable is the velocity.  Anyone else have any thoughts?

Your teacher is right (Bernhard would say "Aren't they always?").

This comes up every now and then. There are two more aspects to tone quality in addition to the velocity with which a hammer strikes the strings.

1. Hammer shafts are flexible to some extent. The way a hammer is accelerated when you depress the key will flex the shaft a little bit. When the hammer strikes the strings, the flex is being released (akin to a whiplash effect). So, with a very good instrument, it is possible to achieve a different tone quality depending on whether the key is depressed with constant velocity (let's call it v), or whether you slowly accelerate the key, so that it does have that velocity v when it goes through the escapement barrier, or whether you start out fast and then slow down while again reaching the same velocity. You somtimes see pianists hitting a key close to the fallboard and sliding the finger outwards while they depress the key. One can also start at the tip of the key and slide inwards. many pianists and many listeners claim they can hear a difference in the resulting tone quality. BTW, hammer shafts, like everything, has intrinsic resoncne frequencies, which can be determined by simply dropping them on a hard surface. In high-end pianos, the hammer shafts are matched to the pitches they are supposed to be creating.

2. The keybed is extremely important for tone production. In addition to the velocity that the key has when it goes through the escapement barrier, the tone will be different depending on how hard you follow through and crash into the keybed. The vibrations such created will transmit through the entire piano and affect the vibrations coming from the strings thus modulating the tone quality. You can test this with a single note: strike it once so that the key does not touch the keybed and then again so that it does while maintaining the same loudness. With a good instrument and a good ear, you should be able to pick up the differences without any problems.

Offline will

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 252
Re: Tone
Reply #2 on: January 20, 2005, 05:29:12 AM
Xvimbi: great reply, that is the most succinct and scientific explanation to this question that I have ever heard (no 'psychological jargon' here). Well Done.

Kapellmeister: mass also has an effect on the tone created. First drop a light object onto a key then from the same height drop a heavy object. The heavy object will create a louder sound even though the speed of the objects are identical. I think you meant to say the speed of the hammer shaft is the only factor that can change a piano's tone.

Offline aquariuswb

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 158
Re: Tone
Reply #3 on: January 20, 2005, 05:47:47 AM
Kapellmeister: mass also has an effect on the tone created. First drop a light object onto a key then from the same height drop a heavy object. The heavy object will create a louder sound even though the speed of the objects are identical. I think you meant to say the speed of the hammer shaft is the only factor that can change a piano's tone.

I see what you're saying, but I rather think of it in terms of the force with which the keys are struck, which is determined by momentum (mass X velocity). Yes, dropping differently weighted objects will affect the tone, but your finger has the same mass every time you use it. Therefore, when it comes to actually playing, the mass is really an obsolete factor, whereas the velocity will determine the momentum. And of course everything kapellmeister mentioned plays a role in tone, as well.
Favorite pianists include Pollini, Casadesus, Mendl (from the Vienna Piano Trio), Hungerford, Gilels, Argerich, Iturbi, Horowitz, Kempff, and I suppose Barenboim (gotta love the CSO). Too many others.

Offline timothy42b

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3373
Re: Tone
Reply #4 on: January 20, 2005, 07:26:56 AM
I would bet if you did blind tests (don't see how you could double blind, but single blind would be easy) you could not tell the difference in tone.

I read about a test where professional piano players could not tell the difference in tone between a key pressed with a finger and one pressed with a pencil held in the mouth, if the volumes were equal. 

Musical instrument players of all types have a long history of assigning tone differences based on superstition.  For example, every flute player "knows" a metal flute sounds different from a wood one.  Over the last 100 years thousands of well designed experiments have been done, and in not one has a difference been detected.  But this has not changed flute players's opinions in the slightest.  The same is true for oboe, clarinet, and a few others;  so far no wind instrument has been found where the wall material has a detectable effect on sound, though there are a few that haven't been studied well and still might show an effect.  And there are almost no players who believe the test results.  (If you're curious, one of the standard tests goes like this:  make two flutes as identical as possible.  The player, who does not know which one he is playing, plays the two flutes three times in random order.  Like, silver silver wood.  The listener tries to identify which one is different - first second, or third.  Never do they succeed above chance.) 

I point this out not to disagree totally with the mechanical possibilities suggested by xvimbi.  I think though they are more theoretical than proven.  The same arguments are made constantly about golf shafts and flex, and all the evidence is that the actual collision depends only on the speed and mass of the head, and the shaft cannot store energy or contribute. 
Tim

Offline jlh

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2352
Re: Tone
Reply #5 on: January 20, 2005, 08:29:39 AM
I've heard so many people claim that by some "magical" touch after the key is pressed you can affect the tone that it's a little sickening.  Once you've pressed the key, you can't affect the tone of the note with your fingers.  It's impossible. 

