Skip to content

Inside the Grand Piano and Notes on Pedalling

Inside the Grand Piano and Notes on Pedalling published on

This is a neat little video of the mechanism of a grand piano that came across my path. It’s worth a watch to see the inside of a piano virtually pulled apart and to see what the dimensions of the pieces are. It’s amazing how intricate these creatures are! That soft pedal that I love so much only moves the hammers 7% of an inch. Wait till you hear what else it does!

When the hammers hit 2 instead of 3 strings, the tone is sweeter for a few reasons. A lesser used part of the felt strikes the strings, creating a softer tone. This accounts for the entirety of tone quality change in the lowest register of the piano, where there is only one string per note. In the middle range, another factor is at work. When one of the three strings is not struck, it doesn’t sit there with cold-hearted resentment but vibrates in sympathy. This changes the proportions of the of the two phases to the decay of a piano note: the immediate sound and the resonance. When two of the three strings are struck, we reach the resonance phase much sooner. This is the sweet, singing sound that isn’t as strident as the initial sound following the attack. The physics of how this happens is so cool but it should be the subject of a separate blog post.

It should be added that the soft pedal on an upright piano does not shift the hammers from side to side, rather it moves the hammers slightly closer to the strings, causing them to strike the strings more slowly. This reduces the volume but doesn’t change the ratio of immediate sound to resonant sound.

The sustain pedal, the most commonly used one, is capable of enriching the sound beyond what you might realize. I’ll describe two situations to you. In one situation the pianist holds down a chord with no use of the damper pedal. The only strings that resonate are the ones that were struck by the hammers. Another way to do this is to hold down the same notes, but add the damper pedal. When all of the strings on the piano are available to vibrate sympathetically, the upper partials of the notes the pianist is playing are free to nuance the chord. In other words, the first situation is the default, concise way to express the chord. The second is richer, but requires more attention so you don’t get a muddy sound if you add more notes. The nerds among us can read more about this on PubMed.

This brings us to the middle pedal. The geeky pedal. It’s super useful for one specific thing, but other than that it doesn’t have much of a purpose in life. It allows for selective sustaining. There are so many possible creative uses for this pedal, that it’s a shame it isn’t built into all pianos, because then it might be used more often in the body of compositions for piano. Theoretically, one could get the best of both worlds from the situations I described above by silently depressing the keys of the upper partials of the chord you want to play while ensuring that other notes you may want to add will not clutter up the sound. If this is bordering on impracticality to get the richest sound, then so be it. Some of us will spring for that extra clean and deep sound. More commonly the middle pedal will be used to give extra freedom around a pedal tone. If you want a pedal tone to be resounding for a long time while you can use any manner of piquant or staccato otes around it and not have to worry about them cluttering up the sound, then that’s the only way to do it. It really opens up harmonic possibilities. Granted, I don’t use it often in my playing, nor can I think of anyone who does. We tend to use bass players instead!


Who do you want to share this with?

Note Finders

Note Finders published on

Here are various pages which can be used to help students learn to find notes. They make a handy references as students begin to commit the staves to memory.

For beginner
For advanced
For fixed-do solfège
For comprehensive information

Feel free to share and suggest improvements!

Who do you want to share this with?


Gelassenheit published on

Gelassenheit is for me synonymous with nirvana.

It’s a word that comes from German and doesn’t translate easily. I love those words. They give you permission to devote a whole paragraph to their honour. You’ll need at least a paragraph to describe the exotic decadence of loanwords to your monoglot friends. Although Gelassenheit is not yet accepted into English, if I have my way, it will be. English is just one big quilt anyways, what’s another stripe?

Gelassenheit comes into English and breaks into some very different translations, like a river that breaks into smaller ones and covers a wider terrain: composure, calmness, serenity, repose, imperturbability.

It’s the noun form of the adjective gelassen, which translates to cool-headed, composed, or poised. Gelassen comes from the verb lassen which does a lot of semantic heavy lifting. It’s in partnership with a lot of other verbs, but essentially boils down to let, or to leave be. Now you see how the word “composure” doesn’t capture the aspect of release that is part of Gelassenheit?

Strangely enough, I did not brush elbows this word from any of my German classes or the endless sea of vocab lists that comes from them. Instead I encountered it in an article on spirituality and jazz, where the author described it as “’releasement’, the unbinding of all preconceptions and expectations”. That’s some risky territory. In a musical context it means “openness, the willingness to let go and forego ownership to the music at hand”1.  This word is my new friend. I have a lot to learn from it. You don’t have room for creativity if you don’t have room for mistakes. Oh hi Miles, I hear you there. Lil Doc Davis has a word for us all.

[Public Safety Announcement:

Until Gelassenheit is seen for what it is the English language, it will keep masquerading as calm, cool, and released. You’ve been warned! The meaning it carries is operating under various false identities! It only shows a fraction of itself at a time. Educate yourself! Until Gelassenheit is exposed for what it is, it will continue to enjoy the cushy status of italicisation of foreign words. Wake up people!]

