Archive for September, 2011

Piano Scale Design

There are SO many differences in piano design.  “Well aren’t all pianos kinda the same?” you ask.  Not at ALL!!!! (I can’t emphatically add more stress to this point).  Yes pianos operate the same – they all have soundboards, strings, keys and actions.  Think about cars… BMW, Toyota, Honda, GM… they all drive but do they feel identical? Of course not.  Even within the same company there are huge differences between models.  Toyota makes (my beloved) Landcruiser but they also have made the Tercel (and trust me… i’ve owned both and there are few similarities).  Pianos, within the same company have different designs.  These designs are called “scales”.  When you play hundreds of pianos you will appreciate a good scale.  So what’s the difference between a good scale and a bad one?  Oooohhhh (rubbing hands together) where do we start? Hmmmm let’s start at strings: There are 2 types of strings on any piano – plain wire steel treble strings and copper wound bass strings.  In the steel wire treble strings, there are about 2 dozen sizes of wire (plus half sizes!) ranging from 0.029″ to about 0.059″ in thickness.  To look at them, they all kinda look the same but they are INCREDIBLY different.  So each note is matched in length and tightness to the pitch of the note.  Someone then decides “OK let’s use size 14.5 wire for that note on the piano”.  Now that’s part of the design – part of a decision to make a piano sound a certain way.  Now getting into the bass section… OMG! There are hundreds if not thousands of permutations on what could be used for the centre ‘core’ of the string but also the copper winding… how much mass, how long is the copper blah blah blah… there are HUGE choices to be made on JUST the strings alone.  Which reminds me… i should write a blog about great sounding bass strings… cuz trust me, not all strings are equal (far from it).  And believe it or not, there are different grades of steel wire as well – all factors that play into the overall sound of the instrument.  So that’s just one tiny tiny element of piano design… then you think about hammers – the quality, the weight, the placement… the action – the various types…. the frame, the soundboard, the quality of the wood… even the expertise of installation… the list goes on and on and on!!! Someone once told me “The piano requires the attention to a thousand details”.  I believed him… THAT’s scale design.

All this to say… i have found that there are 2 pianos that i tune that i REALLY REALLY enjoy.  One being the Yamaha C7 – it’s the 7 foot Yamaha grand.  The other is a Boston 6′ grand (designed by Steinway, manufactured by Kawai).  Both have SUCH smooth scales… meaning that the sound from one note to the next is like a string of pearls – matched in tone and timbre – fundamental and overtones.  Nothing beats a good scale.  Shout out to Steve in Metchosin who has me regularly tune his C7 and to Hillary and Lawrence on their choice of such a wonderful Boston.  Thanks… those pianos remind me of why i love to play.

Piano Tuning – Finding A440

So after my last post about tuning forks and strobe calibration, this last week i had 2 customers hand me their own tuning forks to check my strobe.  For giggles i tapped each one and put them on my strobe… turns out that all 3 were different pitches!!  Mine was spot on, one was 3 cents higher but the other one… AMAZING but true… was a whopping 22 cents flat!  So not only does cold affect the tuning but i’m finding out that because all tuning forks are stamped as calibrated that “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (a fun jazz tune).  My pursuit turned to the internet where i found a few sources for A440.  One… believe it or not is on youtube! I know hey? Go figure… Check out this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-kRShXR6qA – it simply is a computer generated sine wave – 30 seconds of A440 frequency.

You can also click on the picture to take you to Seventh String tuning fork website… kinda neat.  It helped reassure me that both my strobe and my tuning fork are “on”.  Whew!

How Much is My Piano Worth?

