Archive for October, 2009

Piano Cosmetics – the Basics of Refinishing Part 1

steinwayLet’s face it, pianos are small elephants.  You put them in the room of a house and they will ALWAYS draw attention – whether good or bad.  If you have a beat up piano, you already know that it makes the room look blah.  On the contrary, a spectacular looking instrument improves the look of a room and makes it more classy.  If you’ve been thinking about refinishing your piano, there are some basics that you need to be aware of.  First of all, the wood on a piano most likely is veneered.  I say most likely because in 20 years, i’ve had 2 solid wood pianos.  Now before you start saying to me “OH NOT MINE… mine is SOLID WOOD”… i have to strongly disagree and say that in 20 years in the business i’ve had only 2 solid wood pianos come into my possession.  Why is that?  I used to employ a french polisher.  French polishing is the art of painstakingly applying shellac by hand.  It’s an INCREDIBLY slow process but worth every hour.  Anyway, he used to own an antique store.  This man was at best abrasive… at worst… rude.  He would tell me about customers coming in his shop “Yes i have solid wood furniture” to which he would reply “oh i’m so sorry to hear that madame”.  They were always taken back by his response.  I think it’s in our nature to want something to be solid and sturdy.  But he educated me and said “the best furniture in the world is all veneered”.  For those who don’t know, veneer is a thin layer of wood glued on to another ‘substrate’ or solid core.  Y’see, cosmetically beautiful wood usually is the WORST choice for construction.  What makes beautiful cuts of wood are quite often rippled pieces or trunks or trees to create ‘flamed’ or ‘ribboned’ effects.  No one in their right mind would think about building out of that.  The other problem is also warpage.  Solid wood will warp whereas veneered wood glued cross grain can be made straight.  And above all that, let’s say you wanted a piano out of rosewood.  Rosewood is so scarce and expensive, even small pieces of veneers will run into the hundreds – let alone solid pieces.  Well at this point, i usually hear the re-buttal “but my piano is older than that…. long before veneers were used”.  Again, not to pick a fight, but the oldest piano i’ve had in my shop was 1855 – brilliant rosewood cabinet on an Broadwood 8 foot grand (30 years newer only than Beethoven’s!)  And guess what? it was VENEERED! In 1855!  So to recap… pianos are built with a solid CORE…they’re made beautiful using lovely cuts of veneer – usually about 1/16th of an inch thick.  Oh and BTW, those 2 pianos i had in that were solid? They were so utterly BORING in the cuts of wood, you would have passed by them without batting an eye.

OK one more story from the french polisher… i love this one.  This lady comes into his antique shop… would like her Louis XV chairs refinished.  She says in a whisper “they’re authentic”…. hoping to get at least a raised eyebrow from him.  He so much as threw her out of the shop stating “no they’re not.  You mean to tell me that you have chairs dating back from the 1700’s – each one worth into the hundreds of thousands? possibly museum worthy? Well if you do, you sure don’t want to be refinishing them now do you? Good day, Madam”… oh he was feisty, i must say…lol.  Anyway… onward to the next part of piano refinishing…

Rotational Inertia…Kinetic Energy

rkeI’m the first to admit, i’m not into physics – not to say i don’t enjoy it, but i’m untrained in the area of advanced physics.  What i AM interested in though is the practical application of physics – more specifically the touch of the piano.  A few years back i had a Yamaha C5 in my shop.  Beautiful instrument.  It was apparent however that the touch was simply ALL WRONG.  It had been monkeyed with.  So i applied usual regulation specs and it turned out nicely.  However, there was one niggly thing sitting in the back of my head that just wouldn’t go away… and that is that the instrument felt somehow sluggish.  At the same time i had been looking over some ideas on key weighting which is the concept of adding/removing lead weights into the keys to achieve a more balanced keyboard.  For those who are unaware, key weighting is a common practice in MOST pianos.  The key weighting is part of the balancing of the equation to achieve a certain initial weight at the outset of the key.  (And if you don’t believe me, next time you’re near a grand, press down a key and look at the neighbouring keysticks – you may just catch a glimpse of a circular led weight inserted into the key. )  Anyhow, for kicks i thought that i would key weight this C5.  Sure enough the touch improved dramatically.  End of story? Nope… i was still bugged by that same sluggish feel.  So i rechecked my work and i must say that at soft playing, the piano was EXCEPTIONAL.  It wasn’t until you hit the fast notes that i noticed the problem.  Well… the piano ended up selling but that problem lingered in the back of my head. 

