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Key Weight And Point Of Sound Initiation. Advice Please.


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Perhaps Mr Mander himself would be the most expert person to comment on this but I should be grateful for informed comments from anyone.

 

I gather (from John Norman's book - if I am reading it correctly) that precisely regulated manual keys should have a weight resistance of about four ounces. Also on precisely regulated manuals would be the ideal point of key depression for the actual sound to be initiated, please?

 

Thanks

 

Malcolm

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I presume this refers to electric action where around 4 ounces (I think that is about 140g) is probably a sensible setting. Where the action is mechanical there are, of course, wide variations. Contact point is a bit of a matter of taste, but I would assume it to be around 1 - 1.5mm from the top.

 

John

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One aspect of present day console design which I sometimes find uncomfortable is reduced key length.

I can think of 3 cathedral organs of which I have personal experience which have received new consoles in the past decade where the key are at least half an inch shorter that standard piano keys.

Much C19th and C20th repertoire relies heavily on pianistic techniques and many pieces are written in keys sufficiently 'black' no necessitate a hand position well towards the back end of the sharp/flat keys, short keys together with projecting pistons from the manual above can pose problems especially for a player with long fingers.

I can understand short keys being used in a new instrument based on pre C19th models, but not for an instrument of a more ecclectic nature expected to be able of play C19th and C20th repertoire. Cavaille-Coll and Father Willis used full length keys, as did other C19th builders and builders in the first half of the C20th.

Ok, it's a long stretch to the 4th (and sometimes 3rd) manual on an early Willis, Lewis, Binns etc; but I find Vierne etc. more comfortable to play on such consoles that a number of present day consoles.

 

DT

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Perhaps Mr Mander himself would be the most expert person to comment on this but I should be grateful for informed comments from anyone.

 

I gather (from John Norman's book - if I am reading it correctly) that precisely regulated manual keys should have a weight resistance of about four ounces. Also on precisely regulated manuals would be the ideal point of key depression for the actual sound to be initiated, please?

 

Thanks

 

Malcolm

 

Malcolm,

 

I used to work in HNB's console shop, and if I recall correctly the weight of touch was indeed 4oz, and the contact depth was set at 3/32". If you're interested, the pedal weight was 4lbs I think, touch depth around 1/2", but it's a long time ago and I could be wrong.

 

Regards

 

John

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I used to work in HNB's console shop, and if I recall correctly the weight of touch was indeed 4oz, and the contact depth was set at 3/32".

 

I have been told that, as a general rule of thumb, the depth of false touch (i.e. the key travel before the contact makes) should be the thickness of an ivory, so this seems about right.

 

S

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I have been told that, as a general rule of thumb, the depth of false touch (i.e. the key travel before the contact makes) should be the thickness of an ivory, so this seems about right.

 

S

 

 

Yes I agree. The organ at St. Chad's, Birmingham does have a top resistance about the thickness of the bone (or ivory). One thig I notices at Rieger Orgelbau was how thin the sharps were from side to side. Also what about sharps that sink back from the front? All a question of taste I guess.

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A related question...has anyone else observed their playing being affected by this?

 

There is one church instrument that I used to play quite regularly which never felt quite 'right', and after recalling the 4oz figure, I took some weights from a set of kitchen scales to the church to measure the key weight, and descovered it was 7oz. I've never been quite sure why it is that I didn't feel comfortable playing faster-moving pieces on this organ, but wondered whether the key weight was a factor, together with the plastic-coated keys. (I know at least one well-known contributor to this forum has expressed a strong dislike of these.) I will also happily concede that my technique is not the world's greatest...

 

Another instrument near me, that I play occasionally, was enlarged a few years ago with the addition of the console from a redundant instrument. This console has ivory keys but the key weight is not consistent across the three manuals; the Great, in particular, is very light. I haven't attempted to measure it but it must be less than the 4oz suggested in Malcolm's original post. Both the present and the immediate past organist at this church have commented unfavourably on this.

 

(This is a general question - I do not intend to name and shame specific instruments or builders.)

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Maybe I'm an old weakling that doesn't practice often enough? But aren't we talking of some exhausting finger bending key weights here? 3oz is 85 gm and 4 oz is 112 gm.

 

My piano keys have a resistance of about 55 gm (with the sustain pedal down) and it can make my hands ache if I play too much. My house organ is about 75 gm and I don't think I would like it any heavier.

 

I wonder what others think - fast young blades excluded! and don't kick sand in my face...

 

PS Don't loose the kitchen weights under the pedals...

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Maybe I'm an old weakling that doesn't practice often enough? But aren't we talking of some exhausting finger bending key weights here? 3oz is 85 gm and 4 oz is 112 gm.

 

My piano keys have a resistance of about 55 gm (with the sustain pedal down) and it can make my hands ache if I play too much. My house organ is about 75 gm and I don't think I would like it any heavier.