This is a quick and easy guide to price out what a piano is worth.  But before i get into that, let’s pretend for a moment that i know nothing about pianos… who knows… you, the reader might be in that situation.  Let’s say… i’m shopping for a houseboat (which i know nothing about BTW).  If i started my search, this would be my process:  I’d investigate new ones… I’d search for “BEST OF” makes and models, look at used ones, find out which ones hold value, which are most sought after and above that look at location and condition.  Pianos really are no different. There are about 4-5 parameters that i constantly bear in mind when evaluating instruments:

  1. Find out new value (if at all possible… many pianos have gone out of biz in the last 100 years…more on that later)
  2. Look online to find used comparisons
  3. This will determine what value retention is like
  4. Condition condition condition
  5. Location location location

So… case study #1  Let’s say you own a studio yamaha upright piano (pictured above).  Let’s say you own a model E108.  The new versions of those pianos locally sell for about $4000 CDN.  My rule of thumb is used pianos in mint condition sell for about half what a new one lists for.  Why? Well put the shoe on the other foot being a consumer.  Let’s say you want to buy a piano.  What would motivate you to buy used vs. new? If a new piano is $4000 and a used one is $3500… i’d usually buy the new one for a few more dollars and have warranty etc.  If the used one is $2200 (with no tax being a private sale) and a new one is $4000 plus tax (roughly $4400), the used savings are substantial enough to warrant buying used (at a cost savings of $2000 or more).  Finding out used comparisons… there are ones listed between $1800 and $3200… so you need to decide then what condition your piano is in.  Ask yourself “How close to new does my piano appear?”  Then examine again what other examples locally are selling for.  If yours is a MINT version of what you see locally… you may want to price it a bit higher.  Condition drastically affects piano value.  I’ve had beat up grands and excellent condition grands – same model and have a HUGE price disparity due to condition.  Look for evidence of condition – rust, cracks, chips, scratches.  Generally outside condition is often indicative of inside condition as well.  Finally… location.  I’m AMAZED at how pianos sell for different dollars in different locations.  It’s called supply/demand.  If the demand is higher, the price is according. Locally economic health also affects many used items. 

Case study #2… old piano… a Nordheimer (see below)… you can tell it’s old because of the fact that it looks like an antique.  It looks NOTHING like a new piano.  These are trickier to price in some ways. Some have had new parts, some have been refinished.  But the fact remains that most tall pianos (55 inch) that look kinda crusty are usually better part of 100 years old.  Now before you get all wound up about the fact that you’re holding on to an ‘antique’ artifact, let me dispell the myth that there are only 2 kinds of pianos: modern design and ‘early’ piano.  Early pianos ARE collectable and are specific models made between 1800 and about 1850 but even those aren’t necessarily valuable.   The ‘modern’ piano as we know it almost became standardized by the year 1900.   So… looking online… see the wide range of value? $100 – $3000!  Find some that look reasonably the same.  Quite quickly you’ll realise that value is more a product of supply/demand than condition.  Most old pianos these days are valued locally here at about $500-800.  “But… but… but… we put THOUSANDS into the resoration of our piano” you protest.  I hear ya… and i feel for ya… but refinishing, new parts will only bump up the price somewhat. 

Finally, bear in mind the name… with name is associated price.  Steinway for example fetches many times more than weird and obscure pianos REGARDLESS of quality.  Why? They’ve managed to stay on top of their game (let alone they’re still in business today).  Other names such as Yamaha, Kawai, Baldwin, Young Chang, Samick, Pearl River etc… are also household names.  These pianos will always have better value retention because of the name association.

OK OK OK one last note… if you’re STILL stuck, contact either a store or a technician. I field questions ALL the time about value and what people should price pianos at.  Good luck! And happy selling. Cheers!

FREE Notation Paper in Three Sizes

Ok so just a quick post… don’t say i never do somethin’ nice for ya.  Click on the pics below for 3 different sizes of notation paper. Then simply press PRINT.  Regular is just standard notation – 3 bars per line.  Big lined is larger with only 2 bars per line.  Primary paper is the HUGE big note – one bar per line stuff.  Enjoy.  Compliments of PianoHQ.

Cheers

 

 

 

 

Tuning Fork Calibration?

I make no bones about the fact that i do both ear and strobe tuning.  I’ve found that over the years, ‘musical’ isn’t necessarily ‘perfect’.  What sounds good in terms of overtones on one piano won’t be suitable to another piano.  So it’s ridiculous to expect a mathmatically accurate strobe tuner to make those judgement calls.  I also know that visually ‘seeing’ the pitch is an asset as well.  I’ve found that my ears play tricks on me sometimes and visually verifying pitch can be helpful.

