Archive for July, 2011
I’ll never forget sitting at the piano at age 15 completely frustrated and baffled by the fact that i had witnessed musicians playing without music. Now these weren’t musicians playing memorized pieces… they were apparently making it up as they went along. How intriguing! Improvisation of notes… but how? How did they know what combinations of notes ‘went together’ to make that kind of sound? Sure i had practiced (ad nauseum) my dominant 7ths… and i had read somewhere that jazz was all about 7ths… but my solid and broken chords sure didn’t sound like any jazz i had ever heard. Enter Dave Brubeck. My brother gave me a book called Impressions of New York for Easy Piano (pictured). If you can get your hands on a copy it’s a FABULOUS book! But one great thing about Brubeck is that he wrote out what he played. For Classical died-in-the-wool piano players, this is INVALUABLE because we’re so used to reading… then processing, then playing. And this book was my first small step into jazz – listening to chords i liked the sound of, extrapolating, analyzing, and integrating into my own playing. Jazz is all about vocabulary. Ask a child 7 years of age to write a story. Ask a well travelled, well read, well educated adult to write a story and you know of what i speak. It’s the vocabulary of words that make the difference. In jazz, it’s the chords – the musical words that tell the story. So next time you play some chord that you like – pause – listen – think – analyze then integrate. And if you’re not great at experimenting with chords, get a book like Dave Brubeck’s where he weaves together musical concepts – bridging the gap from those who read with those who improvise.
Ok let’s be honest here… companies are coming to recognize that their name is worth more than their product. And i’m not talking just of pianos – the Japanese company Sony manufactures many of their products in Mexico… Martin guitars partially the same. Delta, HP… they’re all savvy to the fact that their names bring about reliability amongst consumers. They then trade their name for cheap labour and high profits… albeit quite often for a short season. I have a friend who used to always say “In biz, you can either have a quick nickel or a slow dime”…. meaning that you can either sell out, for tomorrow the market may be gone… make the quick money now… or you build a quality product (the slow dime) for higher dollars that require longer to sell and have a smaller market share etc. So how does this apply to the piano biz? Glad you asked.
In January of this year i attended the NAMM show (the National Association of Music Merchants). And i took this opportunity to play every piano at the show but also, i talked to each manufacturer and asked what their ‘selling advantage’ is. Interesting to note that name branding has gone a layer deeper… not only is the piano name a brand, but now the parts are name branded. Terms are bantered about such as “Roslau wire”, “Abel hammers” etc. The cheapest of designs (i was told) are copies of expensive pianos. In fact, i heard on more than one occasion how these pianos were from ‘German tradition’. Well… i wouldn’t have really cared much until i have started hearing these same catch phrases from consumers. People like name brands and buyers want confidence – that comes from innovation, design, tradition. So… me being the skeptic… what happens if those elements are all but smoke and mirrors? I’m not saying that the parts are not what they say they are but… what happens if those parts don’t equal the whole? If they don’t truly give the entire picture? Let’s say you’re buying a car. The motor is great! But what about the frame? What about the transmission? The body? The performance is all dependant on the entire package correct? And so i see the general trends of piano making presently moving towards name branding the significant parts while glossing over other less noticeable ones hoping that consumers won’t somehow notice. The sad part? Is that most consumers buy it… hook, line and sinker.
So how do you avoid being horn-swaggled? Look deeper into the piano manufacturing… do your homework… talk to performers and technicians, teachers and friends. Be a smart and edumacated consumer.
HOPEFULLY you don’t have a rattle like this snake inside your piano! But you have to admit… it DID grab your attention right? Well… needless to say, sourcing out rattles in pianos are tough tough tough… Yep… A rattle in a piano is a difficult thing to find the source of. Why? Because the piano emits vibrations and the vibrations usually excite some part on the piano unrelated to the string that is loose. Generally there are 4 main areas that cause rattles in pianos:
- Something loose on the soundboard (especially on grands) – a pencil, paperclip, ummm (don’t laugh) rat poop (ewww i know…), marbles, combs, pieces of paper
- Loose hinge pins are HUGE on the list – the centre pin of the hinge is sitting too loosely in it’s frame and rattles sympathetically with the string
- Loose pedal rods or trapwork
- Buzzing unseated string – where an individual string is not snug against the bridge or capo
- The solution? I start by removing any extraneous things (like pictures or ornaments from the area). Next, try to localize the source. Move your ears around as you play the note and try and find out the general vicinity where the noise is coming from. If you see any loose item, now’s the time to grab the tweezers and pull it out. It may be something simple like that. Then start holding things – start touching all the hinges or piano parts until the noise stops. When all else fails, try touching individual strings that are being struck by the hammer. If for example there are 3 strings being struck at once, place your finger on each one and then strike the key again. You may find that one of them is creating noise. Now when it comes to loose parts, you MAY be able to tighten a screw down and stop the noise. But if you feel like you’re over your head, simply ask a technician about it next time he/she comes to tune.