Tag Archives: piano history

Pianos Inside Out – Cover to Cover p1-50

fp-eev-secret-surgeryThis is part one of what I hope to be a ten-part series guiding us through the book Pianos Inside Out by Mario Igrec.

Many piano technicians will consult with this book on a regular basis as needed, but sometimes its worthwhile to work through a text searching for gaps in our knowledge, undiscovered pearls of wisdom, and just to gain a more solid foundation in the craft of piano work.

This endeavor is meant to aid other piano techs and spark interaction and camaraderie. Any feedback you, as a reader, have regarding the presentation or format is much appreciated.

Okay! Moving on…

It’s time to start reading! The first section we’ll address is pages 1-50. That’s Chapter 1 on History and half of Chapter 2 about Design and Construction. The goal is to read through this in one week. This section covers the beginnings of what is considered the modern piano and some variations along the way. Then we move on to the composition of the piano, including its supportive structure, strings, bridges, and soundboard. The remaining structure is covered in the next section.

Here is a brief outline of the content of these pages, followed by some study questions. You can use this to prime your brain before your reading or for reviewing after you read. Keep in mind that many of the study questions can only be answered by reading the text of the actual book. So dive in.

The answers are in the book, and it’s more motivating to find them yourself if you don’t have them readily available so they are not posted here. However, you can sign up to keep abreast of this project and I’ll forward a document with the answers so we can compare notes.

Chapter 1: History

The piano was born in 1700 when Bartolomeo Cristofori, of Florence Italy, installed the first piano action into a harpsichord. The purpose was to alter the instrument so that strings could be struck by hammers instead of plucked by plectra. This allowed for variability in volume depending upon how hard keys were pressed.

Around the same time a similar instrument was becoming popular called the pantaloon. It was a dulcimer modifies such that, again, strings could be struck by hammers, this time  instead of by the traditional dulicimer mallets. The instrument was named after a famous dulcimer player called Hebenstreit Pantalon.

Throughout the remainder of the 18th century, pianos grew in popularity, spread to various european locales, and were modified in several ways. The 1700’s saw the introduction of pedals, for example. Vertical pianos evolved from the clavicytherum, a type of upright harpsichord. In the latter half of the 18th century, the industrial revolution began to influence piano design and construction.

As the century turned even more advances in technology and a rising middle class meant that more pianos could be constructed and sold. Pianos began to be built in the United States. Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven all had the chance to interact with the developing instrument and as the 1800s progressed an increasing number of compositions were intended for the piano.

Through the first half of the 19th century the piano gradually became bigger and louder instrument. The range of the keyboard increased from 5 octaves to 6.5. The cast metal plate was introduced. The double escapement action was invented by Sebastien erard. The overall tension held within the instrument increased. Inventions and patents to improve the piano proceeded at a rapid pace. Agraffes, cross-stringing, the capo tasto bar, felt hammers, and technologies to aid in manufacturing things like hammers were all patented, introduced in this time.

In the second half of the 19th century Steinway began in America and then after success there began manufacturing in Europe as well. Also at this time the square piano became popular but quickly lost favor because of many design flaws. As the 20th century approached, pianos became quite a popular instrument, and very profitable to manufacture and sell. Popularity continued to grow in the early 20th century. However, as the phonograph, radio, motion picture, and television industries invaded, and because of the great depression and WWII, the piano lost some favor. Since WWII piano popularity has had swells within various markets independently, such as in Eastern Europe, Japan, Korea and China.

Chapter 2: Construction and Design

According to Mario Igrec “piano design history has been a struggle to more efficiency convert a finger’s force into acoustic energy.” This can be achieved through a number of manners: increased string tension, soundboard tension/compression, and mass of hammers.

In this section we learn about the integral parts of a piano: rim, beams, belly rail, pin block, stretcher, keybed, soundboard, soundboard ribs, long bridge, bass bridge, shelf, plate, strings, beams, nose bolts, Steinway bell, tuning pins, pin block, bridge pins, capo tasto, agraffes, plate flange, pressure bars, etc.

The rim of the piano consists of an outer and inner part. The outer rim is essentially a part of the case of the grand piano. There are two manners of constructing the rim. Composite rims are constructed from small segments and continuous laminated rims consist of a series of laminated boards that are all at once bent around a mold to form the shape of the pianos case. The rim of a grand piano supports its structure just as vertical beams in an upright do the same. A dense and rigid rim or frame maximizes volume and sustain.

