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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: pianoloverus] #2864928 07/01/19 07:43 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
But, we pianists (should) accelerate the key to arrive at the velocity: it's not a straight down plonk at constant speed. And the nature of this acceleration SEEMS to have an effect on tone (whether it actually does or not).
Although it may be true that the key does not always descend at constant speed, I don't think pianists think about accelerating the key vs. pushing at constant velocity. In fact, I don't think pianists think about either of those choices. The distance the key travels is so tiny and the time for the descent is so small I don't think anyone could perceive the difference even if they tried to think about it.


It's more of an issue in very soft playing, a feeling of lifting the hammer and accelerating it gently over the escapement point. But, I would agree that at higher dynamic levels there is less of a distinction.

Matthay makes a big deal out of this in his writings.


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2864953 07/01/19 08:49 PM
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I would think that this prepare, contact, strike method is particularly useful to ensure hand position squarely on the key, the correct key, and to ensure arm relaxation. Almost akin to the the centering described by Mortensen. I suspect it was simply a tool your teacher used to ensure accurate playing.


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: Moo :)] #2864992 07/02/19 12:11 AM
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Thanks for all the replies! It's as if you tore all my thoughts from my head and reworded them in a clearer and more concise manner.

Originally Posted by Moo :)
Sorry if its obvious to others, it is not to me. What exactly do you mean 'contacting keys before striking' and 'prepare, contact, strike'? And why is it voodoo ? I'm always seeing long threads discussing how people should play with many youtube videos and would be glad to hear from others if its voodoo as I mostly ignore it all !


Sorry, I didn't describe the issue well. When I want to voice a note, I always touch the key slightly before the beat. To strike the key, I play into the key from that touching position. This was supposed to avoid harsh tones and improve my voicing. My question was whether the "improved tone" was a placebo effect. My head tells me that the technique shouldn't offer any tonal benefits at all due to the way the piano works. The hammer strikes the strings at a constant velocity, so what is touching the note first doing?

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
But, we pianists (should) accelerate the key to arrive at the velocity: it's not a straight down plonk at constant speed. And the nature of this acceleration SEEMS to have an effect on tone (whether it actually does or not).
Although it may be true that the key does not always descend at constant speed, I don't think pianists think about accelerating the key vs. pushing at constant velocity. In fact, I don't think pianists think about either of those choices. The distance the key travels is so tiny and the time for the descent is so small I don't think anyone could perceive the difference even if they tried to think about it.


I think this encapsulates my thoughts well. My argument is similar to what Pianoloverus describes. In fact, he describes it in a much clearer manner than I was able to. He is almost certainly correct in that pianists don't think about accelerating into the key, and that any difference might be negligible. However, it seems that WhoDwaldi's thoughts regarding acceleration could be this missing link. It explains what the Russian teacher described to me, that the tone is produced by the last portion of key travel. It also seems to be the difference between playing from far above the keys and touching them: when you touch keys first, you are forced to increase acceleration into the keybed to produce the same dynamic level as playing from a constant velocity far above the key. Perhaps this makes a difference when playing loud chords (one would be less strident?). It may depend on how the felt on the hammer head compresses.

Originally Posted by cmb13
I would think that this prepare, contact, strike method is particularly useful to ensure hand position squarely on the key, the correct key, and to ensure arm relaxation. Almost akin to the centering described by Mortensen. I suspect it was simply a tool your teacher used to ensure accurate playing.


It is especially useful for large jumps or lateral movements. I'm surprised you got all the other points, and was wondering whether you were my teacher for a split second! I wouldn't mind reading about Mortensen's centering technique. cmb13, as I am not familiar with Mortensen, any chance you could provide me more details?

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865052 07/02/19 06:07 AM
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Originally Posted by parnassus
It is especially useful for large jumps or lateral movements.
This may be true when the jumps aren't done quickly but for fast jumps, if you watch great pianists on Youtube, I think you'll see they don't have time to stop on the keys before playing them.

