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#3130485 06/22/21 05:17 PM
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Hello everyone!

Apologies if this is in the wrong forum.

I am considering purchasing a harpsichord, as I am moving into an apartment soon and don't want to bring my lovely Baldwin model L with me at this time (neighbors and such).
How loud is a harpsichord (single manual, 8') in comparison with something like an upright piano? Would I be able to play one without disturbing the neighbors? It would seem that the overall tone of the instrument is much less piercing than a piano and would project a bit less, but maybe that's just my optimism. I greatly dislike playing digital pianos (I just can't get into them..there's something missing with a digital sound) so that's not something I want to consider.

Also, would there be a way to quiet down a harpsichord to make it a bit less disruptive to neighbors? Thanks in advace -- my harpsichord exposure is quite limited.

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Interesting question! I always find harpsichords quite loud - but that might be more a question of brightness rather than actual loudness. I have no idea how the sound would carry (or not) into a neighbouring apartment. Of course, on a harpsichord it is not possible to play quietly! This is the reason that I am always rather reluctant to try a harpsichord if I come across one - everyone will hear my non-existent harpsichord skills!

Can I ask what sort of repertoire you are thinking of for the harpsichord? Presumably baroque or early classical? If you are interested in the high classical period (Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven - and perhaps Bach) you might do well with an early 19th century square piano. These can be absolutely delightful, and are not loud. You would definitely not have a problem with the neighbours! These are relatively easy to find in the UK. Perhaps not so much so in the US.

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It depends on the harpsichord, but it can be quite loud, and you will not have control on loudness. Also, the playing technique is different, and the feeling under the fingers completely weird for a pianist.

If you are interested in piano (and not harpsichord) and you are looking for another instrument which would be less loud, IMHO you have two options:

1) digital piano (most close to acoustic piano)

2) clavichord (what was used as "digital piano" before there was such a thing)

Of course you could also get a custom made piano with some modifications to make it less loud. In fact it's quite difficult to make a piano loud, and the instrument has been created from day one to get loud (*) and almost all the improvements made to it are to make it louder -- for concert halls. You could for example use lighter hammers, less tensioned strings, monochords instead of trichords, mufflers (QRS sells one) etc

Best of luck!

Cheers,
Davide
PS: in the USA the square pianos are easy to find, but they are complicated and expensive to maintain and tune, so I don't share the recommendation, UNLESS you really like/want that kind of instrument

PPS: (*) the piano was invented to get the loudness of the harpsichord and the expressiveness of the clavichord in one instrument. The former was used in concert halls, the latter ONLY in homes and small rooms.

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Equally important to consider, perhaps even more important, is the type of music you wish to play. Anything beyond early Haydn, much of Mozart and almost all music beyond that era will not be playable on a harpsichord, at least not to any degree resembling the sound, texture and resonance of later music. Of course there are a few modern works composed for harpsichord, but they obviously focus on the harpsichord's individual, characteristic sound.

It would seem very limiting to purchase a harpsichord unless you were dedicated to playing Baroque and (very) early classical period music exclusively. Could you live with that?

I think the most practical advice one can give is for you to find a harpsichord, try it out with the repertoire you like to play and see what your reaction is.

Regards,


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Harpsichords can be ... piercing. Who was it that said that the harpsichord sounds like two skeletons copulating on a tin roof? I have a 7' double manual, so I have some experience. Fun to play, but I have to go to the piano after awhile to get some relief.

Most harpsichords come with a buff stop or a lute stop. Sometimes they pluck closer to the front string termination, so you get a softer but more nasal sound. Or it could be pieces of damping felt that rest against the strings, which is softer. So they can be very soft with the right stop. A single manual instrument may not have these options though.

The feel of the action is very different from a piano. Lots of initial resistance until it plucks, then nothing.

And you really can't play piano repertoire on the harpsichord. No sustain pedal. No loud and soft. Pianos are the most versatile instrument ever invented. If I could only have one, I would choose a piano.

Sam

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A harpsichord is basically a different instrument from the piano. In its own terms, and for baroque music, it is delightful and a thrill to play. But in addition to becoming familiar with the entirely different feel of the instrument, you would need to learn how to deal with baroque ornamentation, how to split chords, all the tricks of the baroque keyboard player. Things I have never absorbed, so that I feel daunted by the harpsichord. I have friends who have harpsichords and get great delight from them.

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Originally Posted by BruceD
Equally important to consider, perhaps even more important, is the type of music you wish to play. Anything beyond early Haydn, much of Mozart and almost all music beyond that era will not be playable on a harpsichord, at least not to any degree resembling the sound, texture and resonance of later music. Of course there are a few modern works composed for harpsichord, but they obviously focus on the harpsichord's individual, characteristic sound.

It would seem very limiting to purchase a harpsichord unless you were dedicated to playing Baroque and (very) early classical period music exclusively. Could you live with that?

I think the most practical advice one can give is for you to find a harpsichord, try it out with the repertoire you like to play and see what your reaction is.

Regards,

+1.