Velocity does play an important part of tone production, especially with pianos that have an accelerated action.  Mass can be a factor because every finger on your hand has a different mass, which is why in some passages fingering is chosen that will allow the 1 or 3 fingers to end up on notes requiring special emphasis (simple anatomy is also contributes to this choice).  Thinking only in terms of force is an incomplete view of tone production, because any variables either in mass or velocity will affect the tone.

All things being equal, the tone is not affected simply by holding the key to the bottom of the keybed.  Yes, playing all the way to the bottom of the note will affect the velocity of the hammer, but the tone is already being transmitted throughout the piano, and once the strings are struck, nothing touches them until you let up the key.  Try this simple test: Strike any key on the piano fairly loud and then let up the key only a little bit -- not enough to induce the damper but enough to be up off the bottom of the keybed.  Can you tell any difference in tone?  In practice, however, this is really a non-issue since for other reasons, it's better to hold the key down all the way unless you have reason not to (like say you need to play staccato or something).

For a single note, yes, a pencil in the mouth or a broomstick in the hand is capable of producing the same tone - though not likely, since most people don't practice striking keys with objects enough to get very good at it.  I've yet to see a broomstick play a Beethoven Sonata, however.   ;D

Once you go beyond a single note, however, certain special techniques can and do affect the tone, like hand position, movement or lack thereof, consistency of legato lines, etc.  That is what seperates a truly great pianist from a mediocre one, and yes, you can tell the difference in tone.
. ROFL : ROFL:LOL:ROFL : ROFL '
                 ___/\___
  L   ______/             \
LOL "”””””””\         [ ] \
  L              \_________)
                 ___I___I___/

Offline aquariuswb

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 158
Re: Tone
Reply #6 on: January 20, 2005, 08:46:45 AM
Mass can be a factor because every finger on your hand has a different mass, which is why in some passages fingering is chosen that will allow the 1 or 3 fingers to end up on notes requiring special emphasis (simple anatomy is also contributes to this choice).  Thinking only in terms of force is an incomplete view of tone production, because any variables either in mass or velocity will affect the tone.

Ah, you raise a good point here, but I bet it has more to do with, as you said, the "anatomy" of the hand, than the fact that different fingers have different masses. Let me try to make that more clear... what I mean is that, yes, the 1 and 3 tend to be best for emphasized notes, and this is obviously a result of the hand's anatomy, but I wouldn't necessarily correlate that with mass differences between fingers. Yes, different fingers have different masses, but I'd venture to guess that more important is the placement/functions of the ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles in your hand. The anatomy of the hand and the fingers allows the 1 and 3 more independent movement than any of the other fingers. I think everyone in here is familiar with the difficulties a beginner has in getting the 4 and 5 to move independently, but the 1 and 3 (and also the 2 I suppose, but unlike the 1 it's not on the outside of the hand, and unlike the 3 it's not the longest finger) tend to be quite usable right from start.

Just my two cents,
Mike
Favorite pianists include Pollini, Casadesus, Mendl (from the Vienna Piano Trio), Hungerford, Gilels, Argerich, Iturbi, Horowitz, Kempff, and I suppose Barenboim (gotta love the CSO). Too many others.

Offline jlh

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2352
Re: Tone
Reply #7 on: January 20, 2005, 10:28:42 AM
I agree completely.  I was actually just trying to explore support for the previously mentioned idea of mass being a factor.  I think mass can be a factor, but anatomy is generally more practical in making certain fingering choices.  Thanks for the added clarification!
. ROFL : ROFL:LOL:ROFL : ROFL '
                 ___/\___
  L   ______/             \
LOL "”””””””\         [ ] \
  L              \_________)
                 ___I___I___/

Offline pianonut

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1618
Re: Tone
Reply #8 on: January 20, 2005, 01:10:31 PM
Dear Kappellmeister,

Something that hasn't been discussed yet, (while agreeing that the mass of the fingers is constant, and can only be varied by the speed of the piece played, therefore relaxing and just playing is better than "affects") is the use of the pedal.  The combination of the damper and una chorda in different combinations can produce singing tones that may be nicer than just the damper alone.  When you think about it...the damper simply holds the damper away from the strings so they can vibrate.  this tone is #1 louder, #2 less controllable until it dissipates, and #3 not particularly singing.

When you add the una chord and lightly pedal the damper, you are bringing that hammer closer to the strings and can control that "singing tone."  There is a softness and roundness of sound that is more "precise."  In some pieces of Liszt (un sospiro) where you want to hear the notes (not mushy) and yet an etherial tone in the melody line up above you can una chorda/damper arpeggios, and make a distinction in the melody by not using the damper as much, and gradually letting off the una chorda as it gets louder.

