FACT: There are 18 million
nonprofessional pianists in this country. 79% are female; 21% are male. The
average age is 28.
FACT: One out of 20 people play piano
in this country.
FACT: A quarter million NEW pianos are
bought every year in the U.S. and nearly one million OLD pianos are sold.
FACT: There are 30 million pianos in
the U.S. (maybe more!).
FACT: Pianos are considered the wave of
the future for composition and performance.
FACT: The piano is the most universal
The piano dominates the music
FACT: An entire symphony orchestra can
be represented on the piano's 88 keys.
FACT: Most music is composed at the
keyboard and then transferred to other instruments.
FACT: The range of the piano extends
lower than the bottom 16 foot pedal note of an organ and higher than the top
note of a piccolo.
FACT: The piano is totally complete and
needs no assistance from any other instruments, but almost all instruments
in solo need the piano for accompaniment including singers.
FACT: Choirs practice with the piano
and so do dancers.
FACT: Pianos are used for listening
music, concert music, background music, and sing-a-long music.
The piano is education, fun,
therapy. It is a hobby, an avocation, or a full-time business.
FACT: A piano can be suited to the
largest concert hall or the smallest home.
Pianos can bring rewards to the
earliest beginners and yet meet the musical demands of skilled artists.
The piano can be a means of human
expression, yielding thunderous sounds to soft, gentle music.
There is a resurgence of the
piano in recent years, not just numbers seriously studying the instrument,
but is used in marketing, advertising, store windows, and department stores
and fine restaurants for dining pleasure. Piano paraphernalia such as piano
pads, keyboard scarves, and T-shirts have also hit an all time high.
The piano means different things
to different people.
A few years ago, the highest
price ever paid for a piano was $390,000 for a Steinway grand built in 1884.
Its name is the Alma-Tadema Piano" for a painter who supervised the
decoration of it. Recently, a new record was set by the same piano. The
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts,
recently paid $1.2 million for this Victorian piano. The auction house,
Christie's in London, said it was the highest price ever paid for a piano.
FACT: The biggest or grandest piano
ever built weighed 1-1/3 tons. It was 11 feet 8 inches long and made in 1935
by Challen in England. A picture of
this instrument can be seen in Pierce's Piano Atlas (the handy little book
available from piano supply house that contains the year of construction of
every piano ever made according to its serial number). (Info courtesy
of Lyn Bronson.)
One of Cristofori's original
pianos is still in existence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
FACT: the Schubert Club located in
Landmark Center, St. Paul, MN, has a fine collection of pianos and other
early instruments. Pianos used by Brahms, Schubert, and Liszt are on
According to the book of Genesis 4:21, Jubal was the first accredited
musician and instrument maker. He was "the father of all such as handle the
harp and organ." How crude must have been the first vibrating strings! We
can only use our imaginations. Strings were stretched across bows, hollowed
gourds, and fastened with pegs or ties. Strings are set in motion by
plucking, striking or bowing. Jubal's harp found its counterpart in the lyre
and harp of Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Chaldeans, Syrians, Greeks and
Early examples of plucked string instruments are the harp and lyre
family, psaltery (a shallow box played by plucking the strings with the
fingers or a pick), and the harpsichord family which includes the clavacin,
calicembalo or gravicembalo, clavicytherium. The harpsichord was the
dominant instrument until the 1700's. Early harpsichords were table top
models, oblong box having a limited number of keys. Each key with its
plectrum attached plucked one string. The sound was small and of short
duration. Eventually, they were placed on legs or stands and sometimes even
two or three keyboards were added. This is very similar to the electronic
keyboards we see on rock bands when several are stacked up on a stand.
The dulcimer was really the instrument from which the modern piano
evolved. Strings were struck with a mallet. This percussion instrument was
first found in the Middle East. Later, the Europeans developed the
clavichord to control the mallets.
