Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano?

I say yes to naysayers on various Internet forums. They would have you believe that playing a series of notes cannot be altered by a physical approach to the keys that includes a supple wrist. Their gospel is, it’s all the same no matter who plays C, D, E, F, G. These concrete thinkers, insist that you can take your pick starting anywhere on the keyboard and nothing really changes.

Essentially, they sermonize that the initiation of key depression ignites the hammers to STRIKE the strings which leads followers into the universe of PERCUSSION! (This launches a secondary argument about the nuts and bolts of pianoforte-making and playing)

Fortunately, the less religious persuaders concede that the use of sustain pedal makes one player sound differently from another– or that pokey finger plunkers can still manage a soft or loud sound through finger pressure alone, thereby escaping tonal conformity.

I say BAH HUMBUG to this crowd that pedals its audibly loud or soft-sell opinions in their Extremist effort to rip the HEARTS out of HAMMERS. (They insist HAMMERS like wooden puppets can’t “feel” or “express” emotions)

With all due respect, I declare that tone production is NOT the sum total of pedal plus loud and soft playing. It’s way more subtle than that: ATTENTIVE LISTENING, IMAGINATION, HARMONIC FLOW and a keenly nursed physical flexibility can and will individualize one player from another.

To wit, I enlisted Burgmuller’s Angels’ Voices for DIVINE INTERVENTION:

As a necessary preliminary, I adhered to the composer’s metronome marking, the quarter=152; then I demonstrated pokey finger entries into the keys with a relatively stiff wrist. (sustain pedal was used but without dynamics) Subsequently, I added dynamics with pokey fingers, before the final playing with a supple wrist and phrase sculpting. (My approach included delays into notes and resolutions by flow of harmony)


Video 1

Video 2-A play through of Angels’

Comparative You Tube performances set at the same metronome marking: (Yes of course, the pianos are different, but let’s consider the physical approach to the keys by each player)

About arioso7: Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
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6 Responses to Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano?

  1. Very, very interesting.

    And I largely agree. It makes a difference on how we hit the keys of the piano! For me that’s a given.

    BUT, I’m curious to an experiment, which I can’t run myself, due to my lack of time: What IF, instead of a real acoustic piano you had a digital piano, with samples (samples: recorded notes of the piano in various dynamics, which are triggered by the hit of the digital piano key). I’m wondering if one could alter his/her performance as much as your performance was changed by the change of the “poky” (spelling?) fingers and “normal” wrist movement, etc…

    From my experience with technology, I’d bet that some changes would take place. Not because of the change the hammer hits the string in a digital piano (no strings), but because of the musical part that changes in your mind, and the change in your hands that are reflected on your playing…

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    • Thanks for your feedback and ideas.. I’m going to examine your response more carefully once I am back here in the saddle in a few hours. It invites my mega interest.
      SK
      Just a quickie.. I do believe that players of digital pianos sound differently depending on their physical/and interwoven imagination-triggering approaches.
      I can easily demonstrate…

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  2. See the thing is that if a digital piano can produce different results depending on the mind, musicality and performance related issues, then it’s NOT the hammer of the acoustic instrument that makes the difference…

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, I think that with a little experience one can tell straight away when a recording is made with samples (digital piano) or an acoustic piano… So there definitely ARE differences…

    And I strongly believe in tone colour of our playing in acoustic instruments. But I have a researchers mind I guess…

    Please do demonstrate if you find some time! :)

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    • I’m not sure I understand the comparison you make to digital keyboards when the basic discussion refers to our conception of tone production with the hammer to string landscape.
      And in addition, the blog was posted as a response to those who assert that everyone playing the same 2 notes for instance, at say a Fort level, cannot manage to sound differently.
      Just to shift gears, here’s me playing Fur Elise on my Arius digital 141 model.. I think I manage nuances and phrase shapes given the digital cosmos and internal make-up.

      I will even juxtapose my acoustic piano rendition and we can explore tone production and means to the end, respectively

      I am using the same supple wrist approach on both instruments, and not a pokey finger entry into notes.

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  3. LisaC says:

    I am absolutely convinced that touch is everything! I can hear the differences in my own playing, influenced by various teachers’ approaches. I have to say, I am very glad you chose Philip Sear as an example. He is one of my favorites to listen to.

    Like

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