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MMD > Archives > August 1997 > 1997.08.15 > 11Prev  Next


Effects of Piano Pedals
By Craig Brougher

Robbie mentioned something in yesterday's MMD that is really a question-
able point with many, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents for what
it's worth.

When you start talking about what a piano sounds like to you, you aren't
really disagreeing with anybody.  But when you say what it is and what it
isn't, or what it was intended for or not, then you might raise a few
questions.

Robbie commented:

>[ The _artist_ uses the keybed-action-shift of a grand piano for _tonal
>[ effects_, not to make it softer!  The name "Soft Pedal" is misleading;
>[ on the grand it should more accurately be called the "Hammer Shift"
>[ or "Action Shift".

I know where Robbie is coming from, about the una-corda (soft) pedal
having a different tone.  It would seem to have.  However, the main
reason some una-corda pedals have a different tone is because in shifting
the hammer row, the strings line up on many of the spaces between string
cuts in the hammers.  And since the hammers can be fluffy where they
don't normally strike the string, or extra hard (I've run into that,
too), or striking two strings of the "trichord"  a glancing blow because
the strings are never perfectly separated, the entire piano sounds
"differently."

However, the purpose of the una-corda pedal is to make a piano softer by
about 1/3rd.  After all, the idea was, "You are going to play only two of
your three strings now, and you're going to strike the single bass
strings a sideways blow."

A correctly adjusted una-corda pedal and perfectly voiced and aligned
hammers and strings will not measurably change the voicing of a piano.
The fact that they still do is moot.  That just means they are not
perfect.  But at the same time, they still soften the piano.  It is a
physical impossibility not to.

Not exactly the same subject, but still about tonal quality by pedaling,
Clarence Hickman once had a bet with the people in the Ampico roll
department, all who were betting against him, that there was a big
difference between note extensions on a roll, and pedaling the same
chords down.  After all, with note extensions, only those notes which are
extended are playing, while those notes pedaled with the sustain lift all
the dampers.  You'd think that would make a noticeable difference to some
of the (acknowledged) best musicians in the business.  So he had a roll
cut to perform both ways and the editors at American Piano Co. had to
guess which was which.  They sat in the booth for twenty minutes and
never could agree which was which.  Hickman won his bet.  Not bad for an
archery buff.

Regarding the sustain pedal, Hickman also built what he called a "pedal
stack," which allowed the sustain many degrees of operation.  He was
planning to incorporate this into the roll somehow if it proved
effective.  Using his invention, he hired a number of artists to record
for him, using the "singing tone" method of pedaling that they were
"famous" for.  Then he cut the master both ways, with and without the
pedal stack.  His diary and his comments said that not even the musicians
themselves could tell the difference, actually.

Some of this stuff is in the musician's head.  For example, one
world-famous artist was demonstrating the difference between simply
striking of a note at a certain intensity, and striking it at the same
intensity, only with "feeling."  They guy kinda wiggled his finger down
on the note after it had played.  He swore that "Anybody could hear the
difference, there."  Nobody said a word!  They just all smiled knowingly
and nodded.

Some Duo-Arts with una-corda shifter pneumatics utilize the action shift
for the SOFT position on the Modulator lever (Normal, Soft, Dance).  The
advantage of this extra bellows is that it allows the use of the hammer
lift rail as well as a piano "Soft" shifter and of course, the limited
modulator setting which never allowed the expressions to get above
nominal pedal vacuum (MF).  On these pianos, when you apply the shifter
and the soft pedal, you get a huge degree of softening, by the way.

Craig Brougher


(Message sent Fri 15 Aug 1997, 13:45:49 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Effects, Pedals, Piano

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