In 1709, an Italian named
Bartolommeo de Francesco Cristofori developed
the piano. He called the instrument "gravicembalo col piano e forte",
meaning that it could be played both soft and loud. He also developed the
method whereby the strings were struck by a hammer, which after striking the
string falls back away from it allowing it to continue vibrating. This is
called "escapement" and is the basis for all modern pianos.
Cristofori's hammers were covered with leather, but in 1840, almost a
hundred years after his death, felt was added which gave a more mellow tone
color. This inventor also developed the shifting soft pedal arrangement
called the "una corda". The middle pedal or the "sostenuto" pedal was not
developed fully until 1874.
The first piano had only 4-1/2 octaves; eventually with later
developments over the years, the piano came to have 88 keys and was
standardized as such in 1890. 88 keys is 7-1/4 octaves. Milestones in this
development were the Broadwood piano with 5-1/2 octaves in 1790 and the late
Beethoven piano with 6-1/2 octaves in 1804.
Today in the 20th century (almost the 21st!), there is an explosion of
information and with that comes development of the electronic keyboards and
synthesizers many of which may be connected to the computer via a cable.
With the proper software programs, information from these keyboards can be
stored, sounds can be layered to form an entire orchestra, editing of scores
to perfection, and printing of music can be performed. There seems to be no
limit to the capabilities - only the limits of the human mind and
imagination. Just think of all the songs we would have if Bach or Beethoven
were alive in this era of modern high tech!! All of this, however, will not
do away with the acoustic piano, as this instrument still is unmatched.
Hopefully, the music world will draw the good from both kinds of keyboards
for improvement of all music.
Bielefeldt, Catherine C., The Wonders of the Piano,
Belwin-Mills Publishing Corp., 25 Deshon Drive, Melville, NY 11747, 1984.
Harding, Rosamond E. M., The Piano-Forte, Da Capo Press, New
Oringer, Judith, Passion for the Piano, Jeremy P. Tarcher,
Inc., Los Angels, CA, 1983.
Wier, Albert E., The Piano, Its History, Makers, Players and
Music, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, 1941.
By Alan D. from New Zealand
I believe that there are some important basic knowledge and fundamental
considerations that are vital to anyone empowered with the choosing of a
Piano, some of which are not widely identified by piano buyers – many are
secreted away by piano sellers or deemed to be inappropriate knowledge for
This short, sometimes whimsical report is ‘composed’
to help guide this choosing process towards a satisfying conclusion.
These words represent my personal opinion based upon my
observations and experience as an enthusiastic amateur and multi-piano owner
who is occasionally consulted concerning the selection of new and used
Definition - 1 (the simple one)
The piano is a
TONE making machine - its
ability to proficiency manifest musical tones, to the satisfaction of the
pianists/audience, is the most fundamental measure of its utility.
The piano is a
FILTER – the hammer strikes the
string (the potentially bad noises are filtered out) - the good energy/noise
is ‘magically’ converted into beautiful tones.
Definition - 3 (the students, and
perhaps some teachers, definition of a good piano)
A good piano is
one upon which even the WRONG notes sound better.
Like people, every piano is different and every piano
is imperfect, therefore, the selection process may be compared with the
choosing and maturing of a very good friendship. The fundamental difference
is that, unless you are your own tuner/technician etc., there are ‘other’
parties to this friendship and your Technician should always be included.
For the choice to be successful, the piano, the
room/venue in which it is to be located, the technician/tuner, the music and
YOU (or the users of the instrument) must all get along.
Musical Transparency (the magic between the pianists and the music):
The ultimate piano is: ‘That instrument that perfectly manifests the
musical intentions of the player’
All assessment method and tests should be directed
towards the identification of the current properties (transparency) and
latent and maturable potentials within the instrument and it’s ability to
durably supply musical utility.
In spite of the best arguments of salesmen, marketing
executives and advertising folks etc., pianos are NOT made by “brands” they
are made by people (with the assistance of some machinery and
the technologies deployed in their design and manufacture).
