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The final answer to the question of tone production... #2554697 07/06/16 06:41 PM
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of a single note?

In this latest issue of Clavier Companion there is an interesting and somewhat complex article about a topic that has been endlessly debated at PW and many other places.

The question is whether or not a pianist can play a single note and effect anything other than the volume? What, if anything, can change the tone of a single note other than how fast the pianist depresses the key or more precisely the speed of the key at letoff? Can a pianist play a note twice at the same volume but make one note sound warmer, more singing, etc.?

http://claviercompanion.com/blog/173-tone-production-doing-the-right-things-for-the-right-reasons

The above article seems to be a very convincing argument that it's not possible to change the sound of a single note other than changing its volume. The author seems to consider every possible argument saying the opposite and offer convincing evidence to the contrary.

I'd suggest reading the entire article if this interests you but here is a summary of some of the main points:

1. Any finger key(FK) noise produced by the finger or fingernail striking the key does not resonate within the struck tone in any discernible way...FK noise is a cue preceding tone rather than part of the tone itself. In a concert setting audience members cannot hear FK noise although the pianist may be able to hear them with some difficult.

2. Musicians can hear the difference between notes that include key bottom(KB) sounds i.e. the sounds of the notes when they hit the key bed, and notes where the key does not hit the key bed. But the type of keystroke that avoids the KB sound is only possible in very soft playing.

3. Many of the techniques that appear to work for achieving a certain kind of sound are really a result of synethesia, i.e. the many impressions are read into the piano tone by the eye of the listener.

4. Some of the techniques recommended by teachers, sometimes the very best ones, can make it easier for a pianist to depress the keys at a desired velocity but any approach that achieves the desire velocity would achieve that same tone. For example, the idea of using arm weight and not slapping the keys from the wrist makes it easier to depress the keys at the desired speed.

In summary, the author writes "These three concepts, finger-key noise, key-bottom noise, and hammer shank vibration, represented the three most promising explanations for the claim that piano tone can be manipulated independently of volume. These explanations do not pan out, whether because they’re not audible enough to make a difference to a listener sitting at a reasonable distance from the keys, because they’re not part of the resonating tone itself, because their manipulation requires a technique that is never useful when dealing with the issue of improving tone, or because pianists do not possess the perceptive ability to be able to use it deliberately."

The only part of the article I find somewhat iffy is the part saying that FK noise is not part of the tone itself but precedes the tone. That part seems like splitting hairs, but if the FK noise is really inaudible to an audience then I would agree with the article's author.

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Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554703 07/06/16 07:12 PM
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Let me also say that the more I think about it at the piano, the more I'm convinced that what we hear as a pianist's tone, which is of course a very real thing, is actually caused by relationships between notes: voicings of chords, subtleties in rhythm, slight changes in dynamics. All these micro-phenomena aggregating into a large-scale perception of the pianist playing with color, or harshly, or whatever. It's a beautiful idea, actually.

-J


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Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554721 07/06/16 08:15 PM
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In my opinion it is absolutely true that two isolated repetitions of the same note can only differ in volume. I find teachers or commentators that emphasize the production of a single note to be very distracting from the real ways in which a difference in sound can really be achieved - like the precise space between a note and the next note, relative differences in volume, and subtle rhythmic manipulation to name a few. (Not to get too controversial but a great example to me is comparing the Pletnev and Uchida recordings of Mozarts K457. Both are absolutely perfectly articulated and with exact dynamics, and yet I think the Pletnev has a warmth (not saying its better) that seems to emerge from subtle slowing down midphrase, amongst other things).

It was interesting that when I played the flute - an instrument where there is tremendous capacity to influence timbre - my teacher gave equal wait to the quality of each note as she did to these other factors. It baffles me that many pianists and teachers emphasize the one thing that is beyond our capacity to influence.

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: beet31425] #2554722 07/06/16 08:16 PM
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Originally Posted by beet31425
Let me also say that the more I think about it at the piano, the more I'm convinced that what we hear as a pianist's tone, which is of course a very real thing, is actually caused by relationships between notes: voicings of chords, subtleties in rhythm, slight changes in dynamics. All these micro-phenomena aggregating into a large-scale perception of the pianist playing with color, or harshly, or whatever. It's a beautiful idea, actually.

-J


Exactly!

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554724 07/06/16 08:20 PM
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How many more threads on tone do we need?

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554725 07/06/16 08:21 PM
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Very insightful thread, and I absolutely agree with MusicDoc.


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Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554726 07/06/16 08:25 PM
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From your post (which is all that I read; didn't look at the article, but I will according to the replies about this), it looks like this article doesn't deal with the various kinds and degrees of damping effects from the way that the finger and hand strike the keys, and do or don't remain in contact with the key, and the durations of remaining or not remaining in contact with the keys, and how firmly.

