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#2135788 - 08/20/13 06:27 AM Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano  
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Over at the Art of Piano Ped, there was discussion about tone production and the capacity of players to play a few notes, or even one, and make it sound different from that of another player. I used Burgmuller's Harmony of the Angels as a springboard and introduced comparative performances with an ear and eye toward the physical approach of each performer. These players basically set the same Metronome marking, that was indicated by the composer, which is quite rapid. Quarter = 152
http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/can-we-rise-above-the-hammer-mechanism-of-our-beloved-piano/


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#2135980 - 08/20/13 12:45 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: shirlkirsten]  
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Very interesting!

I'm just waiting for the day that scientists start measuring the right things about tone production. So far, they've been measuring the wrong things, which is why they say it doesn't happen but we all hear a difference in practical application.

I'm also still amazed that there are any teachers left in the US that will argue this point negatively. It seems at the lower rungs, more people think you can't make a difference. But when you climb the academic ladder of teachers, more and more of them teach one method or another of altering the tone color. The most famous teachers talk about it all the time before the public. Why it hasn't filtered down to everybody else escapes me.


Laguna Greg

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#2135998 - 08/20/13 01:23 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: laguna_greg]  
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Originally Posted by laguna_greg
I'm also still amazed that there are any teachers left in the US that will argue this point negatively. It seems at the lower rungs, more people think you can't make a difference. But when you climb the academic ladder of teachers, more and more of them teach one method or another of altering the tone color. The most famous teachers talk about it all the time before the public. Why it hasn't filtered down to everybody else escapes me.


I believe in tone color. But it might be the case that when we perceive different colors, we're really hearing differences caused by timing and phrasing. In other words, things that apply on a scale greater than a single note.

The OP mentioned tone production of "even one" note, but the evidence provided was an entire piece. I still suspect that the following claim is true: if two pianists play a single note with the same velocity on the same piano, we won't be able to tell the difference.

Nevertheless, I do believe in tone color. I just think it's caused by aggregate effects.


-Jason


Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann
#2136023 - 08/20/13 02:04 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: beet31425]  
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Originally Posted by beet31425

I believe in tone color. But it might be the case that when we perceive different colors, we're really hearing differences caused by timing and phrasing. In other words, things that apply on a scale greater than a single note.

The OP mentioned tone production of "even one" note, but the evidence provided was an entire piece. I still suspect that the following claim is true: if two pianists play a single note with the same velocity on the same piano, we won't be able to tell the difference.

Nevertheless, I do believe in tone color. I just think it's caused by aggregate effects.


-Jason


Hi Jason,

Would you truly argue that the piano tone with the linked recording is due solely to aggregate effects?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-cPrIePZO4


M.

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#2136038 - 08/20/13 02:23 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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Originally Posted by Michael Sayers


Hi Jason,

Would you truly argue that the piano tone with the linked recording is due solely to aggregate effects?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-cPrIePZO4


It's a beautiful recording, no doubt. There is such a thing as tone color, no doubt. But we can't argue what causes it by just presenting a beautiful recording. I don't find such an appeal to "common sense" convincing: There are lots of strange things in the universe, including many things dealing with perception, that defy common sense.

I'm not completely sure what causes tone color, but I do think there is some validity to the objection that one's actual touch on the key can't translate through the mechanism to affect tone directly. So I find interesting the theory that tone is actually caused by aggregate effects like timing and miniscule dynamic differences. At least this theory is falsifiable, i.e. it can be proven wrong: we just need two pianists on the same piano playing a single note at the same dynamic level, with two very different tones.

-Jason





Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann
#2136039 - 08/20/13 02:24 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: beet31425]  
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Originally Posted by beet31425
Originally Posted by laguna_greg
I'm also still amazed that there are any teachers left in the US that will argue this point negatively. It seems at the lower rungs, more people think you can't make a difference. But when you climb the academic ladder of teachers, more and more of them teach one method or another of altering the tone color. The most famous teachers talk about it all the time before the public. Why it hasn't filtered down to everybody else escapes me.


I believe in tone color. But it might be the case that when we perceive different colors, we're really hearing differences caused by timing and phrasing. In other words, things that apply on a scale greater than a single note.

