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 Post subject: Different timbre of a single key stroke for same volume?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 10:30 am 
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I like to get your opinions on a probably controversial thing:

If one likes to have a certain pretty high volume (loudness) of a single note, one surely can do in two etreme ways (and all in between):

a) the finger could be dropped down from a certain heigth on the key or
b) the finger could be on the key and pressed down hard.

Let's assume that we have produced a sound with same loudness with both ways.
Do you think it has also the same timbre and sound color or not?

It seems there are different opinions on that. My piano teacher treats me to play loud notes more with the b) approach instead the a) approach. Because the a) approach is considered to produce a more harsh sound instead a rounder tone with b). And I do think too meanwhile that there is indeed a difference, even if it is a very tiny one. But some may disagree and say, same volume = same timbre, regardless how it was produced?

The online piano book from Chang tries to explain that this sound color differences may come because in b) the key is accelerated faster, so the hammer shank will be be bended, what influences the sound, especially for the deeper bass notes. However the book let it be uncertain whether the effect is really audible.

What's your opinion on that?

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 3:19 pm 
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Opinion amongst teachers, examiners and competition judges that I have encountered in 12 years of teaching in Canada, as well as based on all readings, is yes, always touch the key, and THEN press. Never strike the key from a distance, no matter how loud, how staccato, etc. I've also read that the control of tone comes more from how the fingers release each key after it is played, moreso than how the keys are pressed, although thus far I have not read argument against the "touch, THEN press" method of key depression to avoid the harsh tone of which you speak. In my opinion, the "harsh" sound (buzzy/unpleasant) that results when striking from a distance can vary from piano to piano, and is sometimes imperceptable on certain pianos. But, even if it does not show up on the piano one normally practices on, just to be safe in case it would on a piano on which one might perform in a diiferent setting, my best advice would be to adopt the "always touch before you press" technique.


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 Post subject: Re: Different timbre of a single key stroke for same volume?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 4:38 pm 
Quote:
The online piano book from Chang tries to explain that this sound color differences may come because in b) the key is accelerated faster, so the hammer shank will be be bended, what influences the sound, especially for the deeper bass notes. However the book let it be uncertain whether the effect is really audible.

What's your opinion on that?


Here is an essay quite revealing about this phenomenon:
http://www3.sympatico.ca/norma.barr/library/piano/tone_piano_playing.html

And here's the key passage:
    A string prefers to vibrate at its own natural frequencies, or harmonics, which are determined by the length, weight and tension of the string. When vibrating at these frequencies, the energy is dissipated very slowly and the sound lasts a long time. If other frequencies are imposed on the string, however, the energy in those frequencies disappears quickly as soon as the driving force is removed.

    We have here the explanation of the shape of the sound curve. When a piano key is depressed, the energy is transmitted to hammer-and-arm and then, when the string is struck, from hammer to string. The flaw in the simplistic model is the assumption that all the energy in the hammer is the kinetic energy of its forward motion. This would only be true if hammer-and-arm were a rigid body. But because it is quite flexible, depression of the key not only throws the hammer forward, but causes it to vibrate. And the vibrations are at the natural frequencies of hammer-and-arm, which differ from those of the string. When the hammer strikes the string, two things happen: the kinetic energy of the forward movement is translated into the natural frequencies of the string; the vibrating hammer imposes its own extraneous frequencies on the string for the 6 or 7 milliseconds of contact. Hence the prompt sound consists of both natural and imposed frequencies: as soon as contact is broken, the latter quickly disappear and only the former remain. The prompt sound, which lasts for the first one or two hundredths of a second, contains the harsh dissonant frequencies; the after sound consists only of the natural string frequencies.


Nicole, striking keys from a distance? Why not?