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865055 07/02/19 06:22 AM
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Originally Posted by parnassus
Sorry, I didn't describe the issue well. When I want to voice a note, I always touch the key slightly before the beat. To strike the key, I play into the key from that touching position. This was supposed to avoid harsh tones and improve my voicing. My question was whether the "improved tone" was a placebo effect. My head tells me that the technique shouldn't offer any tonal benefits at all due to the way the piano works. The hammer strikes the strings at a constant velocity, so what is touching the note first doing?


Thank you for your explanation. I’m not sure what you mean as I have not been taught this.

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865063 07/02/19 07:09 AM
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Beware of taking things too literally.....

Making firm "contact" before striking (which, I have to say is the first time I've ever heard it from anyone) could lead to a "sticky fingers" method of playing, and stymie any attempt at speed, or force.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P8BQVhOv5A

Personally, I don't think this kind of blanket advice is helpful in the least........


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: bennevis] #2865071 07/02/19 07:38 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Beware of taking things too literally.....

Making firm "contact" before striking (which, I have to say is the first time I've ever heard it from anyone) could lead to a "sticky fingers" method of playing, and stymie any attempt at speed, or force.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P8BQVhOv5A

Personally, I don't think this kind of blanket advice is helpful in the least........


Hmm I feel this topic is getting out of hand. Most of the pianists I have spoken to are familiar with some variant of this technique, so let's not open up a can of worms and pretend it is a new idea. I most definitely do not always use this method, which I'll now name as the Ciampi method (see Marcel Ciampi). It is only one technique amongst many, and is used for voicing melodic lines and under other conditions such as some jumps or lateral movement. It is not possible above certain speeds, nor would it give much benefit. For example, It is impossible and pointless when playing certain pieces such as Liszt's La Campanella (quick lateral jumps, repeated notes, etc) and de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance (wrist movements). I would use it in Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets, as an example. These are slower and more melodic.

Over the years, I have had many teachers from different backgrounds and their ideas usually conflict with one another. It is usually up to me to pick and choose what is useful and what isn't.

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865080 07/02/19 08:21 AM
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Originally Posted by parnassus
Hmm I feel this topic is getting out of hand.

Hardly surprising, as per your OP:

Quote
I was taught to “prepare, contact, strike” piano keys in order to get a nice tone. I’ve been doing this my entire life. I’ve never questioned this because it seems to give good results.

You gave the strong impression that this is what you do for everything you play, hence why people are telling you it's voodoo. Because it is.

As for voicing melodic lines and so forth, pianists need to find their own way. With most pianists (including myself), you couldn't tell from the way they play which notes they are emphasizing. Others will strike the melodic notes from on high, lifting the fingers up - which is of course totally contrary to the “prepare, contact, strike” piano keys in order to get a nice tone dictum you cited.

For instance, have a look at this pianist (famed for his beautiful tone) playing slowly:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSd__jTbTwg


Quote
Over the years, I have had many teachers from different backgrounds and their ideas usually conflict with one another. It is usually up to me to pick and choose what is useful and what isn't.

Luckily my four teachers (over ten years) never gave me conflicting advice - or dictums - of any sort. They were happy as long as whatever I was doing worked for me, for my own unique biomechanics - even if it was different from their own way of playing. If I could produce the kind of balance and the quality of sound I wanted (and they wanted), it was OK by them. If not, they'd suggest a different way.

BTW, I've never suffered from tension, nor injuries, not even of any sort, related to my piano playing - even though my small hands mean that I often have to do things that better-endowed pianists don't have to (like a lot more lateral wrist movements in sweeping arpeggios).


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865084 07/02/19 08:36 AM
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Hi Bennevis, I understand how you came to the conclusion that I use this technique for everything I play. I was clarifying because other people before you dame to the same conclusion. My response was not meant to repudiate you!

Now it is nice that you have had four teachers who helped evolve your technique in complementary ways. This may not always be the case as you continue your studies. Unfortunately, I had 3 main teachers over 30 years who had very different ways of playing and teaching. Many of their ideas intersect cleanly, but just as many do not. My playing style will hopefully evolve by thinking about the effectiveness of each technique!