Beams of spruce join a rim/frame with the belly rail. The belly rail provides a rail of support to which the soundboard can be glued.

The pin block consists of laminated sheets of wood with grans sequentially angled at 45-90 degree differences to one another. The pinblock must grip tuning pins firmly and transmit the tension of the strings to the plate and rim. A pin block is generally 1.25” to 1.5” thick [31 to 38mm]. In a grand piano a pinblock can be installed in 3 ways. In order of increasing quality you can have a floating, regular fit or full fit pinblock. Each style adds an extra point of structural attachment to the plate, rim, and stretcher respectively.

The strings, bridges, soundboard and plate generate sound. Each of around 230 strings – holds around 160-200 lbs of tension. Strings are typically made of high-carbon steel and sometimes nickel plated. Bass strings have a copper winding, to allow for increased mass (slower oscillation) without unmanageably thick strings.

The bridge lies compressed between the strings and the soundboard and transmits vibrations between the two. A stiff soundboard reflects some energy back the strings, which allows them to sustain longer. The bridge has often has a separate root and cap portion. A separate cap can be shaped and notched easily and replaced if it cracks. Bass strings are longer and extend toward the edge of the soundboard where it is more rigid. In order to increase flexibly in the area where the bass resigntes a shelf sometimes used to allow the longer strings to contact a more central (flexible) part of the soundboard.

Bridge pins are made of steel, often with brass plating to reduce friction. Notches in the bridge allow strings to vibrate freely where they contact the bridge pins. If notching does not create the same termination point at the bridge pin and the bridge notch this can lead to false beats. Sometimes termination points on the bridge are engineered to create unequal speaking lengths. Unequal lengths cause slight interferences among the sound waves from each string. This means the strings resonate with one another less effectively, transfer energy to the soundboard less effectively, and therefore can have a longer sustain.

The soundboard is sometimes mischaracterized as an amplifier, when in fact it is only a transducer of vibrations from the strings into the air. A good soundboard will effectively impede the vibrations of the strings, allowing for a short attack sound and a long sustain. A well designed soundboard’s resonances will be carefully tweaked so that the tone quality from the various strings in the piano is consistent. Spruce soundboard material is rigid along its gran but less so across the grain, therefore soundboard ribs are installed across the grain to create an isotropic diaphragm, in which rigidity is relatively equal in all directions.

The next post continues to work through chapter 2 on design and construction.

Study Questions:

(Many can only be answered by reading the text of the actual book. So dive in.)

pages 1-10:

1. What year marks the invention of the piano?
2. Who is credited with inventing it?
3. In which century were JS Bach, Haydn, and Mozart prominent? Which of them had the opportunity to use the invention of the piano?
4. There was an instrument called the Pantalon. Where does the name come from?
5. In what country was the piano invented?

 

pages 11-20:

6. Around what time did pianos start to be made in America?
7. What major development in piano construction allowed for louder pianos?
8. Around what year was it developed?
9. Who invented the agraffe in 1808? What other major invention is he responsible for?
10. Piano design history has been a struggle to do what?

pages 20-30:

11. According to Mario Igrec, what are the two most valued characteristics in pianos today?
12. The quality of these two characteristics is proportional to what?
13. True or False. The outer rim can be added after pin block, soundboard, bridges and strings.
14. What type of wood might you find in the dense rim of an expensive pianos?
15. What re the two main types of rims? How are they constructed

pages 30-40:

16. How thick is the typical pin block?
17. When bridges transmit vibrations from the strings to the soundboard, but also reflect much of that energy back to the strings, what tonal outcome does this create?
18. What is described by the following statements? Easier to shape and notch than a vertically laminated root. Can be replaced if it cracks. Can be used to modulate the stiffness of the bridge.
19. Which piano maker patented the continuous curved bridge?
20. What is described by the following statement? There are three types: regular floating, fit, full fit. Which is best?

pages 40-50:

21. What is the purpose of a bass bridge shelf or apron?
22. What is the purpose of having unequal speaking lengths in unisons?
23. How will a lower cutoff frequency in its soundboard improve a piano’s sound?
24. Which is a more appropriate term for the soundboard? Transducer or amplifier? Why?
25. What is a typical number of degrees for downbearing?