The OP mentioned tone production of "even one" note, but the evidence provided was an entire piece. I still suspect that the following claim is true: if two pianists play a single note with the same velocity on the same piano, we won't be able to tell the difference.

Nevertheless, I do believe in tone color. I just think it's caused by aggregate effects.


-Jason
I agree with you although some think that even a single note played at the same dynamic level, same articulation, same duration, without any pedal, on the same piano, etc. can be made to sound differently.

There has been some discussion about this at PW with little consensus. I also agree that the OP's example makes little sense...no one, as far as I know doesn't think that a series of notes, played with different pedalling, different articulation, different voicing, etc. can be made to sound different by different pianists.

#2136068 - 08/20/13 03:29 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: beet31425]  
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Hi Jason,

"So I find interesting the theory that tone is actually caused by aggregate effects like timing and miniscule dynamic differences. At least this theory is falsifiable, i.e. it can be proven wrong:"

That's right. I'm sure we've all had the experience , certainly in school, where two pianists played the same piece with the same sense of phrasing, timing, rubato, and even metric nuance. yet one sounded markedly different from the other.

Besides, either the color changes on a note, or it doesn't. I would say that you'll get the same tone quality from two different pianists playing the same note with the same weight and velocity into the key, provided that they also aim the stroke to the same spot in the vertical descent. Change that, and you markedly affect the tone color of a given note.


Laguna Greg

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#2136070 - 08/20/13 03:33 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: laguna_greg]  
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Originally Posted by laguna_greg
I would say that you'll get the same tone quality from two different pianists playing the same note with the same weight and velocity into the key, provided that they also aim the stroke to the same spot in the vertical descent. Change that, and you markedly affect the tone color of a given note.

What do you mean by this exactly? What does it mean to aim the stroke to a certain "spot in the vertical descent"? Vertical descent of what? And why would that have an effect on the tone?

-J


Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann
#2136073 - 08/20/13 03:35 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: pianoloverus]  
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Hi Piano,

"no one, as far as I know doesn't think that a series of notes, played with different pedalling, different articulation, different voicing, etc. can be made to sound different by different pianists."

That's true. but those elements are measurable and controllable. Take them away, and can you still affect the quality of the tone produced? I say the answer is yes. There are too many exceptional examples of pianists who could produce a pleasing and lovely quality of sound to conclude that the effect is not happening. It must be.

Also, every major teacher says they can teach people how to produce a beautiful tone quality by certain physical procedures that are supposed to control the keystroke. Are they wrong, or misrepresenting the obvious?


Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/greg-dempster/34/325/6b9/ (my day job)
#2136074 - 08/20/13 03:36 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: beet31425]  
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Hi Beet,

First, answer a question: How far down do you have to push the key before sound happens?


Laguna Greg

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#2136096 - 08/20/13 04:05 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: laguna_greg]  
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Originally Posted by laguna_greg
Hi Piano,

"no one, as far as I know doesn't think that a series of notes, played with different pedalling, different articulation, different voicing, etc. can be made to sound different by different pianists."

That's true. but those elements are measurable and controllable. Take them away, and can you still affect the quality of the tone produced? I say the answer is yes. There are too many exceptional examples of pianists who could produce a pleasing and lovely quality of sound to conclude that the effect is not happening. It must be.

Also, every major teacher says they can teach people how to produce a beautiful tone quality by certain physical procedures that are supposed to control the keystroke. Are they wrong, or misrepresenting the obvious?
For both your last two paragraphs how many of the teachers or pianists talk about doing this on a single note played at the same dynamic level?

If you do a search you may(if you're lucky or a skilled searcher) be able to find very extensive discussion at PW about this topic, and there was no definitive conclusion or even close to that. If I remember correctly some posters who felt there was a difference thought this was because of a slight change one can cause in the sound when the key hits the keybed or the sound of the finger striking the Key.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 08/20/13 04:30 PM.
#2136106 - 08/20/13 04:28 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: beet31425]  
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Originally Posted by beet31425

Nevertheless, I do believe in tone color. I just think it's caused by aggregate effects.


My theory is that tone quality, given the same instrument to play on, has to do primarily with velocity control. Our ears are very fine things and they provide detailed feedback to our inputs, so over time, and quite unconsciously, we learn how to manipulate velocity in such a way as to produce a different sound. There are some tricks that high-level teachers like to use to get you thinking about it, like approaching the key at an angle instead of directly up and down, but it boils down to listening and adjusting, regardless of how you physically accomplish it.

