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Some basic information about decibel levels appears at the end of the post. Feel free to answer some of the questions or all three. Expand on your answers in whatever way seems interesting to you.

Do you agree with all three of the following statements, one or two of them, or none of them?

(1). "Normal piano playing in the home should range from 60 to 70 decibels. Pianissimo passages should produce decibel levels below 60. When playing fortissimo, the piano should peak at about 80 decibels."

(2). "If your normal piano playing in the home produces decibel levels in the upper-80s, and playing fortissimo produces decibel levels in the 90s and 100s, then your piano is dangerously loud and should be quieted to prevent hearing loss."

(3). "All piano owners should be aware of the decibel level outputs of their home pianos."

Some basic information:

30 decibels = whispering

55-60 decibels = normal conversation

70-80 decibels = busy restaurant

80 decibels = New York traffic

90 decibels = subway train, lawn mower

100 decibels = headphone center volume setting

110 decibels = home theater center volume setting

120 decibels = rock concert

130 decibels = headphone highest volume setting

140 decibels = jet plane takeoff 300 feet away

150 decibels = rock concert spike

160 decibels = 12-gauge shotgun blast

Hearing damage occurs after 8 hours of continuous exposure to 85 decibels; 4 hours at 88 decibels; 2 hours at 91 decibels; 1 hour at 94 decibels; 30 minutes at 97 decibels; 15 minutes at 100 decibels; 7.5 minutes at 103 decibels; 3.75 minutes at 106 decibels; 1.8 minutes at 109 decibels; 55 seconds at 112 decibels; 28 seconds at 115 decibels.

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Do you do house calls with your dB meter? thumb


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I'll take that to mean you haven't measured yours. smile

Incidentally a good decibel meter is relatively cheap. Radio Shack has several models under fifty bucks.

I started this thread because I was experiencing ear pain from my loud piano and went to see an ear specialist who said that the major professional associations are up in arms about how new technology is damaging hearing in America at an alarming rate.

He advises EVERYONE to educate themselves about damaging decibel levels, and then to get a decibel meter to measure the sound output of their home theater systems, headphones, stereo systems, etc.--including their grand pianos.

He said he has measured home grand pianos that produce decibel levels well over 100 when played fortissimo, and that some were being played by kids who practice a lot and were damaging their hearing.

He also said musicians suffer hearing damage at a rate higher than the general population.

He emphasized that hearing damage is permanent and insidious: when you lose hearing at a certain level, you often will not notice, and just crank up the volume more and play even louder, which in turn causes more hearing loss.

He said the only way to address this seriously is to buy a decibel meter and take measurements periodically.

(I told him that I have now heard that Americans are going blind from computer use, deaf from many sources, fat from trans-fats, and stupid from passive, vicarious spectating. Pretty soon we Americans are all going to be blind, deaf, fat, and stupid. smile )

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Have you measured yours, Prospero?


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Traffic noise can also cause stress and other health problems. I've always been very conscious of noise, used ear plugs when travelling by bike or bus, chosen my living environment so that it's normally quiet enough, and so on. I can't listen to music with enjoyment when I perceive the slightest (continual) noise disturbance (some places have very low-pitched noise from the traffic). I want to hear the smallest nuances when listening to music, and I don't want any extraneous sounds to be mixed with the music.

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Prospero,
There is some mistakes in your statements regarding dB and dB Meter.
Noise should be measured using scale A with an integrating sound level meter. Radio Shack sound level meter should be use for quick survey measurement. A real good precision SLM will cost some thousand dollars. Il would coompare a Radio shack SLM to a low quality upright. You can use it for practice if you do not have anything else to practice with but you would not think to use it for concert.
Where do you position the microphone of the SLM? It should be placed at less than 30cm away from the piano player ears, facing the piano.
Constant exposure to greater than 75 dBA on a 8 hour basis can cause an ear damage in the high frequency range (3 to 6 kHz) after some years. Mind you, there is minimal risk of hearing damage with piano playing. If you ever experience tinnitus after piano playing then you should consider voicing your piano or make your room quieter.
I did measure my grand piano and the dBA level (Leq) is roughly between 80 to 90 dB depending on the repertoire.
The dB level will not increase significantly more even with a 9 foot concert grand. The voicing, soundboard and room will have more influence.
Regards
Martin


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OK, I'll bite. As recorded with my trusty Radio Shack Digital SPL meter placed on a tripod near 6 inches away from and 4 inches above the rim playing at a level much louder than I would ever play an fff in my home the max reading was 92 db. Playing a relatively dynamic piece at home levels, the max was 78 db, average was 42.

