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Nope. You're forgetting about sympathetic vibrations. If you play an F major chord, then the relative loudness of each tone will affect the other tones. It's far more complex than a single note.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Originally posted by Kreisler:
Nope. You're forgetting about sympathetic vibrations. If you play an F major chord, then the relative loudness of each tone will affect the other tones. It's far more complex than a single note.
Yes. 'Tone' refers to all of these sympathetic vibrations and harmonics, and the relative proportions of each. Right?

So if you are playing one note in an F major chord slightly louder than the next, aren't you affecting the overall tone of the total sound produced?


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Yes you are.

And you can affect the tone of a single note, but it's tied to the velocity (and only the velocity) of the hammer at impact.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Originally posted by pianojerome:
Here's a problem with those experiments. They always do these experiments with only one or two or three notes. Have an amateur play a note or two on the piano, have a professional play a note or two on the piano, and the audience can't tell a difference.

Yes, they always simplify these experiments, and there's a lesson to be learned.

If you simplify the experiment, and the effect goes away, it wasn't really there. If the effect is really there and you simplify the experiment, the effect will become more obvious.

Compare a $100 silver flute playing a Renaissance piece with a $10,000 wood flute playing modern jazz, and you might or might not hear a difference. The other factors could just end up balancing effects out. Reduce all the complications, make everything identical, and if wood really sounds different it will be obvious.

Can you hear the difference between a trumpet, trombone, and French horn playing in the same range? I can, at least I think so <g>. Composers presumably can or they wouldn't write separate parts. But there's an interesting little effect that shows up if you record the notes and erase the attack portion. Now most of us can't tell. The information contained in the start of a note apparently adds a lot to our perception of the timbre.

That probably happens in piano - the connectedness and overlap of notes change how we perceive the tone.


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"Modern felt hammers are made so that they act quite soft if they hit the
strings at low speed; but faster impacts bring the harder inner layers of the
hammer into play. Thus, when a pianist changes from piano to forte, the tone
is not only louder (as if it had been amplified) but also brighter in color."

Doesn't this imply that if you cause a single hammer to hit the string faster, then it will have a different tone then if you cause the same single hammer to hit the string softly?

So therefore at all of the different possible velocities at which a hammer might hit the string, there is a wide variety of tones?


But even at the exact same dynamic level: does duration have anything to do with tone? If you play a very short stacatto or a very long note, is the tone different? If you let up the key quickly or if you let up the key slowly, does that make a difference in the tone?


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Originally posted by pianojerome:
If you let up the key quickly or if you let up the key slowly, does that make a difference in the tone?
Never mind, I see that that doesn't really make a difference on the tone of a particular note.


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A lot of interesting reading! The best explanation of this subject was, in my mind, given by JPW 101, quoting a book on piano playing. Can you please reveal the title and author (or tell it to me personally)?

But people want to stick to what they have been teached and what they want to believe is true.

I am very surprised, though, that some of the forumists do not have the slightest knowledge of physical laws or understanding of how the piano's action works. Less surprised that many pianists and teachers do to know much about psycology and perception of music.

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Quote
Originally posted by Kreisler:
Yes you are.

And you can affect the tone of a single note, but it's tied to the velocity (and only the velocity) of the hammer at impact.
Isn't this the subject of the whole discussion?

Some people say you can control the tone of a single note, and others say that this is impossible.

But as you say, by controlling the velocity one can control the tone.

Aside from that, of course, there's also the issue of how you are using the pedal (which can help produce many different tones depending on how you use it), and there's the use of the left pedal that changes from three strings to two strings (thus altering the tone), there's the combination of both pedals, there's the way you use one of the pedals + controlling the velocity of the keys --> velocity of the hammers, etc.

So perhaps controlling velocity is the only way to control tone of a single note without the use of pedals. But it's nonetheless a way of controlling the tone.


