Archive for category Education
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Our next auction is on 20th September 2014 in Manchester,
Britannia Piano Auctions
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The dimensions and layout of your piano room will undoubtedly have an effect on the overall sound. Have you ever listened to a piano that is too powerful for the room it is in?
Not only can it be deafeningly loud but it will often result in a poor quality of sound. As a rule of thumb larger pianos are built for larger rooms, this is because they possess qualities and characteristics that best present themselves in larger spaces. The mighty sound of a double octave run in the lower end of a concert grand would be lost in a typical houseroom as there is insufficient space for the sound to develop and resonate.
Remember large pianos are designed to move large quantities of air & produce comparably large sound waves. To do this they need to be housed in an appropriate sized room.
What Is The Layout Of Your Room?
The height & shape of the ceiling are important factors to consider, depending on the ceiling the sound that resounds round the room can be different. For example consider speaking loudly in a cathedral and then in a flat ceilinged room, the difference is just as immense when considering a piano in relation to its surroundings. Consider the cladding of the walls whether covered in wood, plaster, thick wallpaper or acoustic tiles.
Lots of glass and shutters in a room can produce a hard & indistinct timbre whereas soft furnishings such as wall tapestries or draperies can be used to soften hard sounds.
One of the most neglected aspects of a room’s acoustics in relation to a piano is the floor. Is it bare wood, varnished, laminate or waxed? Maybe it is carpeted, the choice is myriad. With wooden floors the sound that is produced in the home can be very strong and overpowering, almost too harsh to be enjoyed. This can often be combated by placing a large rug under the piano to soften the sound.
These are some of the most basic factors that you should consider when designing the layout of your music room. However, having done all that is required you may still find the sound does not suit the room or the ears of the listener. This can be due to the quality of the hammers in the piano be they hard or soft.
A recent case in point which comes to mind was a medium size piano that was transported to a residential address. The sound that the instrument produced was so colossal & overpowering in the room that a technician had to be called in to ‘soften the blow’ by tuning, regulating & voicing the instrument.
To voice an instrument is a very specialised job and can involve either needling a hammers felts to alter its consistency or in extreme cases by doping or ironing the hammers to compact the felt and harden them, there by producing a brighter sound.
However please note that this process is not as simple as it sounds and if you believe your piano is in need of such attention then contact an experienced piano technician as it is a very delicate job
The list can be endless and very expensive if one becomes carried away with the latest trends of sound control. If you consider the above basic factors you will have a perfectly good music cave to hide out in!
Britannia Piano Auctions
0161 977 0075
Imagine asking your piano tuner to tune piano trichords like this? Why? It is enough to make any technician or pianist with perfect pitch quiver where they stand. To request that your piano is tuned in this fashion is almost unthinkable, or is it…
The ‘Honky-tonk’ style of piano playing relied on this distinctive tuning process, the basic idea being that the piano’s tuning was altered to make the instrument sound like an exhausted untuneable piano. The irony of this is if the piano was exhausted and untuneable, any pianist attempting to play Honky-tonk piano would have a far from enjoyable time ahead.
Origins of The Term
The earliest known use of the word was in an American newspaper report in 1889. In this report the local community called for the ‘Honky-tonk theatre’ to be reopened. The term is still used today to describe certain types of bars in America too, mainly bars that provide entertainment in the form of country music (common in the southern and southwestern United States).
It has its roots firmly in the style of ragtime, the emphasis is on the rhythm rather than the melody & harmony. It is a cheery and percussive style that is almost never at a slow tempo, and can, in the hands of the accomplished player be a justification to embellish the original melody in exuberance. The style evolved out of an environment where pianos were poorly treated and cared for. These pianos also tended to be out of tune. The style was the platform for the birth of the later Boogie Woogie style that came to popularity in the late 1930 through the early 1950’s (though records do indicate that it can be traced back further).
Two Famous Names In Honky-tonk
Certain household names in England made a living out of requesting such a distinctive tuning process. Winifred Atwell who was a Trinidad and Tobago born pianist from the town of Tunapuna (think there might be a joke in there somewhere!) enjoyed great popularity in the UK, USA & Australia from 1945-1980 playing Honky-tonk piano.