I could probably hit above 100 db if I tried, but why?


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1. I disagree. You cannot put a decibel range on dynamics. One composers mezzo forte may be another's fortissimo. Some passages marked pp must be played mp or more for musical reasons.

2. Disagree.. Starting to limit volume levels will have a detrimental impact on the art form. Was Picasso told what colors he could use?

You know, people a hundred plus years ago seemed to do just fine without fancy measurements. People need to use common sense.


Technical skills should never come before artistry. I think of technical ability as a necessary tool for extracting a truly moving performance from a sensitive interpretation. -Aviator1010110
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Pianos have been getting bigger and louder in the last 200 years--not to provide you with an ideal instrument to be played in your apartment, but one to be played on a stage in a large hall.

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Thanks to everyone for their helpful input. Looking for more still.

As for the Radio Shack decibel meters, I got that recommendation from my ear doctor, who said they are accurate enough for these purposes.

In answer to the question: Yes, I measured my Steinway. With the lid open, of course. I do not like playing with the lid closed--except occasionally--because I think it hurts sound quality.

When I was complaining about its sound in the post "loud piano," normal playing was producing decibel levels in the 90s and fortissimo well into the 100s and 110s. It was difficult (impossible?) to play below about 80 decibels.

After re-voicing and re-regulation, normal playing is still pretty loud: about 75-82 decibels. Still possible to play fortissimo well over 90 decibels, but most fortissimo seems to be about 87-89 decibels. Best of all, it is now possible play pianissimo all the way down to 60 decibels.

Authorities that I could find recommend 60-70 decibels as "normal piano practice" so technically my piano is still rather loud.

I am thinking about voicing it down more, but the problem is that I do not think I want the tone any darker. Right now the tone is rich and mellow and warm. Suitable to my taste.

On the other hand, I do want to keep my hearing. So I am unsure what to do.

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It is fascinating to use the decibel meter as you practice. Seeing an objective measure of your decibel output certainly sheds light on many things.

I learned that my piano can be played below 60 decibels with the left pedal down, though it is not easy.

The number of notes being played at once has an enormous impact on volume. The more notes, the louder the volume. It is difficult to counteract this.

A fun exercise: Using your decibel meter, try playing ten bars with many notes just as quietly as ten bars with few notes. Darn difficult.

Another fun exercise: Try playing as quietly as you can with left pedal down. Now try to match the decibel level without the left pedal. Not nearly as difficult as you might think.

Another fun exercise: Try playing the last twenty bars of Claire de Lune below 55 decibels.

Heavy use of the right pedal will send the decibel level soaring. It is a sustain pedal, but it is also in another sense a volume pedal.

It seems you can have a lot of fun with a decibel meter and a piano.

Incidentally, I am very surprised to find that many authorities theorize that Beethoven went deaf because his piano was too loud. That was new to me; I had always thought Beethoven's deafness was not noise-induced.

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Any correlation between piano brands and decibel levels?

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I would be VERY curious to know the difference in dB on an upright when playing with the mute pedal and without. Has someone measured it?

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Meausring dB is something very hard and relative. Such thing like the distance from the source of sound may have a great impact on the dB output. Also you have to bare on mind that the dB doesn't necessarily correspond with subjective loudness, unless the "A" weighing is applied, and furthermore, it changes between individuals.

Also, interferences between other frequences from other notes played at the same time, may produce constructive o destructive interferences that will vary the volume too.

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Years ago the piano dealers had to deal with a rash of #1 bass string length comparisons. Will the next shopping mantra become what is your db?


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My measurements with a Radio Shack sound meter, lid down but folded to use the music desk:

pp low 70s dB
mf low-mid 80s dB
ff low-mid 90s dB
fff high 90s - low 100s dB

I guess I need to voice down at the next technician's visit! Thanks for bringing this topic to everyone's attention, Prospero.

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Thanks to everyone for their posts.

