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Tone Production #2770559
10/08/18 11:42 AM
10/08/18 11:42 AM
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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Re: Tone Production [Re: JohnSprung] #2771403
10/11/18 10:09 AM
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John, yes the strike point could change if the shank is bent either backward or forward at the point of the strike, and the tone (partial structure) would be slightly modified. I switched out my wood shanks earlier this year for stiff composite WNG shanks. The difference is significant in that the stike point, both vertically and especially horzontally is now much more tightly controlled and can be felt and heard by me. The big change is the predictability of the strike when doing fast note repetitions.

Yes, action saturation occurs as Del says. Adjusting the regulation and, more importantly, the hammer type and voicing, can sometimes delay the saturation beyond the point that a concert pianist can reasonably be expected to reach.

My guess is that audience can hear the key strikes a little, but they certainly imagine the sound if they are watching.

Last edited by prout; 10/11/18 10:15 AM.
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771404
10/11/18 10:11 AM
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I want to give credit to the writers of the research paper cited above.

Touch and temporal behavior of grand piano actions
Werner Goebl
Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence (OFAI), Freyung 6/6, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Roberto Bresin
Department of Speech, Music, and Hearing (TMH), Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Lindstedtsvägen 24, 10044 Stockholm, Sweden
Alexander Galembo
Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, M. Toreza av. 44, St. Petersburg 194223, Russia

􏰀Received 18 January 2005; revised 10 May 2005; accepted 10 May 2005􏰁
This study investigated the temporal behavior of grand piano actions from different manufacturers under different touch conditions and dynamic levels. An experimental setup consisting of accelerometers and a calibrated microphone was used to capture key and hammer movements, as well as the sound signal. Five selected keys were played by pianists with two types of touch 􏰀“pressed touch” versus “struck touch”􏰁 over the entire dynamic range. Discrete measurements were extracted from the accelerometer data for each of the over 2300 recorded tones 􏰀e.g., finger-key, hammer-string, and key bottom contact times, maximum hammer velocity􏰁. Travel times of the hammer 􏰀from finger-key to hammer-string􏰁 as a function of maximum hammer velocity varied clearly between the two types of touch, but only slightly between pianos. A travel time approximation used in earlier work 􏰂Goebl W., 􏰀2001􏰁. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 110, 563–572􏰃 derived from a computer-controlled piano was verified. Constant temporal behavior over type of touch and low compression properties of the parts of the action 􏰀reflected in key bottom contact times􏰁 were hypothesized to be indicators for instrumental quality. © 2005 Acoustical Society of America. 􏰂DOI: 10.1121/1.1944648􏰃

Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771411
10/11/18 10:28 AM
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The noises peoples fingers and feet make at a piano in a resonant hall are easily heard. And they can disrupt the musical intelligibility. Skilled, sensitive pianists learn to control how a piano sounds by controlling "noises".


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Re: Tone Production [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT] #2771419
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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
The noises peoples fingers and feet make at a piano in a resonant hall are easily heard. And they can disrupt the musical intelligibility. Skilled, sensitive pianists learn to control how a piano sounds by controlling "noises".
Yes, quite true, and very useful for recording.

However, the real learning should be by the audience. They should learn how to not open their velcro purses, unwrap cellophane wrapped candies, cough or talk. All this easily overwhelms the sensitive pianist.

I must say though, that, for me, the best, most intimate recordings are those close miked of cellists and guitarists. The noises of the fingers moving on or plucking the strings and the sound of the bow, for me adds immeasurably to the musical experience.

Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771701
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This discussion is really informative. Prout, thank you very much for posting these figures. I was struck by the fact that, in the quiet end of the scale, as much as 30 ms elapses between when the hammer hits the strings and when the key reaches the bottom; but then it's not surprising really, because in quiet playing you can get the tone without pressing the key all the way down. So the upper limit of kbt is indefinite.

