Lecture 1 - HOW THE PIANO WORKS
Robert Taub, acclaimed pianist and educator, and Artist-in-Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, gave a series of lectures earlier this year on the piano, how it works, it's
history and the composers who have written for it. This feature comes from
the the first lecture, How the Piano Works. Divided into short audio clips, the lecture covers 4 main topics:
1. The Framework of a Grand Piano
2. The Action
3. Upright Pianos
4. The Pedals
Read on for the lecture...
1. THE FRAMEWORK OF A GRAND PIANO
A piano is made up of hundreds of small parts, built into an overall
framework. The action consists of a keyframe on which the action and keys are mounted. The veneered or lacquered outside of a piano is the case into which
the plate and soundboard are fitted and anchored. There are braces which bear the
strain of stringing (approximately 35,000 lbs. of tension), a soundboard,
a wrest plank (pin block) into which tuning pins are anchored, bridges
(bass and treble) through which vibration of strings is transmitted to the soundboard and a cast-iron plate.
Click here to listen to Robert Taub explain more about:
the soundboard, lid and acoustics - How does the soundboard work? Why are grand pianos so long? How does the lid help sound to travel?
the overstrung keyboard - an innovation of the 19th Century. Why is it better to have the strings overstrung rather than straightstrung?
the strings What are the strings made of? Some keys have only 1 string, while others have 3. Why are there different numbers of strings per note?
the piano's tuning How does a piano tuner tune the instrument? Does everyone have the same definition of what pitch a note should be?
What's a Well-tempered piano?
Grove Concise Dictionary defines enharmonic as the 'term used to denote different ways of 'spelling' the name of a note (e.g. B-sharp = C = D-double-flat).'
A well-tempered piano refers to a piano which is tuned to be suitable to play in all keys. This is done by approximating all tunings so that enharmonics can share the same key. Otherwise a G-sharp would need a different key from an A-flat, which is strictly a bit flatter.
2. THE ACTION
Next, Robert Taub explains the action, that is, the mechanism which causes a sound to be made when you strike a key. There are a great many parts to the action but the most fundamental parts are discussed step-by-step.
Click here for a brief explanation of the action.
Click here to hear Robert Taub explain:
the action, in greater detail
dampers and resonance
the hammer mechanism
You can also learn more about:
hammers - regulation and voicing
humidity's effect on the hammers
the aftertouch and its implications
Robert Taub's aftertouch preference
3. UPRIGHT PIANOS
The upright piano, (developed by Robert Wornum in London, and others), came during the 19th century to replace the square piano (an early piano action inside a clavichord shaped framework) as the standard instrument for the home.
The piano became a symbol of domestic social prestige and the early 20th century saw the heyday of piano manufacture; in 1910 alone, 600,000 pianos were built worldwide!
How is an upright different?
The basic action of an upright piano is in many ways similar to that of a grand piano. Most people would agree however that there is a noticeable difference in sound quality. What are the factors that create this difference? Robert Taub talks about:
the differences in an upright action
composers and uprights.
4. THE PEDALS
The pedals are used to alter the sound. All pianos have a right and left pedal, some also have a middle pedal. The functions and effects of the different pedals are explained and demonstrated below:
the right pedal
subtle use of the right pedal
the left pedal
demo of the left pedal's effect
the left pedal in Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata
the middle pedal