I am also learning how much tone one can produce simply from a RELAXED touch.  If you are tense, it is like a hammer hitting a hammer VS stroking (like you would a cat) the keys and being tender.
do you know why benches fall apart?  it is because they have lids with little tiny hinges so you can store music inside them.  hint:  buy a bench that does not hinge.  buy it for sturdiness.

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #9 on: January 20, 2005, 01:22:15 PM
A few clarifications:

I see what you're saying, but I rather think of it in terms of the force with which the keys are struck, which is determined by momentum (mass X velocity). Yes, dropping differently weighted objects will affect the tone, but your finger has the same mass every time you use it. Therefore, when it comes to actually playing, the mass is really an obsolete factor, whereas the velocity will determine the momentum. And of course everything kapellmeister mentioned plays a role in tone, as well.

Force is mass times acceleration or momentum times velocity (it's better though to think about acceleration). Fingers for sure don't have the same mass every time you use them. Hand, and arm and the entire playing apparatus contribute to the mass that gets ultimately applied to the keys. That is the whole idea of "weight" in piano playing. A chord played with the fingers compared to one of the same loudness played with the entire body will sound thin.

I would bet if you did blind tests (don't see how you could double blind, but single blind would be easy) you could not tell the difference in tone.

There are studies about this effect on the piano, and differences have been detected by pianists.

I've heard so many people claim that by some "magical" touch after the key is pressed you can affect the tone that it's a little sickening.  Once you've pressed the key, you can't affect the tone of the note with your fingers.  It's impossible.

That is really not the point in this discussion here. However, there are some possibilities to affect the tone after the strings have been hit. Lowering the dampers is one of them. And then again, playing to the bottom of the keybed or not affects the tone quality.

Quote
Velocity does play an important part of tone production, especially with pianos that have an accelerated action.  Mass can be a factor because every finger on your hand has a different mass, which is why in some passages fingering is chosen that will allow the 1 or 3 fingers to end up on notes requiring special emphasis (simple anatomy is also contributes to this choice).  Thinking only in terms of force is an incomplete view of tone production, because any variables either in mass or velocity will affect the tone.

I don't think we are really talking about the velocity with which the fingers move. What we are talking about in terms of velocity is either the velocity with which the hammers strike the strings or the velocity with which a key goes through the escapement barrier. How the keys or the hammers reach that velocity is up to the pianist. She can use a lot of mass (arm weight) and accelerate it little or use less mass (fingers) and accelerate them a lot.

Quote
All things being equal, the tone is not affected simply by holding the key to the bottom of the keybed.  Yes, playing all the way to the bottom of the note will affect the velocity of the hammer, but the tone is already being transmitted throughout the piano, and once the strings are struck, nothing touches them until you let up the key.

No, playing to the bottom or not does not affect the velocity of the hammers. That is solely determined by the speed with which the escapement barrier is broken. That's essentially when the hammer goes into free flight. At that point, nothing can change the velocity of the hammer, but it is still a long ways down to the keybed. The velocity of the hammer determines the loudness, and flex in the hammer shafts modulates the tone quality because it changes the contact time of the hammer on the strings. The keybed affects the tone indirectly by creating vibrations that combine with the vibrations from the strings.

Quote
Try this simple test: Strike any key on the piano fairly loud and then let up the key only a little bit -- not enough to induce the damper but enough to be up off the bottom of the keybed.  Can you tell any difference in tone?  In practice, however, this is really a non-issue since for other reasons, it's better to hold the key down all the way unless you have reason not to (like say you need to play staccato or something).

Of course, there is a difference. If not, get a better piano. Also, playing to the bottom is definitely not a non-issue. Although, one practically always plays to the bottom, it is important for tone production to be able to control the force with which one crashes into the keybed as this will have a different effect depending on the force. Ever heard of a "harsh" sound versus a "smooth" or "deep" sound". These qualities are achieved by factors other than hammer velocity, which only determnes loudness.

Also, staccato does not mean one does not play to the bottom; on the contrary.

Offline aquariuswb

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 158
Re: Tone
Reply #10 on: January 20, 2005, 02:49:06 PM
A few clarifications:
Force is mass times acceleration or momentum times velocity (it's better though to think about acceleration). Fingers for sure don't have the same mass every time you use them. Hand, and arm and the entire playing apparatus contribute to the mass that gets ultimately applied to the keys. That is the whole idea of "weight" in piano playing. A chord played with the fingers compared to one of the same loudness played with the entire body will sound thin.

