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#1028681 - 11/22/08 08:21 PM Random questions...
saerra Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 842
Loc: Atlanta, GA
Since starting piano, I've been going out to more live performances (yay!) - and have some questions... I'm sure for some of you, these are very basic ;\) but not for me!

I'm grateful for any insights, thanks!


- Why do string players need to tune before every piece they play?! Do they really go so badly out of tune in just a couple of minutes of playing? Do they do this when practicing too, retune after say 10 minutes, or just when playing with another instrument?

- What's going on when the bow starts to fall apart in the middle of a performance! Saw someone the other night, and there were strings flying off in all directions - yikes! I was worried that the whole thing might just snap or something! How can they keep playing under these conditions!?

- What controls the volume on a string instrument? IE - how do you make a cello louder or softer?


- Last night, I saw a college concerto competition. It was great! Mostly it was a student playing a non-piano, accompanied by a professor on the piano, but sometimes the student was on a second piano. For most of the night, the two pianos sat side by side on stage, with the accompany-ing piano farther back, obscured by the primary piano. All the students/competitors played the piano that was closest to the audience.

Then, 4 or 5 people came out and started rolling the pianos around. After much hustling, they had swapped their positions - the stage looked identical, except the piano used by the previous students was now in the accompany-ing position. The next student playing the piano that was now closer to the audience.

Why would they do that? I know there can be differences in pianos, but these looked identical (same size, both Steinways) and clearly the piano was fine for everyone else. I'm really curious what would motivate that - as it seemed like a lot of work without any real purpose! (I was also surprised that, in a competition, a student would be allowed to request that - assuming they did of course.)

- I've seen even non-string players tune with the piano on stage before they start playing. Why don't they tune backstage with another piano?

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#1028682 - 11/22/08 08:37 PM Re: Random questions...
ll Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/14/08
Posts: 1101
1: Tension and pressure will cause the strings to go slightly out of tune over time. They don't have to do it before each piece, but I'm sure most just want to be on exact pitch! The only thing holding these strings in tune is a little peg which can be moved with relatively little force.

2: Pull a piece of rope across a sharp surface--what happens? It begins to tear--same concept.

3: The pressure and push of the bow.

No clue

To double check they are still in tune compared to the piano playing? I'm not sure, but I remember playing clarinet in band back in elementary and middle school and we would all use the piano on the stage and tune right before the performance because we usually had a practice rehearsal right before the actual performance.
II. As in, second best.
Only lowercase. So not even that.
I teach piano and violin.
BM, Violin & Percussion Performance 2009, Piano Pedagogy 2011.

#1028683 - 11/22/08 09:09 PM Re: Random questions...
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 14304
Loc: Canada
3. Speed, arm weight, sounding point. The ribbon of the bow consists of many strands of horse hair, which has tiny barbs like velcro to grab the strings. Rosin, a kind of hardened tree sap, is rubbed on the ribbon to make it more sticky. So the bow is rubbing the strings with friction. If it travels fast (long distance in less time) the sound will be louder.
2. Rubbing a piece of thread over a surface long and hard enough will cause it to break. Usually only one or two hairs will break - that must have been a wild performance.
1. The strings can go out of tune simply from change of temperature.

#1028684 - 11/22/08 10:10 PM Re: Random questions...
Lyce Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/13/08
Posts: 19
Hello! I am emboldened to make my maiden post, as I am an amateur woodwind player as well as self-taught pianist. I will try to answer your "other" question based on my experience.

Woodwinds that are actually made of wood (the clarinet, oboe, plus early flutes, recorders, etc.) have individual characteristics because they are primarily handmade or finished by hand. Intonation would be consistent over the range of the instrument in an ideal world; alas, in the real world, usually there are notes (or two or three in one or more registers) that are problematic on a specific instrument.

Additionally, these wooden instruments are usually designed to play sharp at first because the overall pitch drops as the wood warms. Thus, the player will need to pull out at one or more joints between the movements of a piece (and probably swab as well, if possible -- another issue).

Another factor involved is that a player's unique embouchure, air speed, and concept of breath support affect intonation; thus, the same instrument will respond differently to each player and will require different adjustments. An amateur may still be variable in terms of technique, so tuning right before playing is well advised.

Lastly, the pause to tune and adjust provides an opportunity to recenter between movements of different character; at the onset of the piece, it gives a chance to settle nerves by fiddling with the instrument and its components. As shaky as a pianist's fingers are, middle C, once struck, yields a reliable middle C. The amateur woodwind player has no such assurance!

Hope this helps.

