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I know there is no comparison to playing on a full grand, so I have been seeking out practice locations. I finally found a Yamaha full grand that is available on a free schedule, but my first few sessions were not quite what I had expected, especially when playing softly. (my last few years have been on a yamaha upright). I am having some difficulty balancing the volume of the upper register (it always seems overbearing, and I dont seem to have this problem in the mid-range)

In my previous experience with baby grands, each note had a very noticeable stop when depressed very slowly, and I was able to use the stop to make the piano nearly whisper on command. On this current grand, the stops are much less noticeable, and even when depressed very firmly from the stopped position (less than half a stroke), the hammer is not striking the strings at all. (note: failing to strike the strings, when depressing gently yet firmly, seems to happen more than I remember, from previous concerts/practice sessions from years ago)

Is this a feature that varies on some grand pianos? How about effects of tuning or maintenance?

I am just curious if this is feature I had been taking advantage of, that doesnt normally exist (I have been cheating effectively) or if this piano is somehow different for whatever reason.

This piano has actually had minimal usage and often sits in storage. From appearance, it looks well kept, and from playing, all the keys seem mostly uniform and consistent.

I am trying to address a very literal physical observation about the instrument with this question.

I know I have some bad mental habits that could also be to blame, that come from years on upright, so I know I lack healthy technique. For example, on my upright, I often play full una-corde because it gives the keys a better feel, especially when striving for volume balance.

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I can't give a full answer to the question, but I will say that it definitely is supposed to be possible to depress the key without the hammer striking the string. In fact, a lot of 20th-century piano literature relies on that possibility for piano "harmonics". –  Pat Muchmore Aug 8 '14 at 14:31
@Pat I do understand that, but i am referring to hammer misses when I am using quite a bit of force, which in my prior experience, I dont remember being misses –  user2097818 Aug 8 '14 at 19:13
Ah, ok, sorry I misunderstood. Come to think of it, the Yamaha full grand in my office does seem to be a little too easy to play without hammer strikes, but my professional piano experience is quite limited. –  Pat Muchmore Aug 8 '14 at 19:37
@Pat thanks for the follow up. You are the second confirmation that this might be a Yamaha trend. –  user2097818 Aug 8 '14 at 19:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I think that stop is caused by the double escapement mechanism which is used, afaik, in practically all grand pianos nowadays. You can see the action in this video. It should be possible to get a sound the way you describe but also, as you can see, if you depress the key just a little bit too far then it might not produce any sound. I personally would not rely on this technique in a performance with an unfamiliar instrument.

Instead, I think you should try and heal your technique. Practice quiet playing without any pedals. Playing softly is in my opinion one of the most difficult things in piano playing, and unfortunately in my experience also relatively many Yamaha grands do indeed make it even more difficult; many of them feel as if there is some extra, somehow uneven, friction. In most cases you will eventually learn how to control them anyway.

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Now that you say it, the stop I was remembering was on a cheap baby grand, and that was definitely the reset point for double escapement. I think that stop just made it easier to mentally mark a safe minimum keypress while keeping my fingers fairly relaxed. I think I found some good pianissomo tremolo/chord-articulation excersises that should help me properly memorize that sweet spot for my new instrument . Definitely less relaxed than I am accustomed to, but since I am already addicted to the increased dynamic range, I am excited to make it even larger. –  user2097818 Aug 9 '14 at 23:55
Given what you said about increased friction on Yamaha, as general advice, would you say I should adjust bench/posture in order to attack this Yamaha more strategically? Or just stay where I am currently accustomed, and keep practicing until I eventually start to compensate from my natural 'wide stance'? –  user2097818 Aug 10 '14 at 0:14
@user2097818: It all depends but one thing you can try for slow passages is this: keep the fingers and wrist kind of firm but "spring-like" and play from the elbow or shoulder. This allows you to use a larger and faster movement (which is easier to keep even even when there is friction) while still keeping the velocity of the key low. Maybe think how a cat would play... Well, it's really difficult to explain. Your best bet, as usual, is to find a good teacher. –  nonpop Aug 10 '14 at 8:37
I have actually heard the cat metaphor before, which I take to mean don't strike notes, push through them (using elbows, shoulders, or even pushing through with your torso at times). Debussy - "One must forget that the piano has hammers". I appreciate your input. –  user2097818 Aug 10 '14 at 9:34

I've only played a few Yamaha grands, but they all felt like I had to work hard at pressing the keys, and because of this, it all came out loud. Pressing gently seemed not to trigger the hammers as easily as other pianos. My Yamaha studio, though, is a delight to play, both loudly and quietly. It's obviously not the same mechanism in an upright to a grand.The 'soft pedal' is probably your best solution. You're extremely lucky to have a great instrument to use as your own. Well done !

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I will mention, my yamaha upright at home, I do enjoy much. As far as the yamaha grand, full soft pedal might help me on the passages Im concerned about, although general overuse of it might make Debussy angry. Your comment on the difficulty of yamaha in your experience might answer my question, but Im gonna hold out a bit longer –  user2097818 Aug 8 '14 at 19:22

@Nonpop is correct. This is called the double-escapement and was invented by Erard in the early 1810s. It helps with the repetition of notes. Instead of the hammer returning to its full-stopped (bottom) position, it's held part way down to allow for a quick, easy repetition of the same note. Imagine all pianos before that had none and you couldn't repeat notes without lifting your fingers completely off the keys!

I've actually experienced this at the Frederick Collection www.frederickcollection.org

It's quite interesting and an awesome experience to play both modern and early pianos and compare the difference between them.

Playing softly on a grand piano, just like playing softly on an upright requires both good ear training and relaxation. If you are tense when you play, you'll tend to play louder. Try to play with relaxed arms, wrists, and fingers. Using your ears, see if you can have the music melt into the piano instead of being cold and loud like ice. It takes practice and concentration, but it can be done. What you don't want to do is plunk down the "soft" pedal and play the passage. This is not the same as playing softly as the una chorda pedal actually changes the character of the music while true soft playing is just that with the full piano still playing all the strings.

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