The quality of the production of ANY ‘brand’ is an
item-by-item, step-by-step, product of their workers efforts and the
materials deployed during the entire process (which for concert grand's may
take up to 1 year) and the service and support afforded to the piano during
its useful lifetime.
Many of the 'old-world' brands are now manufactured in
Korea by Samik or Young Chang who are called the OEM (Original Equipment
Manufacturers) - Like the Boston (a Kawai OEM piano), the detailed
specification may be defined by the Brand owner's management and marketing
The initial quality inherent in ANY piano is ONLY that
which is discernable or identifiable as a result of careful qualified
assessment. The parameters used for measuring are a composite of objective
and subjective judgments according to the sensitivities and pre-conceptions
of the jury. The jury should always include:
An appropriate selection of prepared/familiar
The quality of
the friendship/partnership is ONLY as durable as the qualities
identifiable and/or measurable AND sustainable in the instrument.
As a broad
generalization, all piano manufacturers make some good and some not-so-good
manufacturers make some excellent and some not so excellent pianos.
the better-known international brands, make more magic pianos and some less
than magic pianos.
manufacturers produce pianos that LOOK like magic pianos, however, their
reality and or their illusion need careful testing to expose those that are
just a visual and/or mechanical deception.
to buy a quality piano of ANY brand that is within your budget. A quality
piano will always be relatively easy to sell to a musically minded person
(unless his/her qualities have been compromises by the ostentatious
infections of brand). This being said, I recognize the general
qualities that have, from time to time, been manifested in magic pianos
bearing the following brand names (not comprehensive or in any order and
some names are nowadays just badges fitted by the contracted OEM):
Concerning Testing Methods
(practical due diligence):
This is the
complex semi-objective process by which the properties and or potentials of
a piano may be assessed. The methods prescribed here are those that I use
but are completely open to the preferences and procedures of those more
expert than myself and, in particular, your technician and you.
This is the process, which is so difficult to adequately describe in words –
an MP3 with vocal commentary would be more adequate. It also requires
practice to become a competent assessor - SO – at least practice this on
your present piano several times before attempting it on the objects of your
Establish surroundings that will afford clear sound assessment.
Play every individual chromatic note in sequence as quietly as is
possible to play it – feel the touch/response of the action and listen
carefully to the tone of each note as played.
Make notes concerning any un-evenness in the action and tone in particular
identify any fuzzy notes or strange resonance etc.
Test the damping of the piano by striking notes and/or chords with
the sustaining pedal engaged and disengaged – lowering the sustaining pedal
slowly on to the sounding strings.
Play some scales and exercises that establish your familiarity with
the idiosyncrasies of the piano – may take 5~25 minutes.
Play, preferably from memory, various pieces that you have an
intimate knowledge of and identify the tonal nuances, the harmonic effects,
the modulations and judge the ease/transparency with which you can manifest
Make objective and/or subjective notes of your impressions and
discuss as appropriate.
Repeat all the exercises on other instruments as appropriate.
Note – there are perhaps
10~20 more major and minor steps that I have yet to describe – there are
many technical steps that the technician will choose to undertake ………..
There are 8,000~12,000 individual parts in a piano so a more detailed
assessment and testing list will be written up another day – God willing
Concerning Comfortable Buying/Spending
(more due diligence):
As with any purchase, the buying should be a
comfortable fit to the resources and needs of the purchaser. We would all
like to stumble across a bargain BUT the comfort tests must, never the less,
always be diligently performed. As an ancient wisdom teaches:
"Judge ye not by
but judge by
Comfort in the BUYING is possible only when all the risks are
eliminated/minimized. This is only achieved by spending time, and/or effort,
and/or money in eliminating the RISKS of a poor purchase. This is your
insurance policy for an assurance that you are buying a quality representing
value-for-the-money being spent. All after purchase surprises should be good
ones resulting from your technician maturing the potentials in the old or
Any piano salesman worth his salt, will not force/pressure a customer
into a buying decision but will guide the buyer towards the assessed
‘comfort’ zone and will be patient, understanding and accepting of this
fundamental right to satisfaction.