My impression -- granted, without any support from experiments or studies, but, at the same time, without any refutation by them or even having been dealt with by them, as far as I've ever seen -- is that those are very plausible aspects for differences in tone, and that in fact they are completely consistent with many people's subjective impressions of how different physical approaches to the playing affect the tone. It's quite possible that the specifics of how most people who hold forth on those things express the actual operative factors are mistaken, but that the things they talk about do work, albeit indirectly.

An analogy, perhaps, is the "follow through" in athletic actions, whether in tennis, golf, baseball, basketball, bowling, volleyball.....really just about any sport. The correct swing or serve is always taught as involving an appropriate follow through. WHY?? How can it matter what you do after you hit the ball?

It matters because of the inevitably associated phenomena. The thing itself doesn't matter, and can easily be proved not to matter. But it's a hook; if you do that, you have a good chance to do the needed thing effectively, and in any event the converse is absolutely true: If you don't do the follow through, you absolutely will not play effectively.

The piano thing isn't about "follow through," but it's just like the follow-through example in the noted way: Such-and-such action itself is ineffective and would be irrelevant, except that it is inevitably associated with a thing that is effective.

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: JoelW] #2554727 07/06/16 08:30 PM
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Originally Posted by JoelW
How many more threads on tone do need?
Since tone is one of the MOST important considerations in piano playing there's almost no limit to the number of threads that could be relevant.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 07/06/16 08:31 PM.
Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554729 07/06/16 08:34 PM
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The secret of good tone:

http://i.imgur.com/3v1GzjF.jpg

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554730 07/06/16 08:34 PM
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Hoping to hear if the article convinces those who previously thought things like finger noise, key bed noise, hammer shank noise affect tone have been convinced otherwise.

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: Mark_C] #2554733 07/06/16 08:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
From your post (which is all that I read; didn't look at the article, but I will according to the replies about this), it looks like this article doesn't deal with the various kinds and degrees of damping effects from the way that the finger and hand strike the keys, and do or don't remain in contact with the key, and the durations of remaining or not remaining in contact with the keys, and how firmly.

My impression -- granted, without any support from experiments or studies, but, at the same time, without any refutation by them or even having been dealt with by them, as far as I've ever seen -- is that those are very plausible aspects for differences in tone, and that in fact they are completely consistent with many people's subjective impressions of how different physical approaches to the playing affect the tone. It's quite possible that the specifics of how most people who hold forth on those things express the actual operative factors are mistaken, but that the things they talk about do work, albeit indirectly.

An analogy, perhaps, is the "follow through" in athletic actions, whether in tennis, golf, baseball, basketball, bowling, volleyball.....really just about any sport. The correct swing or serve is always taught as involving an appropriate follow through. WHY?? How can it matter what you do after you hit the ball?

It matters because of the inevitably associated phenomena. The thing itself doesn't matter, and can easily be proved not to matter. But it's a hook; if you do that, you have a good chance to do the needed thing effectively, and in any event the converse is absolutely true: If you don't do the follow through, you absolutely will not play effectively.

The piano thing isn't about "follow through," but it's just like the follow-through example in the noted way: Such-and-such action itself is ineffective and would be irrelevant, except that it is inevitably associated with a thing that is effective.
It sounds like you're saying that certain movements make it easy for the pianist to control the key's descent(speed of descent) more easily. This certainly may be true but wouldn't change the fact that the only thing that controls tone is only the speed at letoff.

The author gives the example of being told in a master class to play more mellow tone by moving the fingers toward the fall board instead of straight down. He said this idea worked simply because it forced him to play more softly. But he thought it made more sense for the teacher to just say to play more softly.

The follow through examples you gave are somewhat different because they more than just help someone say hit a forehand correctly. If someone tried to hit a forehand and stop at the moment of impact it would be close to impossible to hit a reasonable shot.

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554735 07/06/16 08:59 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
It sounds like you're saying that certain movements make it easy for the pianist to control the key's descent(speed of descent) more easily.

First of all, let me say, I much appreciate your looking seriously at my post (which I think will look semi-psychotic to many people, and maybe did to you too but you're being kind). grin

But, that said, I honestly don't see how you got the above from what I said. If anything, I was trying to indicate that things like "controlling the descent" are absolutely not directly related to tone production, except to the extent that they determine volume.

Quote
The author gives the example of being told in a master class to play more mellow tone by moving the fingers toward the fall board instead of straight down. He said this idea worked simply because it forced him to play more softly. But he thought it made more sense for the teacher to just say to play more softly.

That's an example of what I'd say could well work -- by virtue of resulting in a gentler contact with the key and therefore less of a "damping effect."

Quote
The follow through examples you gave are somewhat different because they more than just help someone say hit a forehand correctly. If someone tried to hit a forehand and stop at the moment of impact it would be close to impossible to hit a reasonable shot.