So the moral of the story is that I’m growing into this idea of release where music and artistry is concerned, and that I’m a nerd because I make friends with words.

  1. Reynolds, Thomas E. “Jazz Spirituality: Human Transformation in a Musical Key” Emmanuel College.
Who do you want to share this with?

Playing Less Hurt Review

Playing Less Hurt Review published on

I’ve just finished soaking up the information in Janet Horvath’s book Playing Less Hurt – an Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians and have come like a sponge to wring myself out before you all. Although she’s a cellist, not a doctor, her information is sound and clear. In the first few pages you’ll find a hand surgeon (who is also an amateur violinist) vouching for the overall accuracy of this work.

I read with the intent to gather useful knowledge and entertain different perspectives. It keeps me coming back. This one was my 90th book of the year and I’m going strong. I can’t seem to dampen up my curiosity so I will probably be scouring books for a long time to come!

These are some of the things I’ve gleaned. They don’t reflect the structure of the book; rather they represent the topography of what stood out to me.

  • This book reconfirmed some of my personal conclusions that I discussed in my earlier article. Get thee to a doctor and don’t let an over-inflated view of what you know land you in deeper trouble!
  • Warming up is not optional. It revs up your circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the extremities and carrying away waste more efficiently. Increased body heat loosens the tendons, fascia, and surrounding tissues to be suppler. Warmups are not to be confused with technical exercises! Just as one does not simply walk into the gym and start a set of chin-ups, one does not simply start off in scales at a breakneck tempo. Start slowly and easily and work up from there. Remember, we don’t play piano with our hands; we play piano with our entire bodies. Warming up away from your instrument is also valuable.
  • TAKE BREAKS. You must take breaks. I read this from all manners of credible sources and every time I will for it to sink into my thick head.
  • Be easier on yourself even when your body is not responding how you want it to. Yes we’re talking to you.
  • This book also contains a wealth of stretches. For these alone it’s worth picking up a copy. I love the compendium of stretches that can be done in a shower. Handy! She also provides a great list of stretches that can be done surreptitiously onstage or in a pit even during a performance. Invaluable.
  • Janet Horvath is the only person who has been able to give an answer my question about splinting during playing. I have roamed the net to no avail on the topic. My doctor who admits she’s inexperienced in the RSI category recommended I splint while playing anyhow so that it can keep my wrists in a neutral position. In her mind, it can’t hurt, but my playing suffers because they make me clumsy. Nevertheless I have been doing so faithfully until now. I’m reconsidering because Horvath says one ought not splint while practicing. Because my hand posture is not bad at the piano, I may forgo it after some more thought on the matter. My hands stay in neutral position of their own accord when I play. The dangers of over-splinting are muscle atrophy if you wear them constantly or loss of flexibility if you don’t continue to stretch. The virtues of splinting are mainly during sleep, that they ensure the freest circulation of fluids to heal the tissue. I’m pretty sure that until I started sleeping with splints, I would curl my wrists up. I know because it feels weird to not do so. That could be where the nerve compression creeped in from.
  • One solution that some smaller-handed pianists are beginning to implement to counter the strain caused by finger abduction is smaller keyboards. The idea that a piano could be ergonomically scaled to your hand size is a cool one. THINK OF ALL THE GREAT STUFF I COULD PLAY! In fact, it is entirely possible that male dominance in keyboard playing is partially explainable by the fact that hand size is larger on average in men compared to women, and thus the limitations on repertoire. I feel it. There are numerous gems of Rachmaninoff that I have shied away from because I know they pain they’d induce. Let’s remember that key size was determined by what worked best for a select group of European men. I guess it made sense at the time but now we have plenty of people trying to fit a mould developed for someone else. Deviating from standard piano key size does raise some questions though. Would getting comfortable on your personalized piano make you less accurate on standard pianos or limit your venue options? We’re not talking about portable, personal instruments like violins or guitars, and who wants to lug a keyboard around with them if the venue has a lovely acoustic? Although there are plenty of logistical obstacles to deal with, I do drool a little bit inside when I think of the voicing I have always lusted after that I see other people playing. LH finger 5 on root, 2 on the seven and thumb on the three. Everything you need!
  • Lastly, no book is complete without a recommended reading section. My reading list has had its equilibrium punctuated with yet another phase of expansion. Joyous times we live in!

I highly recommend this book. After the dozens I’ve read on the topic, there was still plenty of new and applicable information. Cellists and bass players may benefit the most of all but there is quite a wealth of help for keyboardists and other instrumentalists too.

Who do you want to share this with?

Resources for Royal Conservatory History Courses

Resources for Royal Conservatory History Courses published on

Here you will find study notes for the three history courses with the Royal Conservatory.
RCM History 1: An Overview
RCM History 2: From Middle Ages to Classical
RCM History 3: 19th C to Present

Who do you want to share this with?

Primary Sidebar