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MMD Archives: Hand Playing a Grand Reproducing Piano
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MMD > Archives > March 2002 > 2002.03.18 > 13Prev  Next

Hand Playing a Grand Reproducing Piano
By Craig Brougher

[ Robbie commented in 020317 MMDigest: ]

>[ Okay, so it's my mental hang-up; I admit that a shorter-than-normal
>[ keytop affects my piano playing because I don't want to damage the
>[ key cover or injure my fingers when the cover slams down.

Just so that others won't have hang-ups and worries about playing a
reproducer by hand, here are some tips to consider.  I have heard a few
musicians complain about the Ampico drawer being in the way of their
knees.  Let's address that complaint, first.

Regardless how tall or how long your inseam might be, the Ampico drawer
is almost never in the way if you are playing the piano on a bench of
the correct height.  That's right, you read it right here.  Here's the
reason.  The arms and legs of a normally proportioned person are
comparable in length.  That's why we can have clothing stores with
suits that fit most of us already.  Now if you have inordinately short
arms or short legs compared to the other pair of limbs, or if you are
very large in girth, you would have trouble, I admit.  But if you
learned to address the piano properly, you know that the teacher
discouraged you from crowding the keyboard.  So by adjusting your bench
or stool in such a way that you are comfortable and your toes touch the
pedals, then your hands can reach the full scale without your knee
bumping the drawer.

In music schools, they might drop a spacer from the bottom of the
keyboard, and if your knee touched, you needed to back your bench up.
Posture was very important, as to a start position to learn to play the
piano from.  Trust me -- Ampico was very much aware that they could not
impede a pianist with their drawer, and yet for all the criticism
leveled at both Duo-Art and Ampico, this was never cited by a
legitimate critic to my knowledge.  The reason is, whoever complained
would have told on himself.

I have had some very large musicians try out my Ampico and many other
Ampicos going through my shop, and there is no problem whatever.  But
those who crowd the keys will have problems with the drawer, not to
mention a few other minor performance difficulties.  I also can crowd
the keyboard and jam my knee into the drawer and complain.  However,
I cannot play the piano as fast when I do that.  Pianists who have a
bad habit of sitting a dozen different ways at a piano also make more
mistakes (clinkers) because they've never learned the value of muscle
memory, which can only be developed by seating yourself the same way
each time.

When a wise piano teacher sees you sit down to a piano, he or she
already knows a lot about your experience even before you start to
play, because a piano cannot usually be played well with bad posture.
You cannot hump over the keys, and you cannot play well with your back
going backward, either.  Your back has to be straight and vertical.  So
when your back is straight, your toes on the pedals, then your bench
will be properly positioned to bring your knee about 2" below the
drawer.  That goes for every normally proportioned pianist.

Drawer interference?  Forget it!

Regarding the Duo-Art, there actually is a problem with one of those
instruments.  It's a Steinway having short keys, and a real bear to
hand play.  Robbie mentioned the fact that he was knicking the
fallboard, and occasionally it would then crash down on his hands from
the tapping.  Two things that worried him.

But fear not, because those models are few and far between.  Too bad,
Robbie, that you just happened to get one to play, because that model
was quickly phased out.  I think it was a mistake at the beginning, and
the only way they could salvage those cases was to shorten the keys.
I can't say for sure.  But one of Aeolian's big customers were the
hundreds of musical conservatories across the nation, which could nary
afford space for an instrument that could not be properly played.

If your fingers are long enough to play tenths with a normal width
palm, then you have real problems with that piano!

Regarding the pesky fallboard, that should always be taken care of
during the course of a rebuild.  There should be no question that it
stands up and latches firmly.

During the comparison concerts of the late teens and 20's, some
world-renown virtuoso pianists travelled the country with both Aeolian
and Ampico, demonstrating the realism of those instruments.  During the
course of the program, they, of course, sat down to the pianos and
played them.  Do we think that some entertainment section critic would
not love to say in next morning's paper, "Godowsky didn't seem to be
himself last night.  His performance was colorless, and he seemed to
have problems with the Ampico drawer banging into his knee." Sorry, but
for seasoned pianists who learned posture correctly, that just doesn't
happen.  There were no official complaints.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Mon 18 Mar 2002, 15:50:54 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Grand, Hand, Piano, Playing, Reproducing