#2136122 - 08/20/13 04:46 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
Originally Posted by beet31425

Nevertheless, I do believe in tone color. I just think it's caused by aggregate effects.


My theory is that tone quality, given the same instrument to play on, has to do primarily with velocity control. Our ears are very fine things and they provide detailed feedback to our inputs, so over time, and quite unconsciously, we learn how to manipulate velocity in such a way as to produce a different sound. There are some tricks that high-level teachers like to use to get you thinking about it, like approaching the key at an angle instead of directly up and down, but it boils down to listening and adjusting, regardless of how you physically accomplish it.


I'm trying to imagine what "velocity control" might mean, specifically.

The reductionistic argument, of course, is that at the end of the day you just have a hammer striking a string with a particular speed. This seems to reduce everything to a single number, which is why I look elsewhere to explain the nuanced subtlety we experience as color. Even if one were adept at "controlling" that speed, it would still be a single number, which doesn't seem rich enough to describe tone quality.

-J


Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann
#2136129 - 08/20/13 04:52 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: shirlkirsten]  
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I made a couple of posts in the blog itself, so it doesn't show here...

The gist of the posts were that I truly believe in the different tone colours that one can accomplish by the various playing techniques, etc...

BUT, at the same time I wondered if one can accomplish different tone colour with a digital piano (using samples). If this is possible, then we are forced to accept that it's not the manner the hammer hits the strings, or something mechanical, but it's purely musical and a mind game after all...

#2136130 - 08/20/13 04:52 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: pianoloverus]  
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Hi Piano,

"For both your last two paragraphs how many of the teachers or pianists talk about doing this on a single note played at the same dynamic level?"

The ones that I know actually do this. It's how they teach their students to learn to control it. John Perry has demonstrated this several times at master classes I've been to, so did Menachem Pressler on one occasion, I've read about Nelita True doing it that way. Of course Taubman and all her students including Golandsky do this too including Yoheved Kaplinksy. I had a lesson with Jeanine Dowis a long time ago where she demonstrated it like that. Even my first teacher, whose first instrument was not the piano, taught her students like that.

Give me a little time, and I might think of others.


Laguna Greg

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#2136156 - 08/20/13 05:15 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: laguna_greg]  
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Originally Posted by laguna_greg
Hi Piano,

"For both your last two paragraphs how many of the teachers or pianists talk about doing this on a single note played at the same dynamic level?"

The ones that I know actually do this. It's how they teach their students to learn to control it. John Perry has demonstrated this several times at master classes I've been to, so did Menachem Pressler on one occasion, I've read about Nelita True doing it that way. Of course Taubman and all her students including Golandsky do this too including Yoheved Kaplinksy. I had a lesson with Jeanine Dowis a long time ago where she demonstrated it like that. Even my first teacher, whose first instrument was not the piano, taught her students like that.

Give me a little time, and I might think of others.
Then, to convince a non believer like me, you need to add some explanation of how this works. Otherwise, I probably cannot be convinced that the two notes were played at the same dynamic level or that the sound was really different.

There was some very detailed scientific study of whether the sound could vary with the same dynamic level(or same key velocity). Unfortunately, I can' remember the study's conclusion or the internet link to the study. This study was mentioned in one of the earlier PW threads about this topic.

#2136202 - 08/20/13 06:49 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: beet31425]  
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Originally Posted by beet31425

It's a beautiful recording, no doubt. There is such a thing as tone color, no doubt. But we can't argue what causes it by just presenting a beautiful recording. I don't find such an appeal to "common sense" convincing: There are lots of strange things in the universe, including many things dealing with perception, that defy common sense.

I'm not completely sure what causes tone color, but I do think there is some validity to the objection that one's actual touch on the key can't translate through the mechanism to affect tone directly. So I find interesting the theory that tone is actually caused by aggregate effects like timing and miniscule dynamic differences. At least this theory is falsifiable, i.e. it can be proven wrong: we just need two pianists on the same piano playing a single note at the same dynamic level, with two very different tones.

-Jason





Hi Jason,

One can take any two piano rolls by any two pianists, have them played through the same piano, and the piano tone is always the same - and for each and every note regardless of dynamic level, et c. . . . remove the human pianist and the personal piano tone disappears.