Contrary to some popular pre-conceptions (an urban myth propagated by
piano salespeople), a piano need not be a lifetime commitment - we learn to
discern - we can buy/sell/trade/swap as demand and/or opportunity occurs.
AlanD (who has bought a piano or three.... and recognizes some qualities
and potentials BUT who would still seek the advise/confirmation of his
trusted technician above any other person, after all it is the technician
who inherits the responsibility for its tuning and maintenance etc.)
Sundry Notes and Observations:
I owned a 5'8" Young Chang (about 12 years ago) under the "Wagner" brand
and with some extensive 'finishing' work it became a very acceptable piano
considering the moderate price. I have occasionally recommended
'value-for-money' purchases of Korean pianos and a dealer friend of mine
specializes in them for his next level of piano below his European brands.
The Koreans, as with the Japanese manufacturers before them, have founded
their initial businesses on value for money and are now pursuing the quality
standards of the piano buying world’s expectations. They seem to have
modeled their designs more along European than Japanese/American lines and,
assuming the availability of the natural materials, will match the Japanese
volume market models in the near future. The contest for market share is
already won (Korea is now the biggest producer of pianos in the world). The
‘prestige’ (concert) market still resides with the European, and
Japanese. Steinway Hamburg & NY have the lions share of the concert market
by a significant margin and while Yamaha, Kawai and some newer up-start
companies are making ‘noises’, brand loyalty and unqualified skepticisms are
restraining new innovations and customers are deferring to the perceived
By enlarge the concert piano buying market is controlled by committees
and such committees tend to have more power and less qualified knowledge
concerning the choice of pianos. Ignorance and conservatism tends to direct
their decisions to the ‘safe’ brand that is perceived to make the best
pianos yet, as argued above, the reality is that it is only through an
appropriate choosing process that the unique qualities and potentials of ANY
piano are assessed - NOT simply the brand! This situation will change ONLY
when there is better education.
As for the "re-builders who use brands" (per force of
the fact that they are not beginning from scratch) this is unavoidable -
however, the best re-builders put more NEW into their rebuilt pianos than
the 'brand' - their 'craft' replaces the craft that was worn out, or the
'craft' that was less than the re-builders minimum standard.
The re-builders deference to the original 'brand' on their rebuilt
pianos preserves and perpetrates the 'brand' myth, however, this is 'brand'
is not the sole focus of their endeavor. There ARE re-builders of sufficient
standing and reputation who will add their name to their rebuilds when they
have applied major changes/improvements. I suggest that such re-builders are
the pioneers of the piano industry. Some of these people are putting in more
research and innovation than many of the leading brands!
To some extent we have all become BRAND junkies - this is often the
infection resulting from momentary 'greatness' reinforced by advertising -
this 'disease' can destroy objectivity and the 'comfort' of a wise choice.
I have suggested before that most modern advertising
will use ANY device known to mankind, to psychology etc. to pervert the
balanced buying decision - these extravagant and sophisticated marketing
tools serve the interests of brand awareness and of SALES but not
necessarily of brand 'quality'.
Advertising - without original ‘greatness’, may create
new brands.Creative 'reality' is not produced by advertising - it
is created by real 'people' doing real work, with the materials nature and
the sciences provided for us.
High quality is not created by 'brands' - it is created
by the 'crafting' of refined ideas; by the manifestation of high ideals; by
the pursuit of excellence; by the dissatisfactions of mediocrity; by the
desire within mankind to explore his genius; etc.
I live for the day when we have more magic pianos, for
the magic music to be played upon, by the Master Pianist Magicians.
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Thursday, September 10, 2020 03:03:36 PM