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Hello I have been lurking around this forum for a while as I have been doing research about buying a piano. I've been playing since I was a kid but have stopped playing for the past 6-7 years. I have recently practising seriously again and naturally started looking to buy a piano.

I checked out a piano store nearby and they have a restored Heintzman upright that was built in the 1910s. Its action is very light, the lightest I've ever played. What I found interesting is that I can play some fast pieces faster (the ones I tried were 1st movement of Pathetique and Fantasie Impromptu). In fact, the first time I tried it I naturally played it faster than I normally do and was surprised with the amount of control I still have at that tempo.

Another thing I tried is hitting a note repeatedly with my first 3 fingers as quickly as I could(like the LH in Appassionata 1st mvt). There are some used Yamaha U1 and U3s there and some can just barely keep up with me, and a few can't actually keep up. There were 3 grand pianos (Steigerman, Yamaha and Petrof) there, and those have no problem at all, and so is the Heintzman. I do have to go a tiny bit slower with the petrof as its action is harder.

My questions are:

1. Are lighter keys necessarily easier to play? Or is it simply because I have a lighter touch?

2. If I have a piano with a light action, with it impede my advance technically in long term?

3. I wonder if making the action of other upright pianos lighter will create what I experienced with the Heintzman? Or perhaps there is something more than just being light.

Thanks!

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Interesting post. In my own experience, I've found that a lighter touch allows me to play faster, but also makes it difficult to play evenly. I guess this last point might be considered a plus, since I've found that if I can eventually play something evenly on my digital piano, which has a light touch, I can play it evenly anywhere. A heavier touch seems to mask uneven playing to a certain extent.

I also find a heavier touch allows easier dynamic control, especially while playing pp. I think this is conventional wisdom though.

I'm thinking if you master a lighter touch, you become better in every way except the strength conditioning of your fingers/hands/wrists, which might have a harder time playing fast on a heavier touch.


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Some pianos with a lighter touch are easier to play fast on, if they are regulated properly. Some pianos with a lighter touch can actually be more difficult because the key might not spring back in time.

I have played some pianos that have had a fairly heavy touch, and because the action has been well set up, it was actually easier to play at speed on and maintain control. Just depends.

In selecting a piano for yourself, you want something in the middle. I know Yamaha and Petrof grand pianos, both are beautiful even though they are completely different from each other. Either is a good choice smile


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I've been using a digital for over 10 years, and I prefer a lighter touch than a heavier one since I'm used to it. I can actually play pieces as fast as I do on my digital, without having to worry about putting extra pressure on a key to make it sound.

However, seeing as how I have used a digital piano for many years, I haven't grown accustomed to the touch and sound of acoustics. Maybe as I get used to playing on more acoustics, I'll be able to better adjust to playing on heavy keys or not.




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If lighter was really better/easier to play. why wouldn't all makers try to produce pianos with extremely light actions? Why wouldn't they try and make their action the lightest one available?

Of course, the answer is that neither very light nor very heavy is good for most serious pianists. Each extreme has its disadvantages. Control is a problem for many pianists if the action is too light.

The best piano makers all produce pianos whose action down weights are in a fairly close range of values.

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In the past I became very preoccuied with this subject as I moved between various pianos, acoustic and digital. It has to be a matter of preference but on balance I think its best to aim for an action that is a little heavy but not too heavy. There are several reasons for my conclusion some of which have already been referred to:

1. Its easier to move from heavy to light. Professional classical players general try to become accustomed to a heavy action to ensure they aren't caught out by having to suddenly play on a heavy Steinway (for example)

2. A first class heavier action gives better control than a lighter action. The feedback and response from the key is firmer and more precise. Difficult to explain precisely but for eaxmple a fast scale passage on a good heavy(ish) action feels clean, even and crisp. If the action is too light the notes can blur or slur too easily. Dense polyphony (eg Bach) fugue feels better, cleaner

3. Very heavy actions are in my opinion a menace but I think a good technique with a correctly relaxed wrist and arm are developed more efficiently on a heavy(ish) action. It is easy for a beginner or intermediate classical player to develop poor technique on a light keyboard becasue it appears easy to play without being correctly relaxed. Once the correct technique is developed a heavy action starts to feel lighter oddly enough which I guess is why many professionals are able to adapt to different pianos on a tour.

Once you are experienced and playing at an advanced level you should have worked out your preference and why. I think the quality and eveness of the action is paramount and AS important. There is much contradictory information out there and there is probably no "right" answer. I always remember reading that Horowitz's own piano had a feather light action (but his technique was unconventional) but then I've heard another famous artist or another's piano was heavier..


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Originally Posted by Scriabinghost
It has to be a matter of preference but on balance I think its best to aim for an action that is a little heavy but not too heavy. There are several reasons for my conclusion some of which have already been referred to:
The problem wih statements like this is that one person's "a little heavy" is another person's average or a little light.

