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All About Pianos

Where to Place Your Piano

Because of the damaging effects of hot dry air, try to place your piano away from radiators, heat ducts, or any source of hot dry air. Avoid placing it near a window, outside door, or any source of moist air. Often, the best way to avoid all of the above is to place your piano against or near an interior wall. With upright pianos, allow an inch or so of space between the piano and the wall, as the wall will reflect the tone emitting from the back of the piano and act as a secondary sounding board.

Care of the Finish

If the outside case is a wood grain, you can clean it with a soft cloth (cotton or cheese cloth works well) slightly dampened with furniture polish. If you have an ebony or ivory finish, put 2 parts glass cleanser with no ammonia to 10 parts water in a bottle and shake it. Then spray your cloth lightly and wipe the finish and keys. Always spray your cloth; never spray your piano directly.

Keeping the Interior Clean

The interior of your piano should be dusted periodically. You can use one of the smaller hose attachments on your vacuum cleaner to pick up much of the dust. If any children’s toys, coins, or other foreign objects should find themselves inside your piano, don’t try to remove them (unless it can be done easily). Call Sydney Piano Centre at (02) 9630-4060, for a qualified tuner-technician to remove the object.

Tuning Your Piano

It takes time for a new piano to “settle in” and adjust to the individual climatic conditions in your home. Correct tuning and servicing is particularly important during the first year. Manufacturers agree that a piano should be tuned twice a year. Sydney Piano Centre suggests that you take advantage of your free in-home tuning three to six months after delivery.

You’ll find that as your piano mellows, it will actually improve in performance, as long as it is tuned properly and at regular intervals. Sydney Piano Centre will be happy to arrange for a qualified tuner-technician to service your instrument on a regular basis.

The Action

With nearly 9,000 separate parts, the action is a mechanical marvel that causes a hammer to strike the string(s) of a given note when the key is depressed. This means converting downward pressure on a key into forward motion of the hammer in vertical pianos, and upward motion of the hammer in grand pianos toward the strings, with the hammer traveling five times as far and approximately four times as fast as the front end of the key. A piano action would be fairly simple if striking a hammer against a string was all that was required. However, the hammer must also instantly rebound from the string(s) so that the sound of the vibrating string(s) is not muffled by the hammer being pressed against it. This happens even though the finger may be still holding down the key. The hammer must then be caught, or “checked” on its rebound from the string(s) so that it doesn’t bounce back against them a second time. When the finger releases the key, the hammer is released and returns to its starting position and is reset for another blow. In a modern piano, all of the above happens in a fraction of second. The mechanism that accomplishes all of the above is a complicated system of levers, hinges and pivots which must be designed and assembled with painstaking precision, and the result is an action that responds to a player’s touch with lightening quickness and accuracy, allowing the player complete freedom of musical expression, and rapid, clear articulation. Piano actions are largely made of wood, felt, woolen bushing cloth and leather, all materials that react to humidity changes, and yet most with tolerances sufficiently small that a fraction of an inch affects the performance of the piano. Just consider the skill required to assemble thousands of small moving parts so that they work smoothly and silently for 50 years or more without constant lubrication and adjustment.

The Damper

Part of the action, the damper is a delicately balanced device that lets the performer stop a string from vibrating. More than 900 precisely made parts are required for a set of dampers.

The Piano Sounding Board

The sounding board reflects and amplifies the tone caused when a hammer hits a string. It is probably the most important part of the piano. Without it, no music would be produced.

Like a hi-fi speaker, a sounding board is a vibrating diaphragm. It must vibrate at exactly the same rate as the strings, and to work properly, must be under constant tension. This is accomplished by having the center of the board arched, or crowned, with the strings pressed down on the board where they cross the bridges.

So that it vibrates freely, a sounding board is usually only 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch thick. Ribs help strengthen the board and preserve the crown. Woods used in a sounding board obviously must be carefully selected and seasoned. Also, the heavy and massive cast iron plate that covers the sounding board never touches any part of the sounding board.

The Piano Strings (Wires)

The pitch or sound of each note is determined by the number of vibrations per second of each string’s “speaking length” (the part between the wooden bridge at the bottom of the sounding board and where the string bears on the ironplate). The number of vibrations given off by a string can be controlled three ways:

  1. By tension on the string. (The lower the tension – the lower the pitch).
  2. By length of the string. (The longer the length – the fewer vibrations and the lower the pitch).
  3. By diameter of the string. (Wrapping additional wire around a string lowers the pitch)

These three factors are called the scale. Piano manufacturers obtain the 88 different notes by varying the scale.

To lower the pitch a single octave, you must double the string length and so on, redoubling all the way down the scale. however, if you started with a two-inch speaking length string, kept string diameter and string length constant, when worked down all 88 notes, you would end up with a 22-foot upright piano.

This is why strings in the bass section are wound with wire. In the extreme bass, another wire is used around the first wrapping because a single winding heavy enough for the proper diameter couldn’t be wrapped tightly enough around the center wire.

The Tone

When a hammer strikes a string, not just a single sound, but a combination of sounds is produced – each overlapping and blending in a way only a trained ear can distinguish. The pitch of the string, call the fundamental tone, sounds first. The lowest pitch a string makes is produced by the vibration of the entire speaking length. Next the strings produce a number of higher tones called harmonics. The first harmonic is produced when the string divides itself in two and each half vibrates separately. Then, almost simultaneously, the string divides itself again. This time it breaks into three partial sections each vibrating at three times the original rate a producing a still higher tone.

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