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.