I think the pianists with the best piano tone are the best listeners, they really listen to the sound coming from a piano, and accumulate adjustments until they can always achieve the sound which is wanted.

M.

#2136242 - 08/20/13 08:33 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: pianoloverus]  
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Hi Piano,

I appreciate and respect your skepticism. I'll try to explain this as best I can. Before I can though, you'll have answer my question from a few posts ago:

How far do you have to push a key down before sound happens? At what point in the vertical keystroke does sound happen?


Laguna Greg

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#2136261 - 08/20/13 09:32 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: shirlkirsten]  
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I propose a test where several renowned concert pianists and several amateur pianists sit and play 4 pianos: A concert grand, a typical console/studio upright, and 2 good quality digital pianos, all of these equipped with MIDI recorder/player and all of them prepped to the nth degree. Of course, audio recordings would also be made with high-end microphones (or line-in in the case of the digital pianos). We know that a concert-level pianist can create many tone colors on a fine concert grand, and thusly should be able to do so on an ordinary upright or a digital piano. An amateur may or may not have mastered this technique, and thus will further prove that it's in the technique and not a matter of instrument or hearing. Lastly, all of the MIDI recordings from each pianist will be played back on each piano, which will also be recorded. The final audio recordings would be reviewed by another panel. If it really is possible to create tonal colors, then it should show up in the audio recordings if not on the MIDI or DP.

The only variable would be the music played, as not all virtuosos would have "Some Nights" or Sonata K545 in their repertoire and not all amateurs would be able to play "Danse Macabre" or Etude No. 3 :\


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#2136264 - 08/20/13 09:38 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: SBP]  
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Originally Posted by SBP
I propose a test where several renowned concert pianists and several amateur pianists sit and play 4 pianos: A concert grand, a typical console/studio upright, and 2 good quality digital pianos, all of these equipped with MIDI recorder/player and all of them prepped to the nth degree. Of course, audio recordings would also be made with high-end microphones (or line-in in the case of the digital pianos). We know that a concert-level pianist can create many tone colors on a fine concert grand, and thusly should be able to do so on an ordinary upright or a digital piano. An amateur may or may not have mastered this technique, and thus will further prove that it's in the technique and not a matter of instrument or hearing. Lastly, all of the MIDI recordings from each pianist will be played back on each piano, which will also be recorded. The final audio recordings would be reviewed by another panel. If it really is possible to create tonal colors, then it should show up in the audio recordings if not on the MIDI or DP.

The only variable would be the music played, as not all virtuosos would have "Some Nights" or Sonata K545 in their repertoire and not all amateurs would be able to play "Danse Macabre" or Etude No. 3 :\


I thought the point of this discussion is that "tone color" can't be captured as a MIDI event from 0-128 indicating the velocity of the key press. It's the difference between striking the key a certain way and getting a different tone, despite the same velocity of the key.

A better test to directly figure out if this is true: use a MIDI recorder equipped piano, and show the MIDI velocity in real time. If a pianist can actually produce different tone colors while achieving the same MIDI velocity, then a MIDI recorded performance is not enough to reproduce the performance. The most common technique I've seen teachers mention is striking the key from the air vs. playing the key with the finger already touching the key.

I'm not sure, but does the Disklavier system record additional data when recording in their proprietary format, as opposed to MIDI? Maybe it would pick up more nuances of the playing than a standard MIDI recording.

Doing this test on a digital piano might show that one pianist can produce a better sounding recording, through phrasing, chord voicing, and pedal technique. But I think this topic is mostly about tone color which can't be altered on a digital piano.


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#2136272 - 08/20/13 09:49 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: Allan W.]  
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Originally Posted by Allan W.

Doing this test on a digital piano might show that one pianist can produce a better sounding recording, through phrasing, chord voicing, and pedal technique.

Maybe that's all there is to it whistle


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#2136283 - 08/20/13 10:16 PM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: Allan W.]  
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Originally Posted by Allan W.


I thought the point of this discussion is that "tone color" can't be captured as a MIDI event from 0-128 indicating the velocity of the key press.


That is not what the conversation has been about. Go back and re-read that blog entry.

Do you two even play an acoustic piano?