Fast forward 3 years.  I have a client who is an engineer.  We were speaking about physics, touch of the piano… and he just so happened to mention Kinetic Energy.  I had a small epiphany… i thought to myself… IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER HOW MUCH KEY WEIGHTING HAPPENS BECAUSE THAT ONLY REPRESENTS THE HAMMER AT REST POSITION.  AHA! No wonder that piano felt great at soft volumes – there was little inertia and the key weighting was ‘closer’ to the ‘at rest’ weight.  So… the ONLY way then to affect touch is to change the mass.  Ok gears turning here… if i could measure the velocity of the hammer in travel (ie radar, infrared beam etc) and the weight of the hammer i can measure… then i would be able to calculate the Kinetic Energy.  What that means then is that one could ‘reverse’ model the ‘feel’ of great pianos.  The rotational radius is similar as pianos have become more standardized.  The combination then of calculated KE and key weighting would make for an undeniable touch don’t you think?  So if KE=1/2MV2… we know mass… if only i could determine velocity… hmmm… thinking thinking… could i borrow my cop friend’s radar gear? lol.

After 9 – Piano Book

 

I’ve been teaching for about 25 years.  Funny… my very first 2 piano students who were ages 4 and 7 just contacted me via facebook.  I was just a teenager then working on my performance diploma.  Over the years i’ve had opportunity to teach many adult students.  One thing i know for sure about adults is that they have different demands on them than kids.  Having raised my own 3 children i know that it’s not as easy to get at the piano as as adult as it was growing up.  Presently i taxi teenagers around to various lessons – piano, bass, drum, guitar, voice and dance!  Add to that mix making meals and household cleanup, and you quickly realise that most adults don’t even BEGIN making sound at the piano until AFTER 9PM.  And thus, this book was entitled.  After 9 is a collection of more easy going, easy listening songs.  They’re not aimed at making life complicated but rather simplified and calm.  This is a quiet sit-down at the piano.  Enjoy.

Repertoire:

  1. Daybreak
  2. Dream
  3. Reflection
  4. Rose
  5. Summer Days
  6. Valentine Waltz
  7. Lost Heart
  8. The Old Carousel
  9. We All Need
  10. Sometimes I Do
  11. Days End

Countries of the World – Piano Book

 

Truth be told, i’m a jack of all trades master of none.  Over the years i’ve had the opportunity to play in so many different styles and genres – everything from country to hip hop to rock to jazz.  If i were to say that i have a speciality, it’s analysis.  One of my few awards in my life was for analysing scores of music and finding patterns  (Believe it or not, there are awards for such things…lol)  and although my formal training is in classical music, the methods of analysis are the same regardless of style.  So in my younger years, i used to do radio and television advertising – y’know the jingles – the tunes of the ads.  In this one agency they would say “we need it to sound like…” and they’d give you some name of some piece of music.  Well off i’d go – assignment in my hand and analyse the piece of music – all the while picking up on the components that make a certain ‘sound’.  Over the years, i have become well versed in many styles.  So without further adieu, this book is a compilation of fun songs written in various styles from around the world.  They’re stereotypical.  So the french song sounds like a musette in Paris.  The cuban song – with traditional cuban rhythm.  The american country tune – like a southern ballad.  This book is designed as a ‘sampler’ of ways of trying out different styles without having to know anything of the culture.  It’s all there in print.  Enjoy!

Repertoire:

  1. South African Sun
  2. Antigua!
  3. Cuba
  4. Irish Luck
  5. Mexican Moon
  6. Turkish Coffee
  7. Spanish Guitar
  8. American Serenade
  9. French Musette
  10. Jamaica, Man!
  11. Tango Argentine
  12. Ukraine
  13. Scottish Pub

Secret Agent – Piano Book

 

I have two boys that play the piano.  Only problem is… piano music for boys is not exactly exciting.  When you’ve done about 3 year’s worth of music, what’s left to do but (insert yawn here) is 19th century Minuets; boring little doo-dad songs that sound unimpressive, uninspiring and are completely irrelevant to boy’s minds… how do i know this? I’m a graduate of 19th century minuets… yep – true story.  Despite the fact that i finished 2 degrees in classical music, i still find the early years in piano a complete GRIND.  So.. for the fun of it, i started writing music for my boys – things they would like to hear – things they would not only find challenging but interesting.  This book is all about spies… morse code, getaway car, super powers, headquarters – very James Bond, very stealth, very hip ‘n groovy… ok ok ok… i know my kids have told me not to use the word groovy…but, if the shoe fits…. well, you know what they say.  The songs will soon be made available online for purchase.

Repertoire:

  1. Espionage
  2. Chase
  3. Getaway Car
  4. Mission Accomplished
  5. Super Power
  6. Spies
  7. Covert Action
  8. Close Call
  9. Morse Code
  10. Headquarters
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