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#1028685 - 11/22/08 11:10 PM Re: Random questions...
saerra Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 842
Loc: Atlanta, GA
Neat stuff, thanks for sharing \:\)

And, yeah, the performance was great - it's alot of fun because you've got different people (and different instruments) coming up for each new piece, and a wide range of music being played.

AND welcome to the forums Lyce! \:\)

#1028686 - 11/22/08 11:40 PM Re: Random questions...
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan

Many times, one pianist simply has a certain preference for the "touch or tone" of one piano over another. Even though they might be of the same make, model or size, they may have a personal feel, sound or touch that is different on each piano. Thus, one musician may like the feel of, or the sound of, the opposite piano. It is quite often different for each individual musician's own preference and taste.
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan

We love to play BF2.

#1028687 - 11/23/08 03:38 AM Re: Random questions...
Blackbird Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/15/08
Posts: 125
Loc: Cornwall UK
Thanks Lyce

Always nice to learn something new \:\)

and welcome

#1028688 - 11/23/08 05:52 AM Re: Random questions...
Lyce Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/13/08
Posts: 19
Thanks for welcoming me, Saerra. I've lurked for a while and have enjoyed reading your posts. I've learned a lot from your insights and questions and the ensuing discussion. Beginning musicians face universal issues, and this forum is a wonderful resource to talk about fundamental questions.

Likewise, I know a lot more about my piano, thanks to the Piano Tuners'/Technicians' forum. I've had my spinet for over 20 years. It was my heart's desire to own a piano as a child; and when I had the opportunity to buy one as a teenager when the neighbors moved away, I emptied my bank account and bought theirs. It's given me much pleasure over the years . . . and yet . . . it is what it is. I am seriously thinking about upgrading and giving my friend to someone who yearns for it much as I did way back when.

I'll share a few further observations in regard to your questions:

You mention that you attended a concerto competition Maybe that explains your piano questions?

A concerto, by definition, is written for solo instrument and orchestra. Certain concerti (or movement(s) thereof) are essential components of the fundamental repertoire for many orchestral instruments. It is the reality, however, that most of the musicians working these up will never have the opportunity of playing them in context; i.e., with an orchestra. And they say piano playing is a solitary pursuit!

Here enters the solution of the piano reduction of the orchestral score. That seems to be a good thing overall, as it allows the music to be heard in more venues than the concert hall.

But now some speculation: Could it be that the piano that plays the tutti part for the instrumental soloist is adjusted to be less alive to allow the instrumental soloist more primacy? Is a piano meant to be played by a soloist regulated to be more vibrant? Or if two pianos are on stage for a diverse program, will they be prepped for consistency and interchangeability? If not, that may explain why the pianos were shuffled.

Probably naive conjecture, but I'd like to know how the artisan and artist interact here, if indeed they do.

I will add that as a woodwind player, I have only played sonatas or pieces expressly written for the instrument and piano. In some of these, I played the obbligato; in others, the piano accompanied. In my opinion, the most beautiful were true duets.

Again, thanks for the opportunity to share thoughts. I can't say mine have validity, but it's nice being able to put them forth.

Blackbird: I saw your welcome while previewing. Much appreciated!

#1028689 - 11/23/08 09:15 PM Re: Random questions...
saerra Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 842
Loc: Atlanta, GA
Originally posted by Lyce:

A concerto, by definition, is written for solo instrument and orchestra.
Here enters the solution of the piano reduction of the orchestral score. That seems to be a good thing overall, as it allows the music to be heard in more venues than the concert hall. [/b]
*blink* OOOOOH! Wow - thanks, you just supplied a very basic missing piece of information in my head that I honestly didn't know I didn't know ;\)

Every concerto I've seen, at least since I started with piano lessons, has been piano + one instrument. So I assumed... *cough* *cough* that THAT's what a concerto was (yes, I realize I probably sound like an idiot - but I honestly haven't had alot of exposure to classical music, and no formal study of it, before starting lessons... soooo I guess I have to start somewhere!)

I think your guess as to the pianos being voiced differently makes sense too, interesting idea.

And thanks Jerry. It makes sense that they might have a preference, but I'm still a little surprised it's allowed ;\) I guess I always imagined "competitions" as basically being a situation where they sat you at the piano, and you had to work with what they gave you.

\:\) Now I have to go back through my memories of all those concertos I've heard, and ponder the fact they were supposed to have an entire symphony playing with them!

PS: Lyce, good luck with the piano search if you decide to upgrade. After 20 years, it sounds like the little spinet has served you well!


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