You can build an entirely new style of playing with it:
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=1FHPiCLjoKk

or give life to compelling interpretations like in this example:
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=5LR86sgO6C4


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 8:50 pm 
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My teacher once explained that if you sit at a higher bench level, then you can push down harder, get more meat into the keys, dig into them, etc…Sit lower for tricky technical stuff similar to Gould (not to that extreme). Makes sense. But we really didn’t get far into the discussion, so I’m assuming he meant with your (b) approach. However, a little while back when I was practicing the No. 18 prelude, there are fff chords at the end, and with my skinny, weak little wrists, I couldn’t get them loud enough, so I had to come crashing down on the chords from high up and hope that my fingers land on the correct keys. I got lucky, and the sound that came out was exactly how I wanted it. In this case, the (a) approach worked for me.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 11:45 pm 
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A difference of sound color between a) and b) without purposely trying to make the piano buzz at fff is purely subjective and if even would exist, could only be heard by the pianist. You can always play raising your fingers a little, but too high becomes less effective, except maybe for certain specialized passages. Use armweight instead and play closer or starting on the keys directly, as Nicole said previously. She's also right about the fact that the tone color has much more to do with the release and sustaining of the keys. IMHO, the attack simply controls the initial amplitude. All the subtleties happen afterwards.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2007 3:57 am 
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Thanks so far for your opinions and the provided links!

It seems to be indeed controversial.

@Cydonia: Forgot to mention that I meant the playing on a real acoustic grand piano (don't know if it is of concern for upright too).

However of course it is of no relevance for a digital keyboard since the mechanics won't behave different (as it is assumed on a grand - different accelerations of the keypress method may lead to different hammer shank torsions or vibrations what may lead to different sound colors for same loudness).

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2007 11:35 am 
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Of course, if one creates lots of noise with a finger-strike, that noise will be carried into the strings; the tone will be filled with all those random, percussive overtones.

Is tone pureness/harshness a function of volume? For the most part, no, the greatest tone control is found in the parts of the piano action that connect the hammer to the finger. If these parts are smoothly set into motion, the hammer will do its job and make a nice, pure tone. Since volume is a function of hammer speed (and a speedy hammer doesn't generate much in the way of noise) then the faster one can accelerate the hammer without creating excess noise in the other moving parts the louder the pure tone will be. This is more applicable to a grand.

Since noise is a function of extraneous vibration of the piano action, any increase of such vibratory forces will result in an increase of said noise.

I have a headache. :lol:

PF


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2007 1:38 pm 
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MindenBlues wrote:
Cydonia: Forgot to mention that I meant the playing on a real acoustic grand piano.


Yep, that's what I had in mind too when I replied earlier.


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 Post subject: hmmm
PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 9:46 pm 
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Never say "never." Also be careful saying "always." How can it be possible to play very fast consecutive octaves placing the fingers on the keys before playing them? The extra time placing the fingers first decrease the speed.


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 Post subject: Re: hmmm
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2007 1:42 am 
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John Robson wrote:
Never say "never." Also be careful saying "always." How can it be possible to play very fast consecutive octaves placing the fingers on the keys before playing them? The extra time placing the fingers first decrease the speed.


In all truth, there are passages in certain pieces, (for example, where marked "strident") where I think the composer may be actually requesting a less "pleasing" sound, so it would then be ideal to deviate from the "touch first, then press" school of thought.

As far as if it is truly possible to always place the fingers on keys before pressing, such as in fast consecutive octaves, that's a good question. I guess we'd have to slow the videotape of people who claim they "always" can do this. I make no such claims about my own playing :D


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2007 4:51 am 
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Me too, I would also make no such claims about my playing. I think too, the "first touch, then press" method cannot always applied because of speed reasons.

The question remains however whether the "first touch, then press" method leads really to a more pleasing sound if it is compared to the same loudness as created from a finger dropping sound production? Because the rule "first touch, then press" may have other advantages like that there is no possible to hit the wrong note or make slips since the finger is already on the right key. So that it makes sense to follow that rule even if it is not sound driven. I really dunno ...

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 Post subject: Re: Different timbre of a single key stroke for same volume?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 11:03 am 
What's your opinion on that?