 

I wonder what others think - fast young blades excluded! and don't kick sand in my face...

 

PS Don't loose the kitchen weights under the pedals...

 

Hi

 

You're not comparing like with like. The touch characteristics of a piano and an organ are rather different. Organ key touch should be around 4oz top resistance, dropping as the pallet opens.

 

Piano touch is heavily (no pun intended) by the damper mechanism - adjusting the point at which the dampers lift is one of the "tricks" of adjusting piano touch weight - lifting later = lighter touch, so measuring with the sustain pedal down will give a false figure.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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The damper is a fairly minor part of piano touch. It is geared to make a very small movement, and playing with the pedal down is not markedly different in feel. The important matter in the piano is the inertia of the hammer, which is both heavy (in the bass) and geared up. And playing louder requires accelerating it faster, which is why playing louder is actually harder work.

 

But although modern pianos have a static touch weight of around 2oz, in the period leading up to 1900 a concert grand, for instance, might have a static touch of about 4oz - we had an 1890 Steinway like this at school, and it was very hard work to play by modern standards.

 

Paul

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  • 1 month later...
...But although modern pianos have a static touch weight of around 2oz, in the period leading up to 1900 a concert grand, for instance, might have a static touch of about 4oz - we had an 1890 Steinway like this at school, and it was very hard work to play by modern standards.

 

Paul

Errm, 4oz is the standard drop weight of a Modern Concert grand ... I'm looking after a newish (c.2004) Yamaha C5, which we keep to concert standards.

 

I've also got a Bluthner Grand from 1896, with the Bluthner patent action. This is quite a bit lighter than the Yamaha. Sorry, I don't know what its drop weight it, but it's a lovely, silky action. I've played quite a number of 19th century pianos, by the likes of Broadwood (several from different periods from the 1820s onwards), Erard and Pleyel. I would say that pianos actions have generally got heavier over time - from the fragile touches from the 18th and early 19th century, piano touch seems to have become heavier as piano construction grew heavier (and the likes of Liszt gave them more and more of a pounding).

 

2oz drop weight would be almost unbearably skittish and light. It's the sort of weight you'll find in an unweighted, bottom of the range casio keyboard. I had a electronic simulation organ for a short period with a 2.5oz drop weight... a piano as light as that would be uncontrollable.

 

It might be that your school's piano is in need of an action overhaul? If it dated from the 1890s, I wonder if it had an earlier action than the standard Renner/roller action common today? But I think Steinways have an action of all their own... I don't know, I'm not much of an expert on piano actions.

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Errm, 4oz is the standard drop weight of a Modern Concert grand ... I'm looking after a newish (c.2004) Yamaha C5, which we keep to concert standards.

 

2oz drop weight would be almost unbearably skittish and light. It's the sort of weight you'll find in an unweighted, bottom of the range casio keyboard. I had a electronic simulation organ for a short period with a 2.5oz drop weight... a piano as light as that would be uncontrollable.

Clavichords were, traditionally, the practice instruments of Baroque organists. My clavichord has a drop weight of about 1/7 of an ounce. Skittish and light? Yes, but highly responsive as well, providing that it was played with the appropriate technique.

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Errm, 4oz is the standard drop weight of a Modern Concert grand ...

Pardon? I have better printed references, but this and this agree with them in specifying a little under 2oz for the set-down weight (with dampers raised, of course).

 

Personally though, I do prefer a heavier action, and I've just measured my Broadwood, made in the 1890s when touch was at its heaviest, to be ~2 3/4 oz at middle C; I find my son's new Steinway model C skittish, because I never gained the muscle control (relaxation in particular) necessary for me to be a good pianist like him - but he hates playing my piano.

 

Of course, you control the dynamics by working against the inertia rather than the static weight. Having a higher static weight means that fine gradations are harder to make in the softest playing because the changes required become a smaller proportion of the total effort - but I just don't have the level of control to benefit from the lighter static touch.

 

Paul

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The damper is a fairly minor part of piano touch. It is geared to make a very small movement, and playing with the pedal down is not markedly different in feel. The important matter in the piano is the inertia of the hammer, which is both heavy (in the bass) and geared up. And playing louder requires accelerating it faster, which is why playing louder is actually harder work.

 

 

 

Paul

 

Hi

 

I've only just seen this rpely - but then I've not been too well!

 

The position in the key travel where the action picks up the dampers DOES make a big difference to the perceived weight of touch - maybe not so much on a grand, but on an upright it makes a big difference. I dound this in a book about piano actions - and I have practical experience, as I lightened the touch of a Challennupright that I used to own purely by setting the dampers to lift late in the key travel (a VERY ong job to get the touch even! - I'd not like to do it again!)

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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