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In order for anyone to accurately test for "tone control" on the piano, a pure definition of tone on the acoustic piano would have to be developed and agreed upon. IN electronics, that would be a tone knob or bass/treble controls, which actually change specific regions or frequencies being boosted or cut back. That is simply a physical impossibility on the mechanical acoustic instrument known as the piano. It is very easy and possible to change, alter, shift and manipulate the tone of a digital piano, but not without definition on an acoustic piano. It simply does not register a frequency response on an oscilliscope, no matter how hard or soft the key is played, depressed or struck, tone cannot be changed after the intial hammer impact.

It is almost as if the only temperment to control on a piano, as a player, is the overall volume, which at different levels, seems to have an effect on the human ear which triggers different concepts of tonal quality, which is correct. However, there are not as many "tonal" nuances that a pianist has at his discretion, they exist however, the range from low to high is much much more limited than what we think as players is available to us.

Remember, that early synthesizers were designed to manipulate aspects on the sound generated, some sounds are nearly identical with different equalizations at the end of the signal making them different or "appear" different. Part of the foundation of sound is ADSR Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release. Combined, these features sculpt a sound to be of a certain tonal quality. The ADSR of a piano is based upon the force of a key being depressed, that's about the limit of these four functional components being controlled by a pianist for overall TONE--presure.

Also, the human ear has a strong ability to be manipulated, or tricked into thinking it is hearing one thing, when in fact it is hearing something else. Our ears are extremely critical of the very first initial sound source being heard (Attack), what follows after the attack of the sound is of a secondary nature to us (Decay/Sustain/Release). Most keyboard manufacturers are aware of this and as the quality of sounds have improved over the years for most keyboards, the one common denominator here is that the first section of a sound should be the real instrument (or a recording of it) followed by an electrical sound that mimics the qualities of the source from an electric signal standpoint.

I agree with most of the posters here, this is a very interesting topic which we as players truly believe we are in more control of than is physically possible.


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Pianojerome,

On second thought a truly truly testable way to prove how a pianist can control the TONE of a piano:

Opening/Closing the lid on a grand.

Removing some, all or parts of the cabinet on an upright.

Not only does the whole instrument get louder without all the wood in the way, the actual TONAL qualities of the piano become different. Play Moonlight Sonata on the grand closed up, open it up wide for Joplin ragtime pieces, that sort of thing.


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If you play with the soft pedal down,you will get a different tone than if you play without the soft pedal. And no, it's not necessarily quieter! It's just a different tone. That's why pianists like Glenn Gould would sometimes play an entire piece with the soft pedal down. That must have soemthing to do with velocity.
Also, it is interesting what Thoughtful mentioned about Rosina Lhevinne and Henreich Nauhaus. They were very insistent on particular ways of pressing the keys for what they considered nice tone. However, they were also particular on proper fingering and not just what facilitated smooth playing, either. They seemed to think that different fingerings(even two good ones) could make a difference on the sound in such a noticeable way that there were only certain ones that could belong to certain composers and that two similar passages in Rachmoninov and Beethovn would have to be fingered totally differently to achieve a good sound.


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Originally posted by Contrapunctus:
If you play with the soft pedal down,you will get a different tone than if you play without the soft pedal. And no, it's not necessarily quieter! It's just a different tone. That's why pianists like Glenn Gould would sometimes play an entire piece with the soft pedal down. That must have soemthing to do with velocity.
Actually, it's quite neat how that works. There are three strings for each note - the purpose of this is to make a louder sound (obviously three strings will be louder than only one string). So when you push a key, the hammer will hit all three strings at the same time. However, when you hold the "soft" pedal down, all of the hammers are shifted just a little bit to the right, so that they only hit two of the strings. This is why (1) it is innately softer (unless you increase the velocity of the hammers by striking the key harder/faster) and (2) the tone is different.

However in an upright piano, there are only two strings for each note, and when you hold down the "soft" pedal, the hammers are still hitting both strings - but a piece of cloth (I think) is raised against the string making the sound softer.

So on an upright, all that the "soft" pedal really does is make the sound softer (perhaps the cloth affects the tone just a tad). But on a grand, this pedal really does make a difference in tone.


