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piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
#2364236 12/21/14 01:05 PM
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Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Keith D Kerman #2364289 12/21/14 03:44 PM
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Nice blogpost. Which confirms a simple truth: Physicists' idealizations (or rather: idealizations of believers in a simplified physics) are often overlooking the crucial little detail. In this case, all the extra noises of hitting/touching the keys. Cut away the complexity of the attack phase of a piano tone and you cut away its heart.

(Trained physicist speaking here, but with a musical bent.)

Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Keith D Kerman #2364297 12/21/14 04:01 PM
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From the article:

Originally Posted by article
The majority of the group could correctly identify a pressed key compared to a struck key, thanks to the nearly imperceptible sound of the finger on the key


So they're listening to the finger noise, not the tone of the piano.

That is essentially what I did in the earlier test here on pianoworld, I listened for the (very faint) sound of the umbrella touching the key. It's not what is meant when theorists say 'touch' or 'tone.'


Poetry is rhythm
Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Keith D Kerman #2364302 12/21/14 04:43 PM
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Thanks for posting this Keith. I read through this a little earlier this year and the recorded samples cannot do justice to the magnitude of perceptual differences heard in a resonant concert hall. Percussive "noise" reflects around the hall in a way that increases the musical significance. A too strong and too long in duration slapping noise upon strike/hammer contact will "hide" the note played from the ear. It is as much a psycho-acoustic phenomena as it is physics.


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Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Keith D Kerman #2364588 12/22/14 01:33 PM
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Did anybody else notice the pairs of notes presented for comparison were not normalized for volume level?

Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Keith D Kerman #2364762 12/22/14 11:12 PM
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I always thought of touch as the way the player blends notes and harmonies together. How often is a single note played all by itself? and isn't is virtually impossible to repeat a note exactly the same?


"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Dave B #2364798 12/23/14 03:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave B
I always thought of touch as the way the player blends notes and harmonies together. How often is a single note played all by itself? and isn't is virtually impossible to repeat a note exactly the same?


I like to say, A single bad note is the fault of the tech. Once two or more notes are involved, it's the fault of the pianist.


Poetry is rhythm
Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Dave B #2364829 12/23/14 07:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave B
I always thought of touch as the way the player blends notes and harmonies together. How often is a single note played all by itself? and isn't is virtually impossible to repeat a note exactly the same?

Isn't it the case that you can never really "play" a single note, as the piano wires near the struck key display sympathetic vibrations?


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Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Keith D Kerman #2364843 12/23/14 08:42 AM
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In my experience the variables of how a key is attacked and accelerated does make a difference in the tone. Differences objectively may be subtle, a lot of this has to do with musical perception - some piano technicians and some pianists might be more sensible to the variation than are others, and being involved with pianos fulltime may have something to do with this perceptivity as well.

But maybe I am wrong about all of this?

We can take for an example the performances of Dmitri Ratser. The "metallic" sound is viewed as harsh by some listeners, and as exciting by others. The issue though is are all pianos which he uses being chosen for or made to have particular tonal characteristics, or is this colouration something that is emerging from Ratser? He seems to have a preference for Hamburg Steinways - I tried to find a video or a recording with a N.Y. Steinway but was not able to locate one.

Regarding these studies such as the one linked, results may have a lot to do with who the pianist(s) are, how the studies are engineered, what piano(s) are used, et c. Maybe using two or more pianists with a quite contrasting sound at the instrument makes more sense than a single pianist for all methods of attack. Outside of the context of a music composition it might be difficult to move in a way that involves a complete music gesture to produce varied results - one's weight, momentum, angles of the wrists and fingers, angle of the back, the position of the feet and the pedaling, et c., shift while performing and can do so independently of one another, and head in particular directions during spans of music. To sit down play a particular C-sharp the way one would in measure X of composition X, but in total isolation except from one's mental image of the music, seems quite difficult in the absence of the emotional buildup and engagement and even if the ways of moving at that moment in the work are not particularly complicated and layered.

I have heard pianists who sounded "glassy" and pale on the same piano as the other performers, but it didn't seem to have anything to do with dynamics, pedaling or musical voicing. The "glassiness" was there regardless of legato vs. detache, playing more from key surface vs. "pinging" the keys from above, et c.

Thoughts anyone?


Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Voltara #2364920 12/23/14 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Voltara
Did anybody else notice the pairs of notes presented for comparison were not normalized for volume level?

Yes, I noticed. Here is what I posted in the same thread on the Pianist Corner:

The article in the link starts off by asking listeners if they can tell the difference between the two posted piano tones. I had no trouble telling the difference. But the research described in the article claims that the difference we hear is independent of hammer velocity. I simply cannot buy that claim. One of the tones is clearly louder than the other... and loudness is directly controlled by hammer velocity. This is easily seen in this visualization of the two recorded tones using Audacity: [Linked Image]


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Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Keith D Kerman #2364923 12/23/14 12:39 PM
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This is the spectrogram of the two strikes of the F7 key.
First, look at the strength in the neighborhood of 1000 Hz which is probably hammer knock. The two strikes differ in how the power is distributed there.
Next, look at the shape of the power at the first partial near the fundamental at 2793 Hz. The envelopes are different. The first strike has a second peak that is stronger than that of the second strike.
Third, the first strike has more power at the 2nd partial.
Other than that, the two strikes look about the same.

[Linked Image]

Last edited by PaintedPostDave; 12/23/14 12:49 PM.

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Re: piano sound is the result of more than just the hammer speed
Michael Sayers #2365128 12/23/14 10:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Michael Sayers
I have heard pianists who sounded "glassy" and pale on the same piano as the other performers, but it didn't seem to have anything to do with dynamics, pedaling or musical voicing. The "glassiness" was there regardless of legato vs. detache, playing more from key surface vs. "pinging" the keys from above, et c.

Thoughts anyone?

These sorts of things come from the balance between the notes. If you play all notes at the same volume, it will sound muddy and uninteresting. If you play the notes in precise rhythm (also paying attention to when the notes release) then it will sound clean and clear. If you play the notes in too small a dynamic range, afraid to take advantage of the full power of the piano, it will sound compressed....and that could be what you mean by glassy.

It's kind of amazing the effects you can produce with the simple elements of a piano. I've spent years working on balance in a certain section of a Beethoven sonata, and the better I get my balance, the better it sounds. I expect to spend more years on it.


Poetry is rhythm

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