Originally Posted by Scriabinghost
1. Its easier to move from heavy to light. Professional classical players general try to become accustomed to a heavy action to ensure they aren't caught out by having to suddenly play on a heavy Steinway (for example)
Not sure where you got this information about professional players' preferences. Also, why do you think moving from heavy to light is easier?

Originally Posted by Scriabinghost
2. A first class heavier action gives better control than a lighter action. The feedback and response from the key is firmer and more precise. Difficult to explain precisely but for eaxmple a fast scale passage on a good heavy(ish) action feels clean, even and crisp. If the action is too light the notes can blur or slur too easily. Dense polyphony (eg Bach) fugue feels better, cleaner,
Maybe better control, but more tiring and can be too difficult in the hardest chordal or fast passaqges(think Horowitz Star and Stripes or Chopin Etude Op.10 No.4). What's a "first class heavier action"?

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Chopin would go for the Heintzman.

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OK, light-heavy... Yep, I suppose you could scale this out with actual key weights but if you try a range of pianos in a store you can can soon grade the actions. I'm after a non-light action if you like.

I wasn't referring to professional preferences, simply training.

Yes there re some very taxing passages that would be easier of course but you have to look at the whole of the challenges thrown up by the repertiore. I was also referring to playerrs who may still be devloping. If you are playing H's Stars and Stripes I guess you will have this sussed..

First class action menas one propoerly maintained and perfectly even. If this isn't right it can become more critical than the weight.

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Hi.

I think we are missing the point here. It has nothing to do with light
or heavy. If 8 ounces of force produce 85db of sound on one piano, and
the same 8 ounces produces 79db on the next piano, that piano will feel heaver, regardless of the weight of the keys. Pianos with 60grams (high touch weight) can feel light whereas pianos with 50grams can feel heavy. It is also easier to control ppp with a heavier action and almost impossible except for a commanding pianist to control ppp at 50grams, if in fact a 50 gram action can be played at ppp. Then, there is the problem of intertia, the mass of the action. A light action with a lot of lead in the key will cause fatigue whereas a heavier action with less inertia will not fatigue or lead to repetitive injury.
A good tech is needed to set up an action for a pianist to meet their needs.

Hope this helps

Steve

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Its interesting that voicing has as much to do with key weight feel as the actual gram weight needed to engage the action. A harder hammer creates more sound which makes the piano feel like it has a lighter action.


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This is a very interesting topic, and one I have contemplated for the last couple of years. In the 1970s I played an Everett console piano which was too heavy a touch for me. I actually stopped playing, in part, because the touch was simply too heavy.

About three years ago I acquired a Roland digital piano, which has by comparison a very light touch. I loved it! Then I played Steinway grands, and many others, which have a somewhat heavier touch but still not what I would call really heavy.

A little over one year ago I looked at purchasing a grand acoustic piano, and was enthralled by the Hailun HG178. While I liked the tone, the touch was a little heavier than I thought would be ideal. The touch of a Kawaii, for example, was much lighter. The piano dealer suggested to me that if I picked the piano with the tone that I preferred, I would get used to any good action/touch. I followed that advice and found it to be true. My Hailun touch suits me just fine now. When I play a Kawaii now, it seems overly light; I do acclimate to it fairly quickly however. In fact, when I know I am going to play one, I'll play the Roland digital piano for a while, and the Kawaii, which has a slightly heavier touch, seems fine. After playing the Kawaii, I have no problems with the Hailun.

In summary, a good action is the thing. Slightly heavier or lighter may not be a problem or benefit, and the player accomodates fairly quickly.

Hop


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Originally Posted by Steve Jackson
Hi.

I think we are missing the point here. It has nothing to do with light
or heavy. If 8 ounces of force produce 85db of sound on one piano, and
the same 8 ounces produces 79db on the next piano, that piano will feel heaver, regardless of the weight of the keys. Pianos with 60grams (high touch weight) can feel light whereas pianos with 50grams can feel heavy. It is also easier to control ppp with a heavier action and almost impossible except for a commanding pianist to control ppp at 50grams, if in fact a 50 gram action can be played at ppp. Then, there is the problem of intertia, the mass of the action. A light action with a lot of lead in the key will cause fatigue whereas a heavier action with less inertia will not fatigue or lead to repetitive injury.
A good tech is needed to set up an action for a pianist to meet their needs.


Don't you think it's the touch weight, inertia, and tonal characteristics(loudness, brightness) of the piano that determine how light/heavy a piano feels?

I was surprised when you said ppp was very difficult on a piano with a touch weight of 50. Isn't 48-52 a pretty common touchweight range across a piano's compass?

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Originally Posted by Steve Jackson
Hi.

I think we are missing the point here. It has nothing to do with light
or heavy. If 8 ounces of force produce 85db of sound on one piano, and
the same 8 ounces produces 79db on the next piano, that piano will feel heaver, regardless of the weight of the keys.

