Piano Keys, Hammers and Strings

Piano hammers and strings

Since we are talking about the functioning of the piano in this section, the keys, the hammers and the strings deserve an explanation for a good understanding of your piano.

Piano Keys
Lets start with the piano keys. If you have ever compared an acoustic piano to the digital counterpart one of the things you will notice is the difference in the weight of the keys. The keys of piano feel much more heavier. People who are used to playing only either kind of instrument will have problem handling the other kind.
A piano player will find it difficult to control the key movement on a digital keyboard so much so that the rhythm will go wrong. Because of the difference in the weight of the keys the responsiveness is quiet different as well. In the earlier pianos the keys used to be made out of real ivory.
The digital piano keys are plastic and similar material.
However, the latest digital pianos have started using a technology to introduce weighted keys in their keyboards as well. In some keyboards you can actually adjust how heavy the piano keys feel to touch and how responsive they are.
Similarly when professional piano players are looking to buy a piano, they prefer a certain brand to another because of the feel for the keyboard and which one meets the responsiveness according to their style of playing.

Piano Hammers
The piano keys are just the beginning of the piano action that finally produces the sound. At the other end of it lie the piano hammers that strike the piano strings. The piano hammers are called that but are in fact delicate mechanisms and levers ending in felt covered tips. The piano hammers are made from wood, plastic, leather or a combination of all of the above. The felt covered tips are important in making the kind of sound that comes out of the piano. If these were bare ended hammers the sound of the piano would be very different, metallic and not very nice. The hammers are coupled with an escape mechanism that allows them to bounce right back from the strings after striking them. They are connected to the piano keys with a complex system of levers and are responsive to the touch of the piano player, striking the piano strings as hard and as soft as required.

The system that connects the keys to the hammers has become more complex and sophisticated over the years.

The area of the felt that strikes the piano strings gradually becomes pressed as it comes in contact with the strings repeatedly and often with some force. As a groove starts to develop, this part of the felt hammers can toughen changing the over all sound of the note. With time, if the sound of the piano changes substantially, the felt hammers might need to be replaced.

Piano Strings

The piano strings are the last part that come in to play in the piano sound making mechanism, if you do not count the soundbaord that amplifies the sound that you hear. The strings of the piano are pulled tightly across a metal frame inside the piano that is called a Harp. This is interesting because as we have told you in a previous post, the piano was actually developed from a harp. The strings are tied to the frame with pins that can be tightened or loosed. This is how the tuning of the piano is performed by using a special tuning hammer to turn these pins till the right amount of tautness is achieved to produce the right note.

The principle behind the tuning the strings on any musical instrument is the same. You can think of tuning the strings of the piano akin to tuning the guitar, only a lot more complex and difficult.

You may imagine that there is one string to each note. But there can actually be up to 3 strings per note. This makes the job of the piano tuner more difficult. Not only does he have to ensure that the different notes are tuned correctly but also that all the strings of the same note are on the same pitch. If not, the note can sound really bad.
The thickness of the piano strings varies. This is what creates a different pitch for different note. The strings for the lower notes are thicker than the ones higher up. For this reason, there may only be 2 or even 1 string for the very low notes. Since they are thicker, there is no room to put 3 strings. The strings of the piano require tuning once a year. But at least twice a year is recommended to make sure that your piano does not reach the stage where is begins to sound out of tune. Sometimes a piano can become permanently out of tune if neglected for too long. This problem can be fixed but with some bother.

So now that you know about 3 more components of the piano, hopefully you will appreciate it more and be able to care for it better.

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