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Tone Production #2770559
10/08/18 11:42 AM
10/08/18 11:42 AM
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GoldmanT Offline OP
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Is it possible, for the same volume level, to vary the tone produced by the piano by changing the way you play the keys, by varying how you use your fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders, back, or anything else?

What's the evidence either way?

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Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770561
10/08/18 11:54 AM
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If no pedal of any kind is used, and the noise of the fingers hitting the key and the noise of the key bottoming out is removed from the conversation, the answer is no.

The partial structure of the struck note is dependent solely on the velocity of the hammer striking the string. Since the hammer is not attached to the key, no amount of body flexing will affect the tone.

Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770611
10/08/18 02:33 PM
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You should bear in mind that the way you use your fingers, arms, and bodyweight, will still have a huge effect on the way the piano sounds. It effects the way you coordinate the levels and timings of the notes in relation to one another.

Re: Tone Production [Re: johnstaf] #2770628
10/08/18 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by johnstaf
You should bear in mind that the way you use your fingers, arms, and bodyweight, will still have a huge effect on the way the piano sounds. It effects the way you coordinate the levels and timings of the notes in relation to one another.
You are absolutely correct and have gotten to the essence of this question which has been discussed here on PW many times.

The piano is a percussion instrument. The relationship of the succeeding note to the preceding note with respect to velocity, length and timing (agogic) is the only effect on the ‘apparent tone’ the player has.

Last edited by prout; 10/08/18 03:31 PM.
Re: Tone Production [Re: prout] #2770629
10/08/18 03:32 PM
10/08/18 03:32 PM
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Originally Posted by prout
If no pedal of any kind is used, and the noise of the fingers hitting the key and the noise of the key bottoming out is removed from the conversation, the answer is no.
I agree although on some lengthy threads about this(one of them started by me) others have disagreed.

However, do you think it's possible that different ways of striking the key(depending on the desired sound) can allow the pianist to control the speed of descent more easily and are therefore worth considering? This is my theory about why some teachers and excellent pianists think that one can control the quality of sound even when the volume level is the same.

I am thinking of a discussion of tone production in the first chapter of this book:
https://www.amazon.com/Pianism-Aiko...pianism+by+aiko+onishi#reader_1441499539

Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770638
10/08/18 03:50 PM
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One more related question for anyone interested in answering.

If one assumes for the sake of argument that one cannot vary the tone if the volume and articulation is kept the same, would it be correct to say the use of the word "color" in describing piano playing is really a mismoner or at least not specific enough. I'm thinking that the endlessly heard "you need a different color there" or " he could play with so many different colors" is not really a correct statement. I tend to think the teacher should really be saying "you need a different dynamic or a different articulation or different pedaling there". But when teachers/pianists use the word "color" I feel like they are saying one can change the sound without changing the volume, articulation, or pedaling.

I tend to think that any change in sound is really a function of the qualities of the individual piano, i.e. some pianos change the color more...get brighter than other pianos, when one increases the volume.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 10/08/18 03:51 PM.
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770640
10/08/18 04:02 PM
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Didn't know it was a much discussed topic, but can understand why!

Yeah, I don't get the 'play from your shoulders and lean into it and you'll get a much fuller tone' thing, but equally I can see how a top pianist could have control over the individual balance of notes they play that would change the resonances, so I can see where colour comes in, especially over the course of a piece where the possibilities will be exponentially different between pianists.

So pianists who need to do a certain movement to have greater control over what they're playing, I'm on board with that; pianist who think if they do a certain movement it makes them sound like a flute, not so much. smile

Re: Tone Production [Re: pianoloverus] #2770641
10/08/18 04:05 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by prout
If no pedal of any kind is used, and the noise of the fingers hitting the key and the noise of the key bottoming out is removed from the conversation, the answer is no.
I agree although on some lengthy threads about this(one of them started by me) others have disagreed.

However, do you think it's possible that different ways of striking the key(depending on the desired sound) can allow the pianist to control the speed of descent more easily and are therefore worth considering? This is my theory about why some teachers and excellent pianists think that one can control the quality of sound even when the volume level is the same.

I am thinking of a discussion of tone production in the first chapter of this book:
https://www.amazon.com/Pianism-Aiko...pianism+by+aiko+onishi#reader_1441499539

I was taught to place my hands on the keys prior to played a [i]ff[i/] chord in order to not produce a ‘harsh’ tone. I actually believe this works, but I do not, for a second, think it has to do with the hammers somehow hitting the strings differently. It is, to my ears, all about timing, and gesture. We choreograph our playing to ensure accuracy and the ability to time and voice notes to play musically. IMO, we clearly hear the musical results of pianists who are aware of how their body interatcs with the music. We expect and see this in singers and in instrumentalists - the swaying and bobbing and such. This influences the sound where or not we can see them moving.