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865095 07/02/19 09:46 AM
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Even on a simple scale, whether fast or slow, I don't think many great pianists contact keys before playing. And in slow pieces I think it's also used extremely infrequently.

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: WhoDwaldi] #2865115 07/02/19 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi

But, we pianists (should) accelerate the key to arrive at the velocity: it's not a straight down plonk at constant speed. And the nature of this acceleration SEEMS to have an effect on tone (whether it actually does or not).
This doesn't make sense. You can't arrive at a velocity without accelerating.


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: RogerRL] #2865119 07/02/19 11:11 AM
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Originally Posted by RogerRL
Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi

But, we pianists (should) accelerate the key to arrive at the velocity: it's not a straight down plonk at constant speed. And the nature of this acceleration SEEMS to have an effect on tone (whether it actually does or not).
This doesn't make sense. You can't arrive at a velocity without accelerating.


It's possible--finger having been lifted off the key--to come down and to move the key at a constant speed from the very top of the key stroke, such that no sound is produced because the hammer doesn't have enough velocity at let-off. So that's rationale for the acceleration.

John Browning talks about some of these general ideas in a different way (I don't agree with the elbows close to the body business 😆):




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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: WhoDwaldi] #2865127 07/02/19 11:37 AM
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Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
It's possible--finger having been lifted off the key--to come down and to move the key at a constant speed from the very top of the key stroke, such that no sound is produced because the hammer doesn't have enough velocity at let-off. So that's rationale for the acceleration.
But one could just as easily say one could move the key at a constant speed and have more than enough velocity to produce a sound, so I see no rationale.

And except maybe for incredibly soft playing in the extreme bass with its heavier touch one cannot feel any difference between constant speed vs. acceleration. I don't think pianists think about constant speed vs. acceleration 99+% of the time. What they think about is how to press the key to get the desired dynamic and articulation.

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: pianoloverus] #2865154 07/02/19 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
It's possible--finger having been lifted off the key--to come down and to move the key at a constant speed from the very top of the key stroke, such that no sound is produced because the hammer doesn't have enough velocity at let-off. So that's rationale for the acceleration.
But one could just as easily say one could move the key at a constant speed and have more than enough velocity to produce a sound, so I see no rationale.

And except maybe for incredibly soft playing in the extreme bass with its heavier touch one cannot feel any difference between constant speed vs. acceleration. I don't think pianists think about constant speed vs. acceleration 99+% of the time. What they think about is how to press the key to get the desired dynamic and articulation.


It's subtle. 🙂

This all comes out of Tobias Matthay's ideas, which are certainly controversial and rather nuanced. I think most people associate loud with firm force on the keybed and "weight transfer" from one key to the next.


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865162 07/02/19 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by parnassus

Hmm I feel this topic is getting out of hand. Most of the pianists I have spoken to are familiar with some variant of this technique, so let's not open up a can of worms and pretend it is a new idea. I most definitely do not always use this method, which I'll now name as the Ciampi method (see Marcel Ciampi). It is only one technique amongst many, and is used for voicing melodic lines and under other conditions such as some jumps or lateral movement. It is not possible above certain speeds, nor would it give much benefit. For example, It is impossible and pointless when playing certain pieces such as Liszt's La Campanella (quick lateral jumps, repeated notes, etc) and de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance (wrist movements). I would use it in Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets, as an example. These are slower and more melodic.

Over the years, I have had many teachers from different backgrounds and their ideas usually conflict with one another. It is usually up to me to pick and choose what is useful and what isn't.


What is motivating your original post? Are you remarking on how you discovered that a common piece of wisdom had been holding you back in certain situations?

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: MichaelJK] #2865188 07/02/19 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK

What is motivating your original post? Are you remarking on how you discovered that a common piece of wisdom had been holding you back in certain situations?


Hi Michael. The motivation for the original post was to reconcile the way I play with my understanding of how the mechanics of the piano work. I suspected that one or the other was wrong, so I thought I’d ask other forum members.

I wouldn’t say that this ‘common wisdom’ is holding back my playing, rather I was wondering if it was superfluous. I wasn’t expecting so much heated discussion, although I am enjoying reading everyone’s thoughts!