That's exactly what I meant, and you're right that it's somewhat different from the piano thing. I said it was somewhat different, but that the element of similarity is that in both instances, the actual important thing is different from the thing being talked about. (Another element of difference is that in sports, the actual important things do get talked about too -- as you well know.)

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554738 07/06/16 09:13 PM
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All these things about tone, like weight and touch, are as ways to teach how to play well. The original creators of these theories erred in assuming that you could modify a single note, but they were not wrong that if you think of things in terms of weight that you can play more evenly.

Of course, calling it 'weight' might not even be the best term for it, since it's more than just the force of gravity, but if it helps someone to play better, I don't care.


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Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554741 07/06/16 09:19 PM
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Great article. Nothing but confirming suspicions for me but nice to see some actual research referenced on the matter.

Last edited by AndrewJCW; 07/06/16 10:53 PM.
Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: beet31425] #2554762 07/06/16 11:25 PM
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Originally Posted by beet31425
Let me also say that the more I think about it at the piano, the more I'm convinced that what we hear as a pianist's tone, which is of course a very real thing, is actually caused by relationships between notes: voicings of chords, subtleties in rhythm, slight changes in dynamics. All these micro-phenomena aggregating into a large-scale perception of the pianist playing with color, or harshly, or whatever. It's a beautiful idea, actually.


One must add the pedals to the equation. How the pianists use them makes a huge difference to their overall tone.

Tone is also perceived very differently by people. After my experience in finding myself a new grand and talked to techs, pianists and dealers about the instruments I realized that what I hear is not what others hear. I often hear unpleasant overtones where others don't. Also have noticed that some popular pianists can be almost unbearable for me to listen to because of their tone. So the tone is really only completed in the listeners ears smile

I don't think all past pedagogues necessarily believed in the possibility to change tone on a single note with hands either, but have found such explanations useful in making the students play in a way they want. So it's not only make believe to the audience but the player also.

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554821 07/07/16 08:00 AM
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Whether or not this may be true of pianos, it's true of vibration in general:

The manner in which the hammer leaves the string could possibly dampen out some of the frequencies (mostly likely the low amplitude, higher frequencies). I.e. if the hammer was in contact with the strings for a very short time then the higher frequencies will be less likely to be dampened.

Why are there so many debates on this? Can't it be simply tested by analyzing the frequencies produced from a piano by striking the key at similar velocities but "in different ways"?

This topic should be been put to rest when computers were invented.

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: TwelfthRoot2] #2554829 07/07/16 08:18 AM
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Originally Posted by TwelfthRoot2
Why are there so many debates on this? Can't it be simply tested by analyzing the frequencies produced from a piano by striking the key at similar velocities but "in different ways"?

This topic should be been put to rest when computers were invented.
I'm not sure it's that simple. For example, I don't think a person could know if they were striking the keys at the same velocities. Could some machine strike the keys in different ways?

Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: pianoloverus] #2554858 07/07/16 10:19 AM
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Quote
Unfortunately, the wood length and density used for hammer shanks varies from piano to piano, making the backwash and ripple frequencies vary in ways that would be impossible for any pianist to predict. Even more importantly, supposing the 50Hz and 250Hz frequencies were held perfectly constant among all pianos, even the slower backwash frequency of 50Hz is still too rapid for human perception to be able to deliberately manipulate in the service of tone, either consciously or subconsciously.

This argument is not convincing. People hear delays of a few milliseconds which is in the order of 100 to 1000 Hz. Also, vibrations will add up, causing also interference effects that might be audible.

Also he seems assuming that the 50Hz frequency by itself is the relevant factor. It could also be eg the changed position with which the hammer hits the strings due to this vibration.



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Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: outo] #2554883 07/07/16 11:32 AM
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Originally Posted by outo
I don't think all past pedagogues necessarily believed in the possibility to change tone on a single note with hands either

Surely not all, but some definitely did. Matthay did, rather vociferously. Lhevinne has a section of his book where he laments that he can't play as well as Rubenstein because his finger are not as fat, and thus have less padding.

In contrast, Harold Bauer rejected the idea, as did anyone who actually did measured experiments (such as William Braid White and Otto Ortman).

Despite ideas that have proven false in retrospect, Lhevinne and Matthay were better teachers, so they must have had some pedagogical value.


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Re: The final answer to the question of tone production... [Re: phantomFive] #2554901 07/07/16 12:07 PM
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Originally Posted by phantomFive

Lhevinne has a section of his book where he laments that he can't play as well as Rubenstein because his finger are not as fat, and thus have less padding.



Actually the hand and finger structure clearly does effect how easily you can achieve a certain tone (or if you ever can), so I don't see how this is relevant? It has little to do with changing the tone of a single note.

Last edited by outo; 07/07/16 12:08 PM.
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