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Quote
Originally posted by Contrapunctus:
Also, it is interesting what Thoughtful mentioned about Rosina Lhevinne and Henreich Nauhaus. They were very insistent on particular ways of pressing the keys for what they considered nice tone. However, they were also particular on proper fingering and not just what facilitated smooth playing, either. They seemed to think that different fingerings(even two good ones) could make a difference on the sound in such a noticeable way that there were only certain ones that could belong to certain composers and that two similar passages in Rachmoninov and Beethovn would have to be fingered totally differently to achieve a good sound.
The tone isn't going to be innately different depending on what finger you are using. But the fingerings can indirectly affect tone, because certain fingers are weaker than others, and so for example your pinky might not set the hammers moving as fast as a thumb. The fingering might also be awkward in the sense that you have trouble maneuvering your fingers and/or pressing the keys with the right velocity to create the right tone for that particular piece/composer.


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Originally posted by Jan-Erik:
A lot of interesting reading! The best explanation of this subject was, in my mind, given by JPW 101, quoting a book on piano playing. Can you please reveal the title and author (or tell it to me personally)?

Ah, I had mentioned it in an earlier post - it's from Charles Rosen's 'Piano Notes'. A small book but full of great writing on the piano and piano-playing in general.

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Originally posted by pianojerome:
It's been argued by many scientists that we cannot control tone on the piano, because you hit the key, and the hammer hits the string in free motion. Once you hit the key, you have absolutely no control over the hammer.

I believe they must be confusing a piano with a typewriter.


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Quote
Originally posted by pianojerome:
[qb] It's been argued by many scientists that we cannot control tone on the piano, because you hit the key, and the hammer hits the string in free motion. Once you hit the key, you have absolutely no control over the hammer.
I highly doubt that any scientist would make such a statement. Probably you misunderstood or mixed up a few things.

The facts are:

1.Pianists can control the tone on the piano.
2. The tone depends on the velocity of the hammer when it hits the string and the damper setting.
3. Once you hit the key, you have absolutely no control over the hammer (free motion). However, once the string vibrates you can alter the tone by adjusting the damper. Theoretically, one could even adjust the dampers before the hammer hits the string, but I'm not sure whether this actually works in the real world - you would have to be very quick!!! (without using the right pedal of course!)

So what can we conclude from this?

The initial tone is only determined by the velocity of the hammer. As the tone evolves we can shape its character by muting it with the dampers.

No magic. It's quite simple.

RG Tim


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"I highly doubt that any scientist would make such a statement. Probably you misunderstood or mixed up a few things."

Nope. It's a big controversy. Of course we can control the tone, but some (particularly scientists who don't play the piano) say it's just an illusion, and that's it's physically impossible. Even some pianists on this forum don't think it's possible to control the tone.


But I think you're right. I had brought up the idea of dampers before, though only as an idea to think about (because I'm no maven). Your post really puts them at the center of the issue.


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Since I am currently working on Debussy's Reflections in the water, I find this debate to be very intriguing...Can you also control the tone by the finger position in which you hit the keys (i.e.- playing a note with the most padded part of the finger as opposed to the tip of your fingers)?

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Don't forget the effect of your arm movement on the other end of the sound - the receiving end.

When you use the full weight of your arm to strike a note, your head will snap slightly forward or backward.

The head movement changes the Doppler effect of the sound waves arriving at your ears.

And of course when you use the pedals to manipulate the sound this changes the angle at which the sound strikes you shoes. This change alters the distance the sound must travel to get to your ears. If you wear thick socks this can also have a dampening effect on the sound that travels down and then back up.


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gem83:

You ask if playing with the most padded part of the finger might make a difference in tone. That brings me back to something that occurred to me recently...

One of my CD's shows the pianists hands ' close up. I had noticed the pianists'"nailbed" sits back much farther than, for instance, the nailbed on my fingers. There's more flesh, "cushioning" at the tip of the fingertip before the reaching hard nailbed.

No matter how closely I trim my fingernails, the nailbed is hit as soon as I depress a key. I'm not talking about playing with fingers flat, talking about what effect this might have when playing with fingers more vertical pitch, "up and down" - whatever you call it.

Wondering if this additional "cushioning" can make a difference in tonal quality????

Jeanne W


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