Sorry if I made that unclear, I know that F=m*a, but I was kind of also agreeing with your previous post about acceleration being a factor in tone, and I probably confused myself while trying to reconcile the two...

I think I see what you are saying about variable mass, but I'm going to be the ass (sorry) who takes issue with the way you phrase it. You said, "Fingers for sure don't have the same mass every time you use them." I mean now we're just getting into physics, but your finger has a certain mass, and will always have that same mass (growth in infancy/adolescence excepted). But I think your idea of hand/arm "weight" is right on... If you flex your arm stiff so that just your fingers are moving when you play, the weight of your arm does not get factored into the mass (supposing you can keep it completely and evenly stiff, which of course you can't quite do). On the other hand, if you relax your arm and let it drop with your fingers when you play, the weight/mass of your arm IS part of the force with which the key is hit. Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but let me reiterate: your fingers do not gain or lose mass; the mass that determines the force with which the key is struck (along with the acceleration) may be affected by more than just your fingers, and THAT mass IS variable.

[EDIT:] Oh sorry, xvimbi, in an earlier post I said, "And of course everything kapellmeister mentioned plays a role in tone, as well." I was actually referring to what  YOU had posted about velocity/acceleration in response to kapell's question. Sorry for the confusion
Favorite pianists include Pollini, Casadesus, Mendl (from the Vienna Piano Trio), Hungerford, Gilels, Argerich, Iturbi, Horowitz, Kempff, and I suppose Barenboim (gotta love the CSO). Too many others.

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #11 on: January 20, 2005, 04:00:55 PM
I think I see what you are saying about variable mass, but I'm going to be the ass (sorry) who takes issue with the way you phrase it.

Don't be an ass  ;)

Quote
You said, "Fingers for sure don't have the same mass every time you use them." I mean now we're just getting into physics, but your finger has a certain mass, and will always have that same mass (growth in infancy/adolescence excepted). But I think your idea of hand/arm "weight" is right on... If you flex your arm stiff so that just your fingers are moving when you play, the weight of your arm does not get factored into the mass (supposing you can keep it completely and evenly stiff, which of course you can't quite do). On the other hand, if you relax your arm and let it drop with your fingers when you play, the weight/mass of your arm IS part of the force with which the key is hit. Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but let me reiterate: your fingers do not gain or lose mass; the mass that determines the force with which the key is struck (along with the acceleration) may be affected by more than just your fingers, and THAT mass IS variable.

Yes, if you hold your wrist, arm, etc. perfectly still and move only the finger, the force that gets transmitted to the key is generated by the muscles that move the finger, not by the weight of the finger itself. To be precise, the muscle force provides the acceleration of your finger. You could just lift your finger and then drop it without any muscle force. In this case, it's gravity that provides the acceleration. In reality, the mass with which a key is depressed is not really important as long as it is bigger than about 30-90 grams (depending on the action). The only variable that really matters in piano playing is the acceleration of the key.

Offline pianonut

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1618
Re: Tone
Reply #12 on: January 20, 2005, 06:28:13 PM
does this produce good tone?
do you know why benches fall apart?  it is because they have lids with little tiny hinges so you can store music inside them.  hint:  buy a bench that does not hinge.  buy it for sturdiness.

Offline jazzyprof

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 306
Re: Tone
Reply #13 on: January 20, 2005, 06:32:19 PM
Force is mass times acceleration or momentum times velocity .

A minor correction, for those of you who may be studying physics:  force indeed is mass times acceleration.  However, that does not equal momentum times velocity.  Momentum times velocity is twice the kinetic energy, which is not the same thing as force.  
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy, next to my wife; it is my most absorbing interest, next to my work." ...Charles Cooke

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #14 on: January 20, 2005, 06:56:22 PM
A minor correction, for those of you who may be studying physics:  force indeed is mass times acceleration.  However, that does not equal momentum times velocity.  Momentum times velocity is twice the kinetic energy, which is not the same thing as force.  

Yes, you are absolutely right. I should have said force equals momentum/time. Minor slip-up.

Offline aquariuswb

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 158
Re: Tone
Reply #15 on: January 20, 2005, 07:32:17 PM


Don't be an ass  ;)

hehe ok i'm done. Anyway your posts have been quite thought-provoking and informative, thanks!
Favorite pianists include Pollini, Casadesus, Mendl (from the Vienna Piano Trio), Hungerford, Gilels, Argerich, Iturbi, Horowitz, Kempff, and I suppose Barenboim (gotta love the CSO). Too many others.

Offline jlh

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2352
Re: Tone
Reply #16 on: January 20, 2005, 11:28:47 PM
That is really not the point in this discussion here. However, there are some possibilities to affect the tone after the strings have been hit. Lowering the dampers is one of them. And then again, playing to the bottom of the keybed or not affects the tone quality.