We're mostly assuming that you already know that a harpsichord is _not_ "touch sensitive":

. . . No matter how hard you strike a key, the volume of the note is the same.

So two effects:

1. You won't be able to do gradual dynamic changes (crescendo and dim).

2. If your touch is uneven (which would be obvious playing a piano),
. . . you won't hear its unevenness on a harpsichord.

So you may develop bad habits, without knowing it.

IMHO, you'd be better off getting a digital piano (which _is_ touch-sensitive), until you could re-unite with your acoustic piano.

Clavichords are hard to come by, I think, and they are _really_ soft.


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I have, in my many years in the business, actually come across a touch-sensitive harpsichord. My memory of it is vague, but it would extend the plectrum more the harder the key was played. There was some rotation involved, and the plectrum would not hit the string after the note was played, unlike regular harpsichords.

I find that unless they are very well made, harpsichords are extremely difficult to maintain.


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I understand that a harpsichord doesn't keep in tune as well as a piano. Is this true, and does one need to have a tuner come more regularly, or can one self tune a harpsichord? Or does it matter :-)?


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Some harpsichord players tune every time they play the instrument, some less often, but still often. You have to learn to tune yourself, preferably 1 or 2 baroque tunings. Clavichords tend to hold their tuning a little better, maybe can be tuned as infrequently as 4x a year, depending on your sensitivity level. I sold the one I once owned because I got tired of tuning it.

If you want to play baroque keyboard music in a period instrument without having to tune, the Nord C2 or C2D with digitally sampled European tracker organ is a nice, ready to play instrument with high quality pipe organ sounds. For the pipe organ, I prefer the buttons of the C2 to the drawbars of the C2D. The buttons better support the on/off states of a pipe organ stop. The physical drawbars work best with the virtual Hammond B3 that also is builtin to either of these. But you will have to find the C2 used as it was replaced with the C2D. Still, thecC2D is slso good.

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Harpsichords need to be tuned frequently. Relying on a tuner is not practical - you have to tune it yourself. There are several apps for that. String tension is low compared to a piano, and there is only one string per note, so it is not difficult (using an app), but it does take time. You can say the same for maintenance. You need to assume the responsibility of tuning and maintaining the instrument.

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Originally Posted by Sam S
Harpsichords need to be tuned frequently. Relying on a tuner is not practical - you have to tune it yourself. There are several apps for that. String tension is low compared to a piano, and there is only one string per note, so it is not difficult (using an app), but it does take time. You can say the same for maintenance. You need to assume the responsibility of tuning and maintaining the instrument.

Sam

+1

Most harpsichordists also change the quills themselves, some going out in their neighborhood to collect raven's feathers for the job.

If you REALLY can't stand the sound of the digital pianos (which I totally understand and somewhat share), I encourage you to try the least beaten path, such as the pianos provided by https://sites.google.com/site/soundfonts4u/ (which I find way better that many others) and use it in a tablet/phone which I find WAY more convenient than computer (I use an Android with FluidSynt and it's great). If you STILL can't stand the piano sound that way (which I could relate to), you can use the harpsichord sounds, which for a non harpsichordist is just fine. If you CAN stand that, you can then get a digital with a great piano action (e.g. AvantGrand, Novus, Cybrid or piano-conversion, if money or time is not an issue) or at least with a decent one (check the digital forum for that), which will be WAAAAAAY closer to the piano than an acoustic harpsichord.

If that is still not an option, like a mod to an acoustic piano is not possible either, I think your only choice is a clavichord (as I stated earlier) despite their rarity and other drawback. In my opinion the harpsichord will not satisfy you (but still, find one and try it!)

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It always amuses me to be tuning a piano by ear, while someone else is using an electronic device to tune a harpsichord.


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I remember an online conversation about the Roland C-80 digital harpsichord of the late 1980's in a newsgroup forum (that existed before the web existed). Someone was touting the benefit of having a practice instrument that did not need to be tuned. An early music expert replied that harpsichord students need to be spending more time tuning and learning to tune their instrument, not less.

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Sometimes when I am tuning my harpsichord I feel like I am trying to hit a moving target!

Sam

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Originally Posted by Sam S
Sometimes when I am tuning my harpsichord I feel like I am trying to hit a moving target!

Sam

But your aim keeps getting better; right, Sam?

Cheers!


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I had a small Zuckerman single-manual harpsichord for a while. It was very quiet. It did not require frequent tuning, in fact it was more stable than any piano I've had.

It was very convenient, since I kept changing apartments, to be able to pick up the instrument and carry it under my arm.

I've read that clavichords sound like "hairpins falling on the floor".

Beethoven published the Moonlight Sonata (and earlier works) for "Hammerklavier oder Clavicembalo". There is a recording of it performed on the harpsichord.

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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Sam S
Sometimes when I am tuning my harpsichord I feel like I am trying to hit a moving target!

Sam

But your aim keeps getting better; right, Sam?

Cheers!

What's the difference between a harpsichord and a chainsaw? You can tune a chainsaw.

Sam

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Originally Posted by edferris
I've read that clavichords sound like "hairpins falling on the floor".

It depends on the clavichord.


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