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: parnassus] #2865196 07/02/19 02:21 PM
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Isn't the Tobias Matthey idea of acceleration that whodwaldi mentions that about having stable hammer path? Accelerating it, rather than having it knocked by the jack like a billiard cue or whatever, possibly preventing wobble of the hammer. Probably fictitious though. Tried reading Mathay one, so long and winding.

Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: op299] #2865238 07/02/19 04:02 PM
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Originally Posted by op299
Isn't the Tobias Matthey idea of acceleration that whodwaldi mentions that about having stable hammer path? Accelerating it, rather than having it knocked by the jack like a billiard cue or whatever, possibly preventing wobble of the hammer. Probably fictitious though. Tried reading Mathay one, so long and winding.


Yes, anything that causes a sudden, jerky movement of the hammer will make nasty tone because the hammer bounces from the string too fast. It actually dampens out some objectionable overtones by staying in contact with the string longer (at lower velocities). "Poking forward" into the keys, as well as "high fall," are notorious for bad tone.

Matthay tried to 1) construct a theoretical framework to cover every possible approach to playing, 2) advocate a certain way of playing that he considered best (what the Taubman people call "helicopter" or hovering technique?), and 3) explain it in terms of a pianist's sensations and understanding, not scientifically (as Otto Ortmann did, or tried to).

I need to plow thru The Visible and Invisible in Pianoforte Technique again, it's been a while. I wouldn't touch Matthay's tome, Act of Touch, with a ten-foot pole, however.


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: bennevis] #2865240 07/02/19 04:09 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
As for voicing melodic lines and so forth, pianists need to find their own way. With most pianists (including myself), you couldn't tell from the way they play which notes they are emphasizing. Others will strike the melodic notes from on high, lifting the fingers up - which is of course totally contrary to the “prepare, contact, strike” piano keys in order to get a nice tone dictum you cited.

Luckily my four teachers (over ten years) never gave me conflicting advice - or dictums - of any sort. They were happy as long as whatever I was doing worked for me, for my own unique biomechanics - even if it was different from their own way of playing. If I could produce the kind of balance and the quality of sound I wanted (and they wanted), it was OK by them. If not, they'd suggest a different way.


This is my experience, too. Technique is what we do with our hands, arms, shoulders, body, legs, etc. to produce the sound we want. My teachers have shown me what has works for them, and they have all given me consistent instruction. They have all taught me that the goal is the sound.

Of course my ear has become more "musical" as I've received more instruction, and the more I record and listen to myself, the better my ear becomes. I think there has to be a synergy between the ear and the body to produce good tone. I've essentially had to learn to hear good tone in order to be able to produce it.

Legato playing is the core of classical piano technique. That's one reason we play so much Bach (and scales and arpeggios), to learn to play beautiful, connected notes and to phrase properly. Now not all piano technique is legato playing, so sometimes we actually want, say, a more percussive sound.

I'm learning one of Bartok's Bulgarian Dances from his Mikrokosmos, Book 6. Some of it requires legato playing, but there are a fair number of loud, block chords that are very percussive. Even so, a percussive sound doesn't need to be an ugly sound. Strident, yes. Banging, no. If a composer wants a harsh, ugly sound, I'm confident he or she will tell you that. Then it would be up to you to find a technique for producing that sound.


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Re: Contacting keys before striking [Re: pianoloverus] #2865383 07/03/19 03:02 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
But, we pianists (should) accelerate the key to arrive at the velocity: it's not a straight down plonk at constant speed. And the nature of this acceleration SEEMS to have an effect on tone (whether it actually does or not).
Although it may be true that the key does not always descend at constant speed, I don't think pianists think about accelerating the key vs. pushing at constant velocity. In fact, I don't think pianists think about either of those choices. The distance the key travels is so tiny and the time for the descent is so small I don't think anyone could perceive the difference even if they tried to think about it.

I don't understand what acceleration has to do with this. Acceleration is only present while the key is in contact with the hammer. Once the hammer flies free, its velocity will remain constant. (Newton's Laws!) So I can't see how changing the acceleration of key depression could affect the tone.


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