That's why I specified "fingers", of course lowering the dampers will affect the tone! ;)  If you lower them by lifting the finger, you're ceasing to play the note.


No, playing to the bottom or not does not affect the velocity of the hammers. That is solely determined by the speed with which the escapement barrier is broken. That's essentially when the hammer goes into free flight. At that point, nothing can change the velocity of the hammer, but it is still a long ways down to the keybed. The velocity of the hammer determines the loudness, and flex in the hammer shafts modulates the tone quality because it changes the contact time of the hammer on the strings. The keybed affects the tone indirectly by creating vibrations that combine with the vibrations from the strings.

You're right; however, playing to the bottom is essentially a follow-through of pressing the note down.  If you don't play to the bottom, then the velocity of the hammer will not be the same.  It's all about how you begin pressing the key, and if you don't begin with the intention of playing to the bottom, you won't begin the attack the same way.  Yes, the keybed indirectly affects the tone, but not solely because you're holding the key down all the way.  The vibrations on the keybed happen at the point of impact, and continuing to hold the key down all the way does not introduce new vibrations.

Of course, there is a difference. If not, get a better piano. Also, playing to the bottom is definitely not a non-issue. Although, one practically always plays to the bottom, it is important for tone production to be able to control the force with which one crashes into the keybed as this will have a different effect depending on the force. Ever heard of a "harsh" sound versus a "smooth" or "deep" sound". These qualities are achieved by factors other than hammer velocity, which only determnes loudness.

You misunderstood me.  Of course you should be able to control the force in which you play the key.  That was not my point.   My point was that it is not very useful to discuss NOT playing a key down to the keybed because in the real world, a better and more consistent tone is produced by playing deep into the keys (in most cases).

Also, staccato does not mean one does not play to the bottom; on the contrary.

The correct response to this is "it depends", though in most cases I'd agree with you.
. ROFL : ROFL:LOL:ROFL : ROFL '
                 ___/\___
  L   ______/             \
LOL "”””””””\         [ ] \
  L              \_________)
                 ___I___I___/

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #17 on: January 20, 2005, 11:36:50 PM
You're right; however, playing to the bottom is essentially a follow-through of pressing the note down.  If you don't play to the bottom, then the velocity of the hammer will not be the same.  It's all about how you begin pressing the key, and if you don't begin with the intention of playing to the bottom, you won't begin the attack the same way.  Yes, the keybed indirectly affects the tone, but not solely because you're holding the key down all the way.  The vibrations on the keybed happen at the point of impact, and continuing to hold the key down all the way does not introduce new vibrations.

I didn't mean to imply that one should hold the key down. I was only referring to the "crashing" into the keybed, i.e. the initial impact. In fact, holding down the key probably dampens the vibration (and would therefore again affect the tone quality).

Offline jlh

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2352
Re: Tone
Reply #18 on: January 20, 2005, 11:47:49 PM
In fact, holding down the key probably dampens the vibration (and would therefore again affect the tone quality).

Interesting... how so?
. ROFL : ROFL:LOL:ROFL : ROFL '
                 ___/\___
  L   ______/             \
LOL "”””””””\         [ ] \
  L              \_________)
                 ___I___I___/

Offline Altazor

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 5
Re: Tone
Reply #19 on: January 21, 2005, 12:02:09 AM
Hi,  mmm I am no scientist -and my english is poor- but ill give you my point of view on this subject. I  guess you are all right about the wide range of variables that can be used to transmit energy to the KEYBOARD, but, the point that the scientist have proven several times in the labs is that all that weight, mass, acceleration, force or whatever you apply to the KEYBOARD is transformed by the piano mechanism and by the time it reaches the hammers it is all translated in to 1 thing: velocity.

So may be you are all right because different mass, acceleration, force or weight produce different velocity. And since our body is not as accurate as a disklavier to produce the exact velocity we want with a single kind of movement, we need to use all those tricks to achieve that goal.

Offline pianonut

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1618
Re: Tone
Reply #20 on: January 21, 2005, 01:26:01 AM
also, there's the matter of overtones.  They make a more ringing sound...so if you try playing un sospiro with some sort of change (i said less damper, but more is what i meant, RIGHT AFTER you hit the key)  I suppose in physics, this would mean that you are controlling the vibrations a bit more (not dampering immediately) but then allowing a ringing of the controlled note.  (sort of like what vocalists use to project their voice - aiming high).

well tuned pianos are probably the other answer to good tone.  a tuned-tone is better than an untuned-tone.
do you know why benches fall apart?  it is because they have lids with little tiny hinges so you can store music inside them.  hint:  buy a bench that does not hinge.  buy it for sturdiness.