Originally a fine classical player who travelled to the United States to study with Alexander Borovsky and, in 1946, moved to London, where she had gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music. She became the first female pianist to be awarded the Academy’s highest grading for musicianship. To support her studies, she played rags at London clubs and theatres. These modest beginnings in variety would one day see her topping the bill at the London Palladium. She attracted attention with an unscheduled appearance at the Casino Theatre, where she substituted for another star who was at the time unwell. She caught the eye of an entrepreneur who put her on a long-term contract. She released three discs which were well received. The third, “Jezebel”, scurried to the top of the best seller lists. It was her fourth disc that catapulted her to huge popularity in the UK. Winifreds career was never destined to be on the concert platform performing the classical repertoire.
Winifred not deterred from playing, took to the Honky-tonk style and made it her own selling over 20 million records. She was the only female instrumentalist to have a number one hit in the UK and is still the only one to do so. Here she is performing the ‘black and white rag’ live through various stages of her career.
Another corner stone of the Honky-tonk style was…
Gladys Mills was an English pianist who found fame through the 1960s and 1970s playing the Honky-tonk style. Mrs Mills was discovered while working as the superintendent of the typing pool in the Paymaster General’s office in London in the early 1960s.
Her catchy piano style and jolly, happy-go-lucky personality won over a talent scout who saw her performing at a Woodford Golf Club dance near her Essex home in Loughton in December 1961.
After signing a management contract to Eric Easton (who later managed The Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones), Mrs Mills was snapped up by the Beatles’ record label Parlophone.
Her first single “Mrs Mills Medley” entered the UK Top Twenty, and was a piano medley of the songs:
I Want to Be Happy
The Sheik of Araby
Somebody Stole My Gal
Ma He’s Making Eyes at Me
Ain’t She Sweet
California Here I Come.
Here is the original Parlophone recording:
The song reached number 18 in the charts and was the first piano medley to bother the Top 20 since Russ Conway’s Christmas ivory-tinkler in 1959.
A classic number of the Honky-tonk repertoire is Kitten on the keys:
Played here by Hamelin:
Though the sound of the Honk-tonk piano is now available at the click of a button on most modern electronic keyboards, there is still nothing quite like the traditional acoustic sound that resounds from a piano. It is a piano tuner’s nightmare to be asked to tune a piano in this way. All of those years correcting the problem of out of tune pianos, to then be asked to do the opposite, most of them see this as sacrilege!
As a friend of mine said “It is rather like asking Michelangelo to emulsion your spare bedroom”. However it cannot be denied that Honky-tonk still has its place today as a cheery feel good style of piano playing that if played well requires a lot of skill and a high level of ability.
Felt is one element of the mechanics in a piano, but is it a small element or a big one…
The finest hammer felts produced for pianos are made from virgin wool. It is classed as virgin wool when it comes from the very first shearing of a sheep.
Virgin wool contains the longest fibre and greatest lanolin content, it can be removed from each sheep only once. This is the reason that it is very rare and very expensive.
Each shearing that takes place post the ‘virgin shearing’ produces a wool that is drier and more brittle, this is due to the Lanolin content being lower.
|What Is Lanolin
Lanolin also called wool wax or wool grease is a yellow waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. Most lanolin used by humans comes from domestic sheep breeds that are raised specifically for their wool. Lanolin is a wax. Historically, many pharmacopoeias have referred to lanolin as wool fat; however, as lanolin lacks glycerides, it is not a true fat.
Certain breeds of sheep produce large amounts of lanolin, the extraction can be performed by squeezing the sheep’s harvested wool between rollers. Most or all of the lanolin is removed from wool when it is processed into textiles, such as yarn or felt.
Hammer felt is categorised by weight in pounds; this is measured by weighing a square yard of the primed felt. So when you read about 18 pound hammers you will know that it refers to the weight of the square yard it was cut from rather than the weight of each individual hammer.
In the construction of a hammer there is a wooden base, the felt is mounted onto the wooden hammer under great pressure. Tension must exist in the hammer felt to offer a resilient bounce off the string after it has been struck. Too much tension or not enough is a negative and can stifle the tone production.
Frequently manufactures use a thin layer of colored felt that they attach to the wooden hammerhead before attaching the final white/cream coloured felt that touches the string. This felt is called the ‘under felt’
The theory behind ‘under felting’ is one that piano makers, sellers and players are still divided on. Some believe that it adds to the overall experience whilst others believe it is a gimmick and the process of under felting is not necessary.
All hammer felts have to be glued to stabilise the felt to the hammer, in most cases they are glued and stapled
So now at your next ‘piano party’ you can spread your knowledge about piano hammers!
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