If you don’t have the book, GET IT! But if you’d like to preview further then here are PDF excerpts from various chapters of this book, as posted on the book’s web page:

For answers to these study questions and more from the Pianos Inside Out, Cover to Cover project click below.

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FPF World Tour, Part 3: Opening Up

upright_piano_action_UNSA_2.jpg

Okay, so there were actually a few more things that happened before I left Arequipa.

I returned to La UNSA to work with the music students once again. This time, we pulled apart a piano so they could see how it’s assembled. How the various pieces all fit together.

This is a rare opportunity. As a student, you don’t usually get the chance to take a piano completely apart, because once you open it up and start poking around, it can get really delicate. There’s a lot you have to learn in order to explore without doing any damage.

But I’ll come back to that.

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Nature is Nurture

City skyline

Greetings!

I’ve recently returned from some extensive travels over several weeks. This is why it’s been quiet on the blog for a while, but now we’re back online, and there are many new stories to share. New adventures, new friends, and of course, new pianos.

The next several posts will cover the entire journey, city by city. After departing from Arequipa in early June, I stopped in Lima, Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, New York, Philadelphia and Hong Kong—then returned by retracing my path.

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Art/Science, Glass Piano, Learning about Pianos, Lima, Peru, Piano Action, Piano Maintenance, Piano Stories

Gratitude and Appreciation

Arches and

While staying at la Casa de Melgar I met a painter, accompanied by a group of unusual tourists. This painter takes travelers on tours throughout the world, showing them how to document their experiences through artwork: instead of snapping photos, they paint pictures.

He discussed with me how you can have a richer sense of a place if you take the time to sit and paint it. You’re there for an extended period of time, and can watch the scene change as the hours pass. For example, he had just come from Cuzco where he had been painting the Plaza de Armas over several days’ sessions. Just before he finished his last sitting, a group of school children arrived, and they formed two rows as they waited for some activity. The geometry of it was such a perfect addition to the scene already in process—so he quickly sketched them into the piece before they dispersed.

The experience of a place is never captured in one photo, one video, one conversation, or one story. A memory lives with depth in time, space, and levels of awareness.

You don’t know what will come into frame if you take that extra time to watch and listen.

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Traveling Through Tacna, Part Three

tacna3-seating

There’s a lot happening right now surrounding the upcoming elections in the US. I think about the potential each candidate has to shape the world. I think about what kinds of effects each of them might facilitate at home and abroad. I also wonder what Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump were like as children. How does a child grow to affect the world in the ways that they can?

I’ve become connected with two non-profit organizations that are working to fight poverty and economic disparity in Peru: Intiwawa and HOOP. The thing I really love about them is the specific approach they take to tackle the problem: they focus on providing educational resources to children. Considering the focus on wealth inequality in this election cycle, it seems appropriate think about the future we are setting up for poor kids in this world.

In the midst of all this, I recently across the story of a political figure from long ago, a fascinating person I’d never learned about before: Simón Bolívar. There was a grand painting of him on the wall at the Regional Museum of History in Tacna, and beneath it I found a summary of his life. Here’s an excerpt:

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Traveling Through Tacna, Part Two

super-dorado.jpgIn part one of my story about Tacna, I did some detective work to locate a woman named Ingrid. She introduced me to a very special piano in the Regional Museum of History, and she agreed to have me tune it. I encountered a few other things along the way.

The museum held a lot within its walls: a large library, dozens of historical paintings, a performance room, and the piano, just to name a few. There was also a collection of portraits all around the piano. For some reason, I couldn’t stop looking at the faces of the people in those frames.

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Urubamba – 1872 Chickering Piano

stringing-jonathan-eathan_Just before I had to rush off to Arica to renew my visa, I received an unexpected email.

A man named Jonathan reached out from West Virginia, writing to say that he had recently discovered our blog. Not only that, he was heading to Peru to rebuild a piano in a Baptist seminary, in a town called Urubamba. He wanted to see if I’d like to join him.

Although Urubamba is far from Arequipa, I was definitely interested in making the journey…but I was already rushing out of town to get that visa renewed. Fortunately, Jonathan wasn’t coming down for two weeks, so I figured I could make that work. No problem. Plenty of time.

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Glass Piano, Learning about Pianos, Peru, Piano Action, Piano Maintenance, Piano Repair, Piano Stories, Videos