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #21 on: January 21, 2005, 03:15:04 AM
Interesting... how so?

Well, it's just like how dampers work: by touching the vibrating material one dampens the vibrations.

Offline will

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 252
Re: Tone
Reply #22 on: January 21, 2005, 03:38:59 AM
Great discussion. Just a few more questions:
The velocity of the hammer determines the loudness, and flex in the hammer shafts modulates the tone quality because it changes the contact time of the hammer on the strings.
    Could you please explain the specifics of hammer flex and effect on tone created. I take it that more flex means a longer contact time of the hammer on the string. But what exact effect does a longer contact time of the hammer on the strings have on tone? e.g. the longer the contact time the slower attack of the tone? the longer the contact time the more the high overtones are brought out?

Thanks, Will.

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #23 on: January 21, 2005, 12:57:44 PM
Great discussion. Just a few more questions:

    Could you please explain the specifics of hammer flex and effect on tone created. I take it that more flex means a longer contact time of the hammer on the string. But what exact effect does a longer contact time of the hammer on the strings have on tone? e.g. the longer the contact time the slower attack of the tone? the longer the contact time the more the high overtones are brought out?

I'd have to dig through some rather technical stuff. Since I don't have THAT much time right now, I'll give you some pointers:

https://members.aol.com/cc88m/PianoBook.html
CC's book contains some chapters about this topic

https://www.speech.kth.se/music/5_lectures/contents.html
This is a fairly understandable treatise on the subject

Hope that helps.

Offline whynot

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 466
Re: Tone
Reply #24 on: January 21, 2005, 05:41:41 PM
Kappelmeister27:  Looks like you got a really interesting conversation started!  I'm impressed with all the science and analysis going on out there and wish I knew more about it myself.  This is all similar to my experiences with singers over the years.  I've sat in on hundreds of voice lessons, and taken quite a few myself.  The voice works in ways that are definable, observable (with equipment) and fairly predictable.  An experienced ear can distinguish pretty well what's going on technically in someone else's singing.  But for most singers, it is not effective to deal with their own voices in technical terms.  They do it a bit, "keep the soft palate high," but for the most part they work in images that would sound flighty and poetical to anyone else.  They do it because, for them, what they imagine about space and sound and their bodies impacts their singing much more than trying to directly control what the musculature is doing.  People could (and do) argue all day about whether it should be like that, but it is like that for most of them. 

The process isn't quite the same for us, of course, because we can see more of what we do on our instrument.  But the practice of teachers giving images and broader concepts to help students learn to shape sound is really helpful for some people.  Maybe it's not helpful for you and you would prefer to work with a teacher who deals with the mechanics more directly.  Or maybe you're just at a point of healthy questioning and wanting to have more input into your own playing, which can be a really good thing.  What she's trying to give you is something we all need:  a whole palate of sounds/colors.  If you think that's something she does well in her own playing, you might want to give her ideas a try, even if they seem gimmicky.  Because, however difficult it is for people to agree on the hows and whys of it, we do know that a great many sounds or colors can be made on our instrument.  We all want as many expressive options as possible so we can make our music sound the way we want it to.  Good luck with that!

Offline Axtremus

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 507
Re: Tone
Reply #25 on: January 21, 2005, 07:10:59 PM
Another hypothesis:

When playing a piece, a bunch of notes are played, often in rapid succession. A very good argument can be made that once a note is struck, you cannot change the tone of that note (except for the micro-movement of lifting the finger just slightly so the damper damps the note just a bit). But what you do with your fingers striking the first note may affect how you strinke the second note. And since the human ear naturally contrast the second note to the first, this affects how the listener hears the first note. Fingers are not independent, I'd submit that when executing sufficiently fast passages, what with you do with a finger (e.g, whether you follow-through to the press all the way down to the keybed after you hit the note, press key with finger/wrist/arm, etc.) affects what you do with your other finger on the same hand that has to hit another note a very short moment later (how you shift weight from one finger to another, how much side-way angular momentum you feed into the key that will affect the flex in the action, etc.), so the next note will be affected. The ear will contrast the series of notes and "suggest" that the first notes sound different just because the subsequent notes sound different (hence contrasting the first notes differently).

What do you all think about the hypothesis above?

Offline Altazor

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 5
Re: Tone
Reply #26 on: January 22, 2005, 04:04:26 AM
I think that a good way to test the theory that the only factor that can change the tone is velocity, it would be to play a piece in a disklavier and record it both with its built in midi recorder and with a sound recorder at the same time.

Then we should make the disklavier play the midi file and make a sound recording of it  -to prevent the quality of the recording to interfer with our judgement-

Since the only information that the disklavier´s built in midi recorder stores are the names of the notes played and their velocity, then if the theory is right, the original sound recording and the recording of the automatic replay made by the disklavier are supposed to sound exactly the same.

