Posts tagged dampers

Pianos and Dust

I get asked ALL the time “What do i do about the dust in my piano”. Let me reassure you that dust is NOT an enemy to pianos. The outside of pianos – the cabinet is simply furniture. The inside – the strings, keys, action – think of it like a car. Do you worry about dust on your car engine? Of course not. Piano keys have a type of dust ‘trap’ which is the keybed. As seen in the picture below, when you take the keys out there are paperclips, dust, coins. None of these affect the piano performance. Heat and humidity fluctuation are the enemies to pianos – not dust.
So go ahead and dust the outside and leave the insides alone. Now if you own a grand and you’re tired of looking at dust under the strings – again, it’s cosmetic but i can understand that you want to have it clean and bright looking. I own a soundboard cleaner which is simply a long aluminum strip that i attach a dust cloth to. When asked to clean under the strings, I remove the grand lid and do a proper job of cleaning. It requires some effort and know-how but worth the results. Just one cautionary note: If you want to either vacuum or dust the inside of your grand, be REALLY careful with the dampers (pictured right). If the wires that hold these in place get bent, they affect the sustain and will require adjustment. My advice, you can dust the gold cast iron, the strings, the soundboard, the tuning pins, but leave the dampers alone. Hope this helps.

A Piano That Can’t Be Tuned?

There are two thoughts that resonate in my brain when someone says “A tuner once said it couldn’t be tuned”.  The first thought is “hmmmm here’s a challenge” and my second thought is “lazy”.  Lazy?  Lazy??  Yep… you heard me.  I’ve run into this many times where a piano is so badly out of tune that tuners don’t want to bring it up to pitch.  Why? Because it will require multiple tunings and probably string breakage… the piano is usually old and frustrating to work on.  Au contraire pour moi.  I enjoy the challenge.  It’s kinda like washing your car when it’s really dirty and you have a better sense of satisfaction when you’re done cleaning it.  Tuning a piano that’s really out of tune is quite satisfying for me.  I find that i enjoy bringing it back to life – to the original sound that it was intended to make.  Y’see… individual notes are meant for a specific pitch.  The gauge of wire corresponds with the pitch of the note.  Subsequently, when a piano has slidden down terribly in pitch, it resembles sound more akin to a steamship than a piano!  This last week i had such a case.  The piano is called a Sterndale.  From outward cabinetry i would date this piano at about 1880-1890.  Though the name sounds English, directly below you’ll see the word “Berlin”.  I must say that Germany really is known for engineering and when i took a quick look at the inside structure, i thought that immediately that this piano has potential (contrary to the aforementioned words of “can’t be tuned”).  I put on my strobe to find out exactly how far down we’re talkin’.  UGH! 150-200 cents down! It beat my previous record of 110 cents down.  Just to give some perspective, a piano on average will slide between 3-5 cents per year… so… 200??? Exactly.  You do the math and think that this piano hasn’t been tuned in awhile.  In fact, inside i saw a tuner’s signature in 1923.  I laughed and thought… “y’know… this may have been the last time” hahaa.  Anyway… 3 tunings later and one broken string and VOILA! The metamorphosis happened! This turned into my second favorite old piano (first being an old Steinway i tune regularly).  Tightening down flange screws, taking out lost motion, adjusting front pins and damper heads and i must say…  what an incredible instrument.  So the next time you hear those words “Can’t be tuned”… think again.  It’s amazing what a little time and TLC can do.

Just Pedaling


Piano pedals

Did you know that you can spell the word pedalling with two L’s or one? huh… the things you learn… i learned early on in teaching that you can either practice or practise.  ANYWAY… i was on the phone with my sister the other day (piano teacher extraordinaire) and i was telling her about my piano blog… she said “For goodness sakes – do one on pedalling!!!”  And so here it is… (shout out to my sister lol).

Just to clear up any misconceptions; the pedals on a piano are not GAS, BRAKE and CLUTCH.  They’re also not LOUD, MEDIUM and SOFT(which is usually the 2nd guess).  The 3 pedals are 3 S’s: SUSTAIN, SOSTENUTO and SOFT or alternatively: DAMPER, BASS SUSTAIN and UNA CORDA.  Either works really.  Today, however, we’re just going to look at one pedal – the most used by FAR, which is the right pedal known as the sustain/damper.  If you ever see someone playing an electronic piano and they have a cord down to the floor with one pedal, it’s gonna be this one.  The percentage of use for sustain vs. the other two is probably around 95% sustain, 4% soft and about 1% sostenuto.  So the sustain/damper does it all really.  To piano playing i call this pedal the ‘mortar to the bricks’.  This pedal practically ‘fills the cracks’ when you play the piano.  It is used to connect what your fingers can’t hold on to.  So imagine you’re at the piano, you’re playing lots of notes at one time – you then need to almost instantaneously move to another group of notes.  Most times you will audibly hear a gap in between those two sets of notes.  You can, however give the impression that notes are somehow ‘connected’ by moving quickly from one to the next.  Quite a lot of the time though, you just can’t change positions that quickly and thus the need for the sustain pedal.  The sustain pedal keeps the strings ‘live’ by sustaining the notes.  This is accomplished through the dampers (thus both names for this pedal).  dampersWhen the dampers are not sitting on the strings, they are allowed to resonate freely.  So while your fingers are moving to the next notes, the sustained tones from the last chord will continue to resonate until you arrive at the keys.  Make sense?  Then when you come to the next chord, the damper pedal is released, effectively bridging the gap between the notes.  The most difficult part of this pedal is the timing because you need to think ‘bridge’ ALL the time.  After a while though it becomes second nature.

I was at a home recently where i was tuning.  The lady called me a day later and commented on how her piano didn’t sound that good after i left.  I was thinking to myself that i had somehow done an inadequate tuning and promised to stop in.  When i sat at the piano, i rattled off an old song i knew by heart and she said “How come it doesn’t sound like that when i play?”  lol… it was because she had yet to learn about the damper pedal.  I must say that the damper DOES make you sound more professional… but only when executed properly.  Give it a try.  You’ll like it.  Promise.

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