That gets me to think about the other action that the key is involved in: Lifting the damper. How much control does the player have on the timing of the hammer strike relative to that? I'm pretty sure that, on my old Yamaha U3, I could get the hammer to strike before the damper totally clears the strings by carefully pressing the key - thereby affecting the tone quality.


Kawai CA 78 / Sennheiser HD 559

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Bach, Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor BWV 883 (WTC2)
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Re: Tone Production [Re: RubberFingers] #2771716
10/12/18 04:35 AM
10/12/18 04:35 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.


I agree. There is one pianist I listen to on CD who is technically very good, but to me that person 'bangs' the piano.


Roland LX7

South Wales, UK
Re: Tone Production [Re: Colin Miles] #2771753
10/12/18 07:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Colin Miles
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.


I agree. There is one pianist I listen to on CD who is technically very good, but to me that person 'bangs' the piano.
Well, here we go again. People are offering opinions with no data to support that opinion. How can we have a rational disagreement when we cannot compare data sets?

Look at the second set of graphs I posted. It clearly shows that, except for the noise of the finger hitting the key, there is no difference in the tone of the struck piano strings.

You, and others, are missing the essential point about perceived tone from a piano. The piano is a percussive instrument. You can not make music with one note (You can on a cello.) It is the relationship amongst the notes - dynamic level, voicing, agogic timing - that create the variations in tone we think we hear from a single note.

This is really becoming a tiresome, repetitive discussion that crops up regularly here at PW. Think what you will, but do some research on the hundreds of papers published that provide data sets showing velocity is the only determinant of partial structure in a struck string.

Please cite one paper that has a contrary dataset. Then we can have a discussion.

Re: Tone Production [Re: Alohaneko] #2771765
10/12/18 08:04 AM
10/12/18 08:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Alohaneko
This discussion is really informative. Prout, thank you very much for posting these figures. I was struck by the fact that, in the quiet end of the scale, as much as 30 ms elapses between when the hammer hits the strings and when the key reaches the bottom; but then it's not surprising really, because in quiet playing you can get the tone without pressing the key all the way down. So the upper limit of kbt is indefinite.

That gets me to think about the other action that the key is involved in: Lifting the damper. How much control does the player have on the timing of the hammer strike relative to that? I'm pretty sure that, on my old Yamaha U3, I could get the hammer to strike before the damper totally clears the strings by carefully pressing the key - thereby affecting the tone quality.
To answer your question. The damper on a grand piano is set to start to rise at one-half the key depress - about 4.5-5mm. This means that the timing of the hammer strike and damper rise could interfere. That is very interesting. I am not knowledgeable regarding uprights, so am unable to respond, though it appears that you could create that interference as well.

I am going to recheck some of the papers I have to see if the damper is removed from the testing. Also, it is well known amongst pianists how to control the overall tone of the piano when a single note is struck through the use of finely gradated damper pedal.

Last edited by prout; 10/12/18 08:05 AM.
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771773
10/12/18 08:24 AM
10/12/18 08:24 AM
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Prout - as a scientist I totally understand where you are coming from. But as an erstwhile engineer, like Rubberfingers, I will doubtless argue in considering the mechanics involved. Also I thought there were sufficient differences in the graphs - I apologise if I am reading them wrongly. And yes these kind of arguments date back a long time - in my case more than 50 years!


Roland LX7

South Wales, UK
Re: Tone Production [Re: GoldmanT] #2771775
10/12/18 08:25 AM
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We clearly hear the difference in the sound of pianists who bang the piano and those who actually play the piano. The difference is twofold:

The piano banger’s ‘tone’ - first the noise of the fingers and action responding to the stress imposed due to the short impulse - and the second is the constant reaching of the saturation limit of the piano, where the partial structure of the strings is constant.

The pianist’s ‘tone’ - first the lack of noise of the fingers and action except when desired to create a percussive accent to add to the partial structure - second is rarely reaching the saturation limit of the piano, thereby allowing for a huge variation in partial structure with velocity. This is the real tone of a single note.

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