Also we could try to play the same piece trying to get different tone qualities to check if the disklavier is able to reproduce them by changing only the velocity.

Any Disklavier -or similar- owners have tried this?

Offline xvimbi

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2439
Re: Tone
Reply #27 on: January 22, 2005, 05:14:19 AM
I think that a good way to test the theory that the only factor that can change the tone is velocity, it would be to play a piece in a disklavier and record it both with its built in midi recorder and with a sound recorder at the same time.

Physicists have done these experiments many times over and with much more precise instrumentation than a Disklavier. All one has to do is record the sound produced and do what is called a Fourier analysis on it. This will reveal all the pitches in the sound and their amplitudes (i.e. loudness). With this, it is easy to compare different sounds.

Another hypothesis:
And since the human ear naturally contrast the second note to the first, this affects how the listener hears the first note.
...
What do you all think about the hypothesis above?

You are absolutely right. I tried not to mention this earlier, because I sensed a certain aversion against psychological factors, and there are some clear physical explanations, but they don't seem to be sufficient. When pianists and certain listeners kept claiming that they could hear subtle tone differences, scientists tried to find out what the physical basis for this is. They had a hard time, but could eventually find at least those two factors that I mentioned earlier (hammer shaft flex, keybed vibrations). But this didn't really seem to be satisfactory. There is a field called psychomusicology that studies how sound is perceived by the human brain. It is uncontested that the same sound (i.e. physically identical) can be perceived differently depending on the context, just like the same color can be perceived differently depending on what colors are around it, objects of the same size can be perceived differently depending on what other objects are around, etc. That's why it is difficult to create and perceive different sound qualities on a single note or even on a single isolated chord. The very same chord played in a violent portion of a Beethoven sonata compared to a silky smooth portion of a lyrical Liszt piece will "sound" completely different. This is probably the biggest component of all. The really funky thing is that those perceptions seem to be reproducible, i.e. different people, but not all, perceive them the same way. This apparently tells a lot about how the human brain works, but this is roughly where my understanding of the matter ends.

Offline will

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 252
Re: Tone
Reply #28 on: January 23, 2005, 07:00:48 AM
https://www.speech.kth.se/music/5_lectures/contents.html
This is a fairly understandable treatise on the subject
Hope that helps.

Cool. I came across one of these lectures some time ago, read and enjoyed it and then forget to check out the others. Thanks.

Offline pianonut

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1618
Re: Tone
Reply #29 on: January 23, 2005, 09:42:13 PM
Yes, xvimbi's suggested five part lecture is really good.  It's in depth and very concise.  You don't really see the action in motion unless you take time, and stand over the piano and watch what happens.  I used to do this with beginning piano students when they were learning what the pedals do.  I would take off the lid, and for a young child (i would push down the pedals) would ask "what do you see happening when this pedal is pushed?"  If nothing else, they get kind of excited when you tear a piano apart.

I wasn't aware of the idea of different tones being available at a certain dynamic.  If this is true (about more upper partials at higher volumes - forte) then the "ringing" idea of singers and the ringing of the partials kind of goes together.  I am surprised that he did bring this out (voice and piano) and that that is how one differentiates it from synthesized music.  It must be harder to hear the difference in synthsized music when it is played at a softer dynamic. 
do you know why benches fall apart?  it is because they have lids with little tiny hinges so you can store music inside them.  hint:  buy a bench that does not hinge.  buy it for sturdiness.

Offline min@m

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 13
Re: Tone
Reply #30 on: January 25, 2005, 03:43:50 AM
Ive been having an argument with my teacher for some time that for one note played on a piano the only factor that can change its tone is the speed with which the key is struck.  But she keeps giving my a bunch of psychological jargon about feeling the bottom of the key and such.  Now i know the way you approach playing a note or groups of notes can afffect how you play (much like follow through in gold, you don't absolutely need it but it affects the way you set of the shot), and for many notes of chords there can be a change of tone depending on how you press teh keys, but i still think for one note alone, it doesn't matter how you play it since the only factor that is a variable is the velocity.  Anyone else have any thoughts?



Think of the tone on a piano as a vocal instrument.  How deeply you play will affect the tone that is coming out of the piano.  the weight of the fingers coming down will vary the tone a lot.  sometimes i use 4 and 5 fingers on the top notes just to get it really singing.  Try to think of a bowling ball slowly moving across the keys to get a real legato and singing sound

Offline min@m

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 13
Re: Tone
Reply #31 on: January 25, 2005, 03:45:46 AM
I would bet if you did blind tests (don't see how you could double blind, but single blind would be easy) you could not tell the difference in tone.