On a nearby thread, people were asking how to quiet down a grand piano for private practice. Many resort to buying a digital and practicing with headphones.

Yet a grand piano can be quieted down substantially with felt that you purchase by the yard at JoAnn fabrics. It is easy to close the lid, put the felt on top, and cut it to size.

You can start by putting felt on the strings, cutting the felt to fit exactly the contours of the inside of your piano. Make sure that the felt makes contact with the cabinet all the way around. It helps if the felt also covers the pins up front, so that it is flush against the front of the cabinet, too. Cutting it a bit big will reduce sound much more than cutting too small. If you start with it a bit large, you can then trim it to size--and you should, because it seems an exact fit (felt flush against the cabinet but not going up the cabinet) is most effective for reducing the decibel output of the piano.

Many people use string felt on their grands. You can play normally with the felt resting on the strings inside the cabinet. It will cut down the volume substantially, and people are often surprised how little it changes the sound quality. Sometimes I forget it is there. On my piano, it knocks off about 6 decibels. Exactly how many decibels depends on how precisely it fits, and the thickness and density of the felt.

I have used "string felt" for various grands for many years, and I have never noticed the slightest damage from it. Also, many people say that nothing will preserve your strings better--they stay looking like new, even better than just closing the lid.

If string felt and closing the lid still does not quiet the piano enough, a second piece of felt cut to fit the top of the lid also helps. On my piano, felt resting on the lid, if it is well-fit, knocks off about 4 more decibels. (This surprised me: I thought it would have less of an effect, but apparently plenty of sound escapes through the lid.)

More drastically, you can tack felt all the way around the bottom of the frame of your grand. Obviously this is less convenient. Getting it tacked on the under-frame is a bother: You will have to cut it in an odd shape to get it to fit snugly, get on the floor to mess with it, meet plenty of ancient dust, pound the thumbtacks in with a hammer (gently! do not smash your piano hard with a hammer!) while on your back--the process is awkward--and BEFORE you get started make CERTAIN that the grand piano legs are securely locked in place, or else the piano could collapse, injuring or killing you. If you are extremely patient and are willing to ruin some felt (it is pretty cheap) then you can eventually get it tacked all around the bottom of the piano with a reasonably snug fit. On my piano, this "underneath" felt knocks off about 4 more decibels--but I have removed the under-felt because I did not like the look of it.

Personally when I want to practice quietly enough that it will not wake the kids, I use a combination of closing the lid, string felt, and lid felt. The sound pretty much does not leave the room. Also, the felts are light and maneuverable, easy to put on and take off and fold up for storage.

If you add the soft pedal and develop a gentle touch (desirable anyway) then you can practice almost inaudibly. With the lid down, string felt, lid felt, soft pedal, and a gentle touch, I can practice my grand at about 50 decibels, which is quieter than normal conversation.

Thanks to all the quiet practice, I play much better when I remove the felts, open the lid, and enjoy the full sound and presence of my grand piano.

String felt and lid felt are an easy way to outfit your grand for quiet practice. They cost a lot less than a digital with headphones, and they allow you to practice with the best touch possible: your own piano.

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Also useful:

- acoustic panels , especially in the corners of the room

- musicians\' earplugs

- string covers and sound reduction kits

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Mike A, special thanks for those very useful links!

Stranded: you might check out this recent thread that discussed piano volume by brands:

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/ubb/ultimatebb.php?/topic/1/19809.html#000000

Many PW people suggested that certain high-end brands (e.g. Bosie, Bluthner) tend to be much quieter than other ones (e.g. Steinway, Baldwin). Some posters doubted this is so.

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My answer is "yes" to all three questions.

I developed tinnitus shortly after purchasing my loud upright piano 2 1/2 years ago.

I did some of the same research Prospero is doing now.

My Radio Shack db meter routinely showed readings in the high 80s and low 90s when I was trying to play softly.

First I voiced the room: a rug under the piano, and an antique quilt on the wall.

Then I had my tech voice the piano by needling the hammers.

Then I purchased the Etymotics musicians' ear plugs.

The ringing in my ears has not gone away. And it probably never will.

When I first discussed this here at PW, somebody made the comment that playing with earplugs was like showering with a raincoat.

But, and this is especially true for musicians, you really want to protect your hearing.

I have not measured the decibel levels recently.


If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.
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