Before i tune each day, i pull out my good ol’ tuning fork to ensure my strobe is working correctly and i just so happened to notice that my strobe seemed ‘off’.  Huh… that’s odd… never really thought about it before.  After awhile i was tuning away… thinking i should double check this and lo and behold, my strobe had ‘fixed’ itself.  Well that’s odd… how would that happen? I started thinking of variables… thinking that my strobe could’ve warmed up.  Then i got to thinking about my tuning fork… ‘hmmmm y’know my tuning fork was in my vehicle all night and it was REALLY cold.  So yesterday i did a tuning fork test.  My strobe was running for some length of time… i decided to put my tuning fork in the fridge.  Not really unheard of temperatures when you consider growing up on the prairies a tuning fork left in -30 degree weather.  Anyway my findings? My tuning fork when cold was 5 cents off!  I know, i know… i’m a bit slow to the draw but… i didn’t expect 5 cents! That’s a lot when you’re calibrating.  I warmed it up in my hands for a few minutes… back to normal.  So remember: cold forks mean an out of tune piano by 5 degrees.  Next time you have your piano tuned and it’s cold outside, offer the tuner a cup of coffee before starting and you’ll most likely have a more in tune piano. lol.  Or…orrrrrrrrrr this is just my way of shamelessly getting my morning cuppa. hahaa.  Cheers

Making Rhythm… Rhythmical

Over the years in teaching, you learn that every student has at least one weakness – for some it’s sight reading, others it’s ear or finger dexterity, still others have a problem with rhythm.  Rhythm is one of the more challenging aspects to correct in teaching because it involves an inate sense of pulse.  Does not the concept of ‘beat’ come from that of our own hearts? We’ve somehow ‘mechanized’ this basic concept into numbers and counting, beats per minute (BPM) and metronomes with Maelzel’s markings.  Teaching rhythm IMHO needs to be an extension of movement… of the sensation that we are actually part of time.  Many years ago, i decided (especially with young students) to throw out the concept of counting for 2 reasons: one is that it requires math (2 beats plus 1 beat plus a half of a beat = 3 and half beats plus a…) I found that kids simply got bogged down with the math!!! How crazy is that?  Calm down… for all the Classical formal teachers… don’t panic… i still teach counting but not at early levels.  The second reason i don’t teach counting is due to the fact that i found students were getting confused with finger numbers.  Music doesn’t need to have two sets of numbers going on… one for fingering, the other for counting.  So i abandoned counting… with GREAT success.

What do i do instead? I simply teach rhythmic words… words that remind us of motion. I just want to mention that this is in no way a NEW concept.  Rhythmic words or phrases have been done for decades.  This is just something that i used consistently to teach with.   Here’s the setup:

A quarter note looks like a leg with a big cartoon shoe… let’s call that WALK

Four quarters then (say it) are WALK WALK WALK WALK

Eighth notes usually come in pairs and are faster… well faster than walking would be RUN-NING.  So when you say “running” that represents double the speed and two notes instead of one. Quarter, 2 Eighths, Quarter Quarter would be WALK RUN-NING WALK WALK.  See where i’m going with this?

OK now it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous but hey ALL of my students have learned rhythm in half an hour so… it WORKS.

A Half note is hollow right? It’s not filled in.  This is…. wait for it… Cinderella’s slipper. TA DA! Hahaaaa… and so if you’re walking in glass slippers you need to walk SLOW-LY – this is two syllables but twice as long as a walk.

Half note, Quarter, 2 Eighths would then be SLOW-LY WALK RUNNING… oh and BTW when you say these, they need to be robotic-like… feeling the pulse.

Anyway… if you want more of the musical phrases… i have a raft of them – everything from Swing Batta… to the Sneeze to Beautiful Bicycle… lol… i may never have taught counting but i sure instilled rhythm into each of my students and had a good laugh at the same time.

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