I read about a test where professional piano players could not tell the difference in tone between a key pressed with a finger and one pressed with a pencil held in the mouth, if the volumes were equal. 

Musical instrument players of all types have a long history of assigning tone differences based on superstition.  For example, every flute player "knows" a metal flute sounds different from a wood one.  Over the last 100 years thousands of well designed experiments have been done, and in not one has a difference been detected.  But this has not changed flute players's opinions in the slightest.  The same is true for oboe, clarinet, and a few others;  so far no wind instrument has been found where the wall material has a detectable effect on sound, though there are a few that haven't been studied well and still might show an effect.  And there are almost no players who believe the test results.  (If you're curious, one of the standard tests goes like this:  make two flutes as identical as possible.  The player, who does not know which one he is playing, plays the two flutes three times in random order.  Like, silver silver wood.  The listener tries to identify which one is different - first second, or third.  Never do they succeed above chance.) 

I point this out not to disagree totally with the mechanical possibilities suggested by xvimbi.  I think though they are more theoretical than proven.  The same arguments are made constantly about golf shafts and flex, and all the evidence is that the actual collision depends only on the speed and mass of the head, and the shaft cannot store energy or contribute. 
  I totally disagree with what this person has to say.

Offline richard w

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 200
Re: Tone
Reply #32 on: January 27, 2005, 05:41:51 PM
Obviously, tone is a hot issue in the piano-playing world! I can't argue with anyone who claims that certain mechanisms, eg hammer-shaft flex, contribute to variety of tone, but in my opinion such effects are likely to be insignificant compared to what I think are the 'actual' mechanisms for good tone.

What do I think the 'actual' mechanisms for good tone are? First, a good piano goes a long way. Maybe some pianists out there are fortunate enough to have world-class pianos continually at their disposal, but for the rest of us (and I suspect that will be the majority) we would probably all agree that our playing sounds much better when conditions are excellent. Second, good voicing (balancing) of the notes by the pianist has to be the most significant aspect to good tone. Worrying about whether the tone of a single note can be changed or not for a given loudness seems pointless when notes are almost never heard in isolation. Our perception of any given sound is influenced very much by the sounds which surround it. The fact that one requires at least a 'good ear', and quite possibly an intimate knowledge of the sound of the piano, such as a pianist would have, to hear differences in single notes implies, to my mind, that such differences would be completely lost in the context of a piece of music. Therefore I conclude that good tone comes not from the way individual notes are played, but the way notes are played relative to other notes. Finally, playing with too much force does a lot to spoil the tone. There is only so much power in a given piano. If one plays beyond this point by increasing the velocity, the sound becomes harsh due to greater development of upper harmonics. This sound can be exploited by pianists to good effect, but typically a more controlled approach will avoid the harshness without loss of volume.

However, to achieve good tone it is not helpful for the pianist to feel restrained by the thought that velocity is the only parameter one can change (be it true or not). Au contraire. Imagine that you can pluck the strings with your fingers, or bow them like a violinist, or tongue like a woodwind player, or slide like a trombonist can. Imagine that every aspect of tone available to every conceivable kind of instrument is available to you at the piano and you will develop the necessary ways of thinking to produce good tone.

My thoughts on the subject!



Richard.

Offline pianonut

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1618
Re: Tone
Reply #33 on: January 28, 2005, 01:16:11 AM
i like that idea because it forces you to think as a conductor would and basically conduct your own piece.  i'm just learning what all the instruments can do, but i am tying the instruments into the piano at least!  maybe that's why mozart is my starting point (and maybe ending point when i'm old -er).  he seems to bring in singers, too.  and, actors, as in shakespeare.  there is such a variety of things to spark the imagination that you can almost get too carried away and completely forget you are playing in front of an audience.
do you know why benches fall apart?  it is because they have lids with little tiny hinges so you can store music inside them.  hint:  buy a bench that does not hinge.  buy it for sturdiness.

Offline jlh

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2352
Re: Tone
Reply #34 on: January 28, 2005, 05:34:18 AM
Interesting.  Alfred Brendel wrote essays detailing exactly the techniques he utilizes to imitate different instruments.  These are part of his book, "Alfred Brendel On Music: Collected Essays".  VERY GOOD READING!
. ROFL : ROFL:LOL:ROFL : ROFL '
                 ___/\___
  L   ______/             \
LOL "”””””””\         [ ] \
  L              \_________)
                 ___I___I___/
 

Logo light pianostreet.com - the website for classical pianists, piano teachers, students and piano music enthusiasts.

Subscribe for unlimited access

Sign up

Follow us

Piano Street Digicert