Steve


Partly true but not on a digital otherwise you could adjust the weight of the action by using the volume control - weight=force required to overcome inertia offered by the key and to depress it to the key bed. Hence use of coins on the key to determine force required etc.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If lighter was really better/easier to play. why wouldn't all makers try to produce pianos with extremely light actions? Why wouldn't they try and make their action the lightest one available?

Because, for a really light keytouch one needs to have relatively light hammers and, as piano makers have striven for more and more power, hammers have necessarily become heavier and heavier. This increase in mass increases the downweight of the keys which is balanced by front leading the keys.

Too much of this, however, and the shear inertia of the system becomes intolerable—and makes fast repetition, if not impossible, then certainly painful—and so the action ratio is changed making the keys move further for a given amount of hammer travel. This reduces the downweight (albeit at the expense of your finger having to move the key further) so now some of that lead can be taken out.

When I started in this business the de facto standard for keydip (key travel) was 3/8” (0.375”, or approximately 9.5 mm). Today it is not uncommon to to see actions that require up to 0.433” (or 11 mm) to function properly.

But, giving the keys more travel also allows for even heavier hammers (and more power—which many owners are now beginning to complain about as a separate issue) and so more lead is added to compensate for the increased hammer mass.

And so it goes...and where it stops nobody knows.

Actually, it may be stopping. Apparently enough owners and technicians are complaining loudly enough that some manufacturers are beginning to listen and are backing off just a little. At least we can hope.

ddf

Last edited by Del; 02/12/10 12:08 PM.

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As far as a digital having the volume turned up:
Makes no difference as there is no real mechanical connection to
an acoustic transducer that responds to feel. It's a simulation and therefore that example does not apply to a real piano.

It was mentioned about voicing too, and yes, it's true that voicing can change the feel of the touch-weight quite a lot. The rest is as Del points out. Quest for power over control. ppp is difficult with a light touch and today's hammers, but with a lot (too much) of working with the action can be achieved.

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A lighter touch permits the articulation of the fingers, forces you to think anout how you 'grab' the key, forces you not to bash but to feel the weight of the key, and is easier on the tendons.

heavier actions make playing more even but make players sound more like each other (lose some touch), are slower because of the added inertia and they spoil your touch in many ways.

heavier actions are easier to play for those who don't have finger control, and easier to manufacture, because there are less restrictions on economy of weight in the action.

Horowitz was famous for his modified steinway with a lighter touch, and Paderewski did the same to an Erard, which is already lighter than steinway..


I think heavy actions are mostly due to cost-cutting and the need for manufaturers to make pianos bash-proof.. therefore selling to more people..


can't see any real advantage of a heavy action


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I’m sure that fine pianist, who plays many different pianos, can deal with the differences between heaver key-touch and lighter key-touch.

Not that I can play a piano all that well, but the key-touch on my grand piano is what I would call medium heavy, and I like it a lot. On occasion, I’ll play the Baldwin studio upright at my church, that has an incredibly light key-touch, and my playing suddenly becomes more challenging. The key-touch on the Baldwin is so light, you can almost breathe on the key and the note will sound. It is so light, it is almost like it has no touch weight at all, like a digital piano with no touch weight.

I like to feel at least some resistance to know that I'm actually depressing a key.

Take care,

Rick



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Originally Posted by acortot
A lighter touch permits the articulation of the fingers, forces you to think anout how you 'grab' the key, forces you not to bash but to feel the weight of the key...
An opinion, I presume? I think the articulation is mostly a function fo the pianist's skill. Virtually all the good pianists I know don't bash the keys.

Originally Posted by acortot
Horowitz was famous for his modified steinway with a lighter touch, and
Paderewski did the same to an Erard, which is already lighter than steinway.
And for every pianist who wants his piano as light as Horowitz, there are a 100 who want it heavier.

Originally Posted by acortot
I think heavy actions are mostly due to cost-cutting and the need for manufaturers to make pianos bash-proof.. therefore selling to more people.
Why would heavier mean less costly? When's the last time you heard a serious pianist ask the dealer if the piano was bash proof??
[/quote]

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The lighter the action, the easier it is to play trills and repeated notes: just try Mozart or Haydn on a fortepiano, but, it is harder to control runs and arpeggios (lots of those in classical music...........) I'm not sure voicing makes much difference to the perceived weight: having had my RX2 significantly softened in tone (bright room acoustic), my touch has not become heavier and my own subjective opinion of my own playing is that softer playing is in fact more possible. I recently tried out a Welmar prior to choosing what to perform on it in April. Much heavier touch meant that my intended Brahms Op 117 went out the window, but it really makes Chopin sing e.g. the Nocturne Op 55 No 2 I tried.
My own experience is that moving from heavy to light is easier than light to heavy, exerting more control over your touch is easier than upping the force needed to make a mf - or even a p sometimes. But then I used to play the harpsichord so had long practice in just using the tips of my fingers do the work - I had to work out to get a concert grand to sound!

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