How NOT to Buy a Piano

Online auction sites and charity shops are not piano specialists. You are unlikely to find a bargain instrument here and get your child started on the road to musical greatness. What you will mostly likely find is something that the previous owner was probably advised to change as it was hindering their child’s progress. The best pianos do not cost £200 or less, no matter how pretty the casework. In fact, as a general guide, the prettier the casework, the less of a musical instrument it is. Please don’t buy a piano that costs less than the cost of delivery and expect the technician to perform the impossible and transform it into a lovely instrument. Very often, a piano which is going cheap might well have been neglected for years with a worn out action, cracked soundboard and rusty or broken strings. If a piano has been kept for any length of time in an unheated or damp house, or worse still a garage, and brought into a warm, centrally heated house, untold damage can be caused to critical components including the wrestplank which ultimately affects whether the piano is even tuneable. A good rule of thumb is to decide on a budget – then double it. If you spend as much as you can afford on a piano initially, you’ll save money in the long run by avoiding the awkward position of having to buy an upgrade one or two years later on. Learn to appreciate the skill and workmanship that has gone into building a decent piano and you’ll see why you cannot expect to just pick one up for... read more

A Good Read

Below is a list of recommended literature about or related to all aspects of pianos. Please feel free to make further suggestions.   AuthorTitleBrief description Burnett, RichardCompany of PianosA celebration of the pianos at Finchcocks Museum Carhart, T.E.The Piano Shop on the Left BankThe Hidden World of a Paris Atelier Donahue, ThomasA Guide to Musical TemperamentAn in-depth practical and theoretical exploration of temperament Fine, LarryThe Piano BookA Guide to Buying a New or Used Piano Isacoff, StuartTemperamentHow Music became a battleground for the great minds of Western Civilization Mason, DanielThe Piano TunerThe adventures of a Victorian piano tuner in Burma Sherlock, LesThe Pianoforte Tuners' Association 1913 - 2013A complete record of the history of the PTA Sullivan, Anita T. The Seventh DragonThe Riddle of Equal Temperament Williams, John-PaulThe PianoAn inspirational Style Guide to the Piano and its Place in History Worth, Erica, ed.PianistMagazine for pianists of all levels with CD and sheet... read more

Unequal Music and the Dominance of ET

As well as indicating frame of mind, temper means to adjust the frequency differences between the notes of a scale to allow modulation into other keys, from the Latin temperare: to mix. Why are the notes of a scale tempered, and is it still possible to play in any key if they are not? The conventional way of answering the question of temperament usually requires considerable mathematical ability which can be daunting, so I’ll try to demonstrate it another way. Imagine that The Octave is a container, a shoebox into which we must fit the notes within an octave. An octave is so called because it contains the eight notes which make up the scale. In Western music this is further divided into twelve semitones or thirteen if you count the fundamental twice, thus; C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F#,G,G#,A,A#,B,C. As this is a theoretical scale, we can make it perfect, that is without any tempering (or tampering) at all. Here’s the problem – the thirteen semitones won’t fit in the box. Something is wrong, either The Octave is the wrong size or there are too many notes. Pythagoras was supposed to have noticed this anomaly and in his era there was a strict hierarchy to most things in life, including musical intervals. The Octave was considered the most pure interval and it works beautifully in terms of musical satisfaction and mathematics. Double the frequency of A440 and you get A880, a perfect octave. Next in the hierarchy is the fifth, arguably the most musically pleasing interval; in its pure, untempered form both notes of the fifth share many of the same overtones. Pythagoras... read more

The Soft Pedal

On a grand piano the soft pedal, that is the one on the left, is called the “Una Corda”. This is slightly misleading as it shifts the keyboard to one side, usually to the right, so that the hammers hit only two of the three strings in the treble (that’s the misleading bit, it doesn’t strike just “one string”) or one of the two strings in the tenor section. The bottom octave or so has only one string so is largely unaffected. The result of this sideways shift is that fewer strings are struck and the volume is accordingly less. Where the hammers have been worn (the nose develops grooves from the strings), the shift also presents a new surface to hit the strings and can have a marked tonal effect as well as a drop in volume. This can be overcome by periodically refacing the hammers, that is, reshaping them by filing away the outer surface. Uprights are quite different. There are two different types of soft pedal; the half-blow and the celeste. If you are lucky you will have a celeste pedal on your upright which, when it is set up correctly, lifts a rail with a strip of felt attached to sit between the hammers and strings thus muting the sound produced. Also known as the Good Neighbour pedal, this will help stop next door complaining after a late night session of blues improvisations, although it won’t completely negate the effects of positioning the piano against an adjoining wall. The half-blow, on the other hand, has no known effect on the volume of the piano at... read more