Re: Tone Production [Re: pianoloverus] #2770642
10/08/18 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus

One more related question for anyone interested in answering.

If one assumes for the sake of argument that one cannot vary the tone if the volume and articulation is kept the same, would it be correct to say the use of the word "color" in describing piano playing is really a mismoner or at least not specific enough. I'm thinking that the endlessly heard "you need a different color there" or " he could play with so many different colors" is not really a correct statement. I tend to think the teacher should really be saying "you need a different dynamic or a different articulation or different pedaling there". But when teachers/pianists use the word "color" I feel like they are saying one can change the sound without changing the volume, articulation, or pedaling.

I tend to think that any change in sound is really a function of the qualities of the individual piano, i.e. some pianos change the color more...get brighter than other pianos, when one increases the volume.
This is a tough one. I often use a detached, pinging of the keys with careful, finely controlled pedal to create a bell-like tone. It seems to work and is commented on by listeners, but it could just be the visual effect of the motion of the hand and fingers.

Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770643
10/08/18 04:11 PM
10/08/18 04:11 PM
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Originally Posted by GoldmanT
Didn't know it was a much discussed topic, but can understand why!

Yeah, I don't get the 'play from your shoulders and lean into it and you'll get a much fuller tone' thing, but equally I can see how a top pianist could have control over the individual balance of notes they play that would change the resonances, so I can see where colour comes in, especially over the course of a piece where the possibilities will be exponentially different between pianists.

So pianists who need to do a certain movement to have greater control over what they're playing, I'm on board with that; pianist who think if they do a certain movement it makes them sound like a flute, not so much. smile
You might actually get a fuller tone by playing from the shoulders and leaning into the keys. What is happening is that the timing and the voicing of the individual notes in a full chord played this way, for example, will be different, due to the different finger lengths and strengths, than if you attack the keys from above the keyboard, but with the same average final velocity.

Last edited by prout; 10/08/18 04:12 PM.
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770672
10/08/18 06:10 PM
10/08/18 06:10 PM
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JohnSprung Offline
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The silliest one is to press the keys to the bottom, hold them there, and wiggle side to side.... It shows up in videos from time to time, but can't possibly affect the sound at all.


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Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770684
10/08/18 06:44 PM
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The 'placebo effect' occurs in piano playing, just as in almost everything else.

If you believe, it exists. You might even convince your audience - if they can see you doing your vibrato impersonation (or whatever). On an audio recording, of course, all hope is lost (as they say)......

Alternatively, do what this pianist famed for his golden tone does - simply strike the melodic notes harder, and shape them:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFumJqMprEA


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2770695
10/08/18 07:31 PM
10/08/18 07:31 PM
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Iaroslav Vasiliev Online content
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Why was this question asked? Was it supposed to undermine the importance of using 'wrists, arms, shoulders, back, or anything else' when playing?

The point is that different types of movements are required for easier and finer control of the keystroke velocity. It has nothing to do with piano design, it's all about human factor. We are not the robots, we can't steadily control keystroke velocity when using fingers in a manner of little hammers even if it is theoretically possible.

Re: Tone Production [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2770704
10/08/18 08:58 PM
10/08/18 08:58 PM
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prout Offline
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Why was this question asked? Was it supposed to undermine the importance of using 'wrists, arms, shoulders, back, or anything else' when playing?

The point is that different types of movements are required for easier and finer control of the keystroke velocity. It has nothing to do with piano design, it's all about human factor. We are not the robots, we can't steadily control keystroke velocity when using fingers in a manner of little hammers even if it is theoretically possible.
I think the question was asked because there are schools of thought, both historical and contemporary, that think the tone of a note can be controlled by the method of pressing the key, both during and after it has occurred. The people who believe in such fairy tales are missing the point you make, and more importantly, miss the point that a single struck note on the piano is not music or musical, until it is compared to the notes that come before and after it.


Last edited by prout; 10/08/18 08:59 PM.
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771259
10/10/18 10:36 PM
10/10/18 10:36 PM
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I think the speed you hit the key makes a difference. So some of the techniques mentioned affect the speed. You can get the same volume with different speeds. The kinematic action on a grand is very complex with flexible parts, some damping of the parts, and sometimes the string can be hit at a very slight different part of the stroke. The parts are not 100% rigid with perfect spring back. Well, them's my thoughts as a former mechanism designer.

Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771355
10/11/18 07:57 AM
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Perhaps we could say that people like Horowitz are proof that one doesn't have to employ redundant arm movements to produce a certain "tone", however as has been pointed out, for many people it helps them achieve the desired striking velocity etc. - and also it can play a big part in helping to keep the hands and arms fatigue-free and to prevent straining them.

