Let’s have some fun with your piano! Here are some insights into the piano you may not have considered. There is no practice involved, no recital and no test. Let’s just have some fun!
How does it sound? – Compare two pianos. How can you easily tell which one is the better quality? Most pianists will sit down and play a few bars of their most prepared piece on one piano and then jump over to the other piano and repeat the drill. Here is another way: play the bottom five notes one at a time. E=D-C-B-A. Listen intently to the tone. The hammer strike will intrude upon the wire and create a sparkle of harmonics that will quickly disappear. What is left is the purity of the fundamental pitch. Now go to the other piano and do the same thing. The piano that has the best sound in the lowest keys is usually the one that is of better quality.
How does it feel? – The key on a grand piano is a little longer than that of the console. A piano key is just the extension of your arm. In fact, the whole piano action is built upon the construction of several fulcrum devices. The key rocks on a fulcrum as it delivers force to the bottom of the wippen. The wippen is anchored on a rail, but acts just like a teeter-totter as it delivers the force to the bottom of the hammer. The hammer is anchored to the front rail and is literally thrown into the piano wire above or in front of it (in the case of the console). The last fulcrum (which is actually the first) is your arm. The contact point is your finger, but the motion is delivered from the arm which acts as a teeter-totter as well. From arm to finger to key to wippen to hammer butt to wire, there are four lever systems at play. Now that you know what the piano is doing, try to play one while being aware of what is going on. Does the key respond to what your arm is telling it to do? That is what it means when we say that a piano is responsive. It is important to know what it is responding to in order to know if it is responding well.
How does it look? – Do you have an ugly piano? Paint it! If it is of little resale value, (under $1000), and you plan on keeping it for many years, paint it red or yellow or any other combination of colors that you might choose. Glue sequins to it. Put extra knobs on it. Be creative! Google ‘colorful piano’ and see what others have done. If you have no talent with a brush, find a friend who does. Since it is already ugly, you can’t make it worse than it is.
Where is it placed? – If your console is placed against a wall (boring!) turn it around so that the back is facing the middle of the room. Add space for your bench (but not against the wall), and you will be able to see the room as you play. The piano will be louder too! If you have a grand, switch it around. The recommended position is to have the piano player looking across the room, but you can do that in any available corner, or centered in a room. Most pianos are squeezed into a room. Forget that! Throw all that other furniture away, unless it is a chair for someone to sit in while you play. Throw a thick rug under your grand piano, especially if you have hardwood floors. A rug will dampen the sound, which you might like, or you might not. Experiment. Have some fun with it!
Take it apart. – You call yourself a pianist and you cannot disassemble your own instrument? Frightening prospect for some, but it is really quite easy to do. Have your technician show you how if you have reservations. Be prepared to find all kinds of objects inside – ones that do not belong there. A few things I have found include pencils, pens, a drumstick, a milk bottle cap from the 50s, the brim of a fishing cap, and a $20 bill. If you have an old upright piano, dating to the 1920s perhaps, look under the keys! For what? For old coins you ninny! Lol. Look for old things that really old people dropped into the piano when they were really young. Grab a vacuum cleaner and get rid of all that dust while you are in there. Touch the hammers, flick them forward with your finger and watch how they work. Fascinating! Look for dates, names, signatures, initials. Ask yourself, “Who has been here before me?” There are clues inside – signatures of the past. Every piano has a history. Before you put it together, write your name in there = with a message from the past for whoever happens to tread where you have gone before!
That should keep you busy and give you some ideas on how to interact with that wonderful, magical box that you too often ignore. One last tip: take a look at the keys. Get real close. REALLLLL close. See all of that grime and dirt? Clean the keys you pig! Lol. I know – you meant to do that and forgot.