Laguna Greg

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#2136346 - 08/21/13 01:17 AM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: laguna_greg]  
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Originally Posted by laguna_greg
...How far do you have to push a key down before sound happens?

You can push a key down as far as it goes and there will be no sound. Many composers use this effect.

Quote
At what point in the vertical keystroke does sound happen?

Sound usually starts after the keystroke.


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#2136348 - 08/21/13 01:23 AM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: SBP]  
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Originally Posted by SBP
Originally Posted by Allan W.

Doing this test on a digital piano might show that one pianist can produce a better sounding recording, through phrasing, chord voicing, and pedal technique.

Maybe that's all there is to it whistle
Not "all", but perhaps a lot?

#2136354 - 08/21/13 01:54 AM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: beet31425]  
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Originally Posted by beet31425
Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
Originally Posted by beet31425

Nevertheless, I do believe in tone color. I just think it's caused by aggregate effects.


My theory is that tone quality, given the same instrument to play on, has to do primarily with velocity control. Our ears are very fine things and they provide detailed feedback to our inputs, so over time, and quite unconsciously, we learn how to manipulate velocity in such a way as to produce a different sound. There are some tricks that high-level teachers like to use to get you thinking about it, like approaching the key at an angle instead of directly up and down, but it boils down to listening and adjusting, regardless of how you physically accomplish it.


I'm trying to imagine what "velocity control" might mean, specifically.

The reductionistic argument, of course, is that at the end of the day you just have a hammer striking a string with a particular speed. This seems to reduce everything to a single number, which is why I look elsewhere to explain the nuanced subtlety we experience as color. Even if one were adept at "controlling" that speed, it would still be a single number, which doesn't seem rich enough to describe tone quality.

-J

That reductionist argument is too simple. There is also a damper having a variable speed of descent. The rate of release of the key can alter the tone. That rate need not even be constant. This greatly expands the variability of a single tone played at a given dynamic level.

#2136355 - 08/21/13 01:58 AM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: shirlkirsten]  
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Just to save myself from an embarassment: I'm not claiming that a digital (sampled) piano will sound the same as a real acoustic one. There's simply too many things going on that alter the tone, that it's impossible right, and has been for the last few decades!

But I've heard some amazingly musical things with a sampled piano and I can't help but wonder... that's all...

#2136444 - 08/21/13 07:28 AM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: Ferdinand]  
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Originally Posted by Ferdinand
Originally Posted by beet31425
Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
Originally Posted by beet31425

Nevertheless, I do believe in tone color. I just think it's caused by aggregate effects.


My theory is that tone quality, given the same instrument to play on, has to do primarily with velocity control. Our ears are very fine things and they provide detailed feedback to our inputs, so over time, and quite unconsciously, we learn how to manipulate velocity in such a way as to produce a different sound. There are some tricks that high-level teachers like to use to get you thinking about it, like approaching the key at an angle instead of directly up and down, but it boils down to listening and adjusting, regardless of how you physically accomplish it.


I'm trying to imagine what "velocity control" might mean, specifically.

The reductionistic argument, of course, is that at the end of the day you just have a hammer striking a string with a particular speed. This seems to reduce everything to a single number, which is why I look elsewhere to explain the nuanced subtlety we experience as color. Even if one were adept at "controlling" that speed, it would still be a single number, which doesn't seem rich enough to describe tone quality.

-J

That reductionist argument is too simple. There is also a damper having a variable speed of descent. The rate of release of the key can alter the tone. That rate need not even be constant. This greatly expands the variability of a single tone played at a given dynamic level.
The single note test assumes the articulation and length the notes are held is constant.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 08/21/13 07:28 AM.
#2136472 - 08/21/13 08:39 AM Re: Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano [Re: pianoloverus]  
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A couple of papers on the subject:


Once again: The perception of piano touch and tone. Can touch audibly change piano sound independently of intensity?

Proceedings of the International Symposium on Musical Acoustics, 2004, Nara, Japan

http://www.speech.kth.se/prod/publications/files/999.pdf



Spectrum analysis and tone quality evaluation of piano sounds with hard and soft touches

Acoustical Science & Technology 28/1 2007

http://suzukihideo.cool.coocan.jp/s...20with%20hard%20and%20soft%20touches.pdf


Both papers are cited at the following link where the issue is discussed:

http://carillontech.org/timbre.html#piano


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