What always bemuses me, for example is when people do the "swan wrist" or whatever it's called, and then stop on the note, and then play the note. Swan wrist straight on to the note I can maybe understand, but stopping and then playing the note? It's like a fast bowler taking a run-up then stopping and then throwing the ball.

Re: Tone Production [Re: RubberFingers] #2771360
10/11/18 08:22 AM
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Originally Posted by RubberFingers
I think the speed you hit the key makes a difference. So some of the techniques mentioned affect the speed. You can get the same volume with different speeds. The kinematic action on a grand is very complex with flexible parts, some damping of the parts, and sometimes the string can be hit at a very slight different part of the stroke. The parts are not 100% rigid with perfect spring back. Well, them's my thoughts as a former mechanism designer.
The velocity of the hammer striking the string is the only variable in tone production. The velocity of the key, as you say, may be varied and yet still produce the same final hammer velocity, as a result of torsional and other non-linear stresses in the action. These variable forces are beyond the control of the pianist and vary amongst pianos. The best scenario is to use fully composite actions and shanks.

Let us define ‘stroke’ as meaning the movement limits of the key at the point where the finger contacts it. The point in the stroke where the hammer strikes the string varies with the acceleration of the key. At low ‘stroke’ velocities, the hammer contacts the string before the key reaches the lower limit of its stroke. At high ‘stroke’ velocities, the hammer contacts the string after the key bottoms out. None of this affects the tone of the strings in any way.

[Linked Image]

Striking the key with a finger starting well above the key as opposed to striking the key starting with the finger on the key can produce the same final hammer velocity, but cause the key to bottom out at the same time as the hammer strikes the string. This produces no change in the tone, since the final hammer velocity was the same.

[Linked Image]


Last edited by prout; 10/11/18 08:32 AM.
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771376
10/11/18 09:03 AM
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Of course prout is correct. The double escapement action effectively means the hammer becomes detached from the key at a certain point, just before it strikes the string. Pianists cannot affect 'tone' in the manner that guitarists and violinists can. You can't change the angle that the hammer strikes the string or the point at which the hammer strikes along the length of the string That's just the way it is.
I'm a beginner. If I press the key at the same velocity as any concert pianist that you can name the result can only ever be exactly the same sound. Even a rank beginner will result in the same tone. I always think that when pianists speak of 'tone' they really mean something else - timing, control, rubato etc. and that really is where I and the concert pianist depart.

Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771383
10/11/18 09:21 AM
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I agree with Prout and Michael Walsh.

Re: Tone Production [Re: prout] #2771394
10/11/18 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by prout
Originally Posted by RubberFingers
I think the speed you hit the key makes a difference. So some of the techniques mentioned affect the speed. You can get the same volume with different speeds. The kinematic action on a grand is very complex with flexible parts, some damping of the parts, and sometimes the string can be hit at a very slight different part of the stroke. The parts are not 100% rigid with perfect spring back. Well, them's my thoughts as a former mechanism designer.
The velocity of the hammer striking the string is the only variable in tone production. The velocity of the key, as you say, may be varied and yet still produce the same final hammer velocity, as a result of torsional and other non-linear stresses in the action. These variable forces are beyond the control of the pianist and vary amongst pianos. The best scenario is to use fully composite actions and shanks.

Let us define ‘stroke’ as meaning the movement limits of the key at the point where the finger contacts it. The point in the stroke where the hammer strikes the string varies with the acceleration of the key. At low ‘stroke’ velocities, the hammer contacts the string before the key reaches the lower limit of its stroke. At high ‘stroke’ velocities, the hammer contacts the string after the key bottoms out. None of this affects the tone of the strings in any way.

[Linked Image]

Striking the key with a finger starting well above the key as opposed to striking the key starting with the finger on the key can produce the same final hammer velocity, but cause the key to bottom out at the same time as the hammer strikes the string. This produces no change in the tone, since the final hammer velocity was the same.

[Linked Image]



Wow, thanks for these graphs. They're very useful and interesting. They should be put at the top of the forum as a sticky.

The upward bend in the hammer velocity curve for the struck case seems to me might be primarily the result of bending of the hammer shank and perhaps other parts of the action. Could such bending produce an -- admittedly tiny-- change in the strike point? Could the little bit of finger on key impact noise at 20 ms before the note sounds be heard by the audience?

That the maximum hammer velocity reaches the same limit no matter how much harder you hit the key is what I remember Del Fandrich referring to as "action saturation".



Last edited by JohnSprung; 10/11/18 09:46 AM.

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