Archive for May, 2010

Practice Makes _________?

Writing lines

If you had to fill in the blank, invariably the answer would be Practice Makes PERFECT.  But i would have to contest that answer.  What i believe to be the TRUE answer is: Practice Makes PERMANENT.  I’d love to take credit for this phrase but it’s not original with me but rather with a teacher i studied with.  I adopted it as one of my favorite lines in piano teaching, however because what i have come to realize is that what you focus on will eventually become habit.  If you learn the song with the wrong notes, the wrong timing or (heaven forbid) wrong fingering, trying to undo the work already done is doubly hard. 

So in my first year of college, my roommate was on the basketball team.  One time he walked into the room and exclaimed “OK that was the dumbest practice i’ve EVER been to.  We got all dressed into our uniforms and instead of practicing, we closed our eyes and imagined ourselves making baskets”.  I laughed when i heard his words.  Visualization is necessary in ‘setting the record straight’.  I have found that quite often in my own practice i need to encorporate ‘Auralization’ (now that word i will take credit for..lol).  We at times need to listen in our ‘inner ear’ to correct part of the song that is in error.  I remember practicing a Brahms piece many years ago and i was struggling with a certain part in the song.  Because half of the time i practiced  it incorrectly, when i stopped and ‘listened’ how the song SHOULD be played, i continued to hear my mistakes in my head.  And from that moment on, i discovered that it’s not WHAT we practice but HOW we practice.  Practice does make permanent and truly, more emphasis should be placed on methods of practicing with students to prevent habits that quite possibly will last a lifetime.

If These Walls Could Speak

Grand in an 'anechoic' chamber (no echo)

Piano in 'anechoic' chamber (no echo)

Well… in  fact, the walls DO speak.  They make up a significant part of what we hear when we play the piano.  Let me give you some examples: I moved this HUGE grand piano – a Kawai 7’6″ piano to a church once for a special event, a concert.  The piano sounded fantastic in my store.  When we moved it on location, the tone was nearly lost.  The poor acoustics of this gym-come-church completely lost all sense of presense and volume.  Example 2, a customer asked me to come and look at his piano placement in his new house.  The room designated for the grand was only slightly larger than the grand (another 7’6″ Yamaha).  It was deafening in the room.  So out of these two examples, what changed?  The pianos didn’t.  They were still the same instruments.  The rooms however made the difference of the world.  In the first case, the church had 30 foot high ceilings and hard tile floor.  The tone seemed to evaporate.  The closeness of the ceiling and walls play an integral part to perceived tone.  In the second case, not only the distance, but surface material also changes tone considerably.  Glass and plaster walls with hardwood floors sound incredibly different than drapes and thick carpet.  The harder the material, the more the soundwaves bounce off the walls and we hear an echo.  The general rule of thumb is the more porous the material, the more the sound will be absorbed rather than reflected.  My oldest son did a science fair project on the stealth bomber.  What was fascinating was that much of the materials of the bomber are made to absorb radar waves and not reflect.  So what is the perfect material? That becomes a subjective thing.  I will tell you what i find pleasing however:  Natural wood always sounds great.  Note: shiny floors are covered with many layers of finish and so what you’re hearing is actually the ‘finish’ and not the wood underneath.  Porous concrete is also nice.  At our University, the music recital hall which holds 300ish people is made from plain concrete and wood.  Now if you paint that surface, it no longer is concrete you’re ‘listening’ to but rather paint which is very bright.  Painted concrete and plain porous concrete are incredibly different.  Generally, i also find that 10 or 11 foot ceilings are nicer to listen to rather than 8 foot ceiling when it comes to larger grands (larger than 6’1″).  As well, pianos need to ‘breathe’ a little.  So if you have a more open floor plan, i find that the reflections are more complimentary.  Oh and one last thing – personally i like the sound of grand pianos facing a corner.  There is a beautiful and natural reflection of tone.  So next time you sit at a piano and you love the tone, take note also to the surroundings as well.

Where’s Waldo?

When i was younger there were these books called “Where’s Waldo?” They consisted of busy cartoons where you had to find this one character named Waldo. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those puzzles where they’ve changed 10 things in two different pictures and you have to find the differences but today’s post is something similar to that…. let me explain.

Last week 2 pianos came into my store – a C3 and a G3. For those who don’t know, both of these are famous Yamaha models of the same size – 6’1″ grand pianos. Both are spectacular. They made both of these models overlapping the manufacturing dates for almost 25 years! What is rare for me though is to have 2 within a few years of each other (namely 2) and to note the differences. I had preconceived ideas as to what those were but i was sadly mistaken. They are without question different designs (or in the piano world ‘scales’) but what are the detailed differences?

Yamaha G3 Rim

Yamaha C3 Rim

I took a few measurements and i must admit they’re very similar in many respects. First thing i did was a measurement of the gram weight of the hammers. Exactly the same although they ARE stamped differently – is their density slightly different? I then measured the keys for balance point – the same. I was told that G’s didn’t have duplexing but both of these were exactly the same. Crossover was the same. I also measured the bridges and they were slightly different but not hugely (a 5mm difference). The only 2 areas of change that are notable: one is a cosmetic difference – a beveled lid on the C whereas the G is plain. Second and by far the biggest difference – the rim on the C is wider in the tail. What this means is that there are more square inches of soundboard – giving more vibration/volume. Interesting.

Playing the two pianos – if you didn’t have a point of comparison it would be next to impossible to tell. The major difference though from the player’s point of view is that the C ‘breathes’ a bit more. It feels somehow fuller and the sound seems a touch more ‘distant’. The G feels ‘close’. The tone appears to be right in front of you.

So there you have a brief and short comparison. Yes, you could pull apart every joint, every angle, every string gauge but the long and the short of the matter is that they’re both wonderful playing and sounding instruments and the changes are negligible.

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