I think this is THE question, and I've not a precise idea.
But....Same velocity=same sounds I think
of no. Same acceleration dynamic and same velocity=same sounds......maybe.
I've read about differences (with same velocity and acceleration values) because of different
vibrations in the moment when the hammer beat the strings (derivating from other particular vibrations in hammer action, derivating from particular movements of fingers), and this seems very interesting.

All best,
Sandro


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 1:39 pm 
> always touch the key, and THEN press. Never strike the key from a distance, no matter how loud, how staccato, etc.

Some timbres are possible only with key attack from high. Because some velocity and acceleration,
and the relative dynamics and colours, are possible only in this way. It's not true that one must play EVER with finger (and/or wrist and/or arm) articulation, but it's equally innatural the opposite. As in tennis or golf: why to prepare a swing if one cannot use it? To stop the swing before to heat the ball (or pressing the key), why?
But sure, there are ALSO situations where this swing is not useful....
I find wrong to undervalue articulation, as to undervalue weight distribution. The first permits the
second to work. Without articulation (for timbre variety: of fingers, wrist, arm, and also rarely
of the entire body) one can not move himself, and about playing piano....



All best,
Sandro.


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 Post subject: Re: Different timbre of a single key stroke for same volume?
PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 6:22 am 
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Sandro Bisotti wrote:
What's your opinion on that?


First, I think if there is the possibility to choose between letting fall down the finger on the key or jumping off the key instead, the latter possibility has some advantages to me bside the (questionable?) different timbre:
1. since the finger is already on the key before pressing, the probability for slips is less than the first method
2. the control of tone color (loudness) is much better since the degree how strong to jump off can be controled better compared to the fall down method
3. For the follow-up of the notes it is often more ergonomic to jump off a key instead to rest there because on jumps earlier to the next note that way.

This jump-off method is of course only possible if one does not need to hold the notes without sustain pedal.

But the topic question remains whether the tone of same loudness differs if played by a longer fall-down way in opposite to very short way but strong acceleration. I must confess, my ears are probably not sharp enough to safely hear the difference. But my current teacher is very bold in that, also a intermediate teacher I had, insisted in that the tone color (rich full sound compared to harsh sound) is different.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2007 4:14 pm 
It's very important that we remember, while discussing minute issues of timbre, that narrow examination of the effect of striking technique on a single piano key will inevitably miss the point. Striking technique is always applied in the context of multiple notes, whether in an etude or a sonata. The entire arm/wrist/hand/finger apparatus is, while striking any given note, both arriving from a prior note and in transit towards a following note.

This is just to say that, while it is certainly true that one can isolate and examine the varying tonal effects of striking a key from a height versus striking it from a constant touch, such isolated examination, while physical and real, would provide data almost purely theoretical in nature to the musician and composer, who virtually always work with multiple notes in time.

(Which is not to even mention the tonal contributions caused by the inclusion or exclusion of any of the pedals, or whether the piano lid is open or closed, or what species of wood the piano is, or the condition of every minuscule element of the piano, from the oxidation of the strings to the coefficient of friction involved in the system of your finger (including variable degrees of perspiration) striking a key (including variable surface properties affected by material, degree of wear, degree of oil residue, etc.) in a given environment... Basically, when you try to start talking about the isolated tonal distinctions imparted due to varying accelerations leading to an identical striking velocity, you get into a realm of fine distinctions most people would much rather stay very far away from, myself included.)

The example of fast parallel octaves came up earlier in the discussion. In this case, the conversation becomes about legato vs staccato execution, simply because of the nature of the application. Every application will inevitably have its own unique set of circumstances which would impart their own effects to the tambre, above and beyond the effects imparted through the specific striking technique.

Beyond this, I find it interesting that nobody in this forum has commented that the technique of dropping one's wrist from a certain height when striking the keys is a central component of Chang's book. He calls it the "gravity drop." An excerpt:

"... the gravity drop is a constant acceleration, and the hand is accelerating, even during the key drop. At the end, the hand is resting on the keys with its own weight - this action is what produces pleasant, deep tone."

I just think it is important to note this, since Chang was cited in the original post.


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