Identify and Care for your piano parts and wood types

Seeing the woods for the trees: identify and care for your piano parts

Seeing the woods for the trees

We posted a blog earlier last year about the numerous different wood types used in various aspects and stages of piano making, including the pinblock, soundboard and action mechanism – and, in particular, about how their varying structures and qualities will have a significant impact on the sorts of tones and resonances your instrument will be capable of producing.

 

These are all important things to bear in mind when selecting a new piano and deciding what sort of price range you’re looking to buy into. But what if you already have an older or even antique piano and are looking into getting some repairs done, or perhaps hoping to pick up a pre-owned instrument in the near future? Being able to identify the origins and wood types of its various components is important here, both for making sure you get good value for money and for selecting the right approaches to treatment and wood care in order to maximize the sound quality and longevity of your piano.

 

We’ve spotted one potentially useful online tool for helping to confirm which type of wood has been used in specific parts of your instrument: this handy interactive guide, put together by a specialist UK wood care company, is particularly convenient because it allows you to narrow your search from a wide range of potential wood types down to the most likely candidates. You can then click through to learn more about each variety’s typical characteristics, and the best ways to treat and protect them respectively.

 

Combined with some of our previous posts right here on Piano Emporium about the construction of specific components, the importance of humidity control, tips on key care and how to protect your case finish, you should be well on your way to a good understanding of how those parts all play their own unique and important roles – and why each needs to be identified and cared for appropriately.

Posted in Antique Pianos, Buying Guide, Grand Pianos, Piano Care, Piano parts, Upright Pianos Tagged with: ,

Learning to Play the Piano is Easier than You Think, and YOU Can Learn to Play

Learning to Play the Piano is Easier than You Think,

and YOU Can Learn to Play

To begin, I’d like to give you a little background about myself. Growing up, we had a piano in the house. I had been curious enough to tinker around on the keys, but I never was too serious about it as a child. My mom put me into piano lessons at a young age (around 5) but I asked her if I could stop after just a few lessons, and she let me. <I didn’t get any further than playing Mary Had a Little Lamb; so, in retrospect, those lessons were more or less irrelevant. I eventually learned a few little ditties to play such as chopsticks, a very, very basic version of the Pink Panther theme, and that little tune you play with your knuckles on the black keys. Again, none of these were serious endeavors. But there was a deep seeded curiosity beneath it all to learn to play that never really went away. And as I got older, my curiosity with the piano grew.

A few listings out of the THOUSANDS of results for online piano tutorials.

At this point, if you’re reading this blog, I would venture a guess that you too have the same underlying desire to learn how to play. I’m here to tell you that you can, and that you already have at your disposal all the information you need in order to be able to play.

Well, eventually my curiosity got the best of me, and I finally decided I was going to actually learn to play the piano – not just tinker around on it. And so I began a journey in my mid-teens to learn, and I cannot tell you how much joy that decision continues to bring me each and every day. iPad Sheet MusicI am largely self-taught, and I played on my own for nearly 6 years before I realized formal lessons would be a good idea. But now, in the age of the Internet, learning to play an instrument on your own has never been easier, and it is completely feasible to teach yourself how to play to a relatively high level of comprehension without enrolling in any music lessons. A teacher will always be a good idea, and we offer lessons here at the Piano Emporium, but there are so many different places to go now for tips on everything from technique, to theory, to improving reading skills, to understanding rhythms better that just simply did not exist outside of a lesson a mere 15-20 years ago. And it now can all be reached from your pocket or your desktop. You can essentially find all the educational material to learn today for FREE, if you’re willing to search for it.

Like any skill worth developing, playing piano does take time. That is one obstacle to overcome – finding the time to play. But, the next time you sit down to waste away in front of the TV, ask yourself, what am I really going to take away from this? Or next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed, pay attention to how much time you’re giving up that you could have spent doing something a bit more productive. I know we all need to decompress, especially at the end of the day – I get that. But if you could find just a half hour a day to spend in front of the keys, over the course of a few months, YOU could learn to play the piano. You could even make decent progress by just dedicating twenty minutes a day (as long as those twenty minutes were focused). Twenty minutes. That’s not even the length of a TV show. Just like anything else, the more time you spend, the faster you will progress and the better you will get. But you could easily add playing the piano into your life without making any big sacrifice, and end up with an incredibly rewarding skill to show for it.

If you’ve always wanted to learn and you don’t currently have an instrument in your house, now would also be a GREAT time to get either a keyboard, digital, hybrid, or acoustic piano, as nearly all our inventory is marked down significantly through Christmas. So, my recommendation to you is, if you have that same deep-seeded curiosity to know how to play, don’t run from it because you will regret it later in life. Trust me, I’ve seen that same wave of regret wash over countless faces in conversation when the topic of playing the piano comes up. Do your [near]future self a favor and learn to play today!Grand and upright piano

 

(Also, here is a link to the International Music Score Library Project website – http://www.imslp.org/ – that has a FREE copy of literally any piece of music within the public domain, a great resource for FREE sheet music)

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Piano Care: Caring For Your Piano’s Finish

Out of all musical instruments, the piano is unique in that it also serves as a furniture piece for the room in which it sits. It is more than just a fine musical instrument. The piano is such a prominent feature amongst western culture specifically, that the term “piano finish” has been universally adopted to describe the highest quality in wood finishes. Being attentive to the finish of your piano can not only help maintain the value of the instrument if you ever decide to sell it, but it also adds to the overall décor of the house. Here are a couple things to keep in mind to keep your piano’s finish looking its best.

Pianos today are finished using multiple types of material, including polyurethanes, traditional lacquers, and polyester resins.  The main function of the piano finish is to protect the instrument –  from knocked over drinks (which you should never set on the piano to begin with) to dirt and dust. The finish is also intended to minimize any of the damage incurred from changes in humidity, and, for clear finishes, to bring out the natural beauty in the wooden piano case. Modern finishes are created to do their job with no additional help from any waxes or polishes, and are best maintained by simply keeping them clean. It is also important to keep your piano out of any direct sunlight, avoid extremes in both humidity and temperature, and, of course, any abrasion or blunt force damage.

Because it is constructed from wood, your piano’s cabinet will expand and contract with changes in humidity. If exposed to enough of these changes, your piano’s finish will eventually begin to develop cracks and can even come loose from the wood itself. So, moderating the environment around the piano is a vital part of caring for the finish (as well as helping with tuning stability and the overall structure of the interior parts of the piano, like the action). It is important then to keep your piano in an area that is not subject to wild swings in humidity or temperature – keep it away from air ducts, doorways leading to the outside, heat sources, and always avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

Be careful when dusting your piano. Always start with either a feather duster or a wet cloth to remove dust. Dust is, surprisingly, extremely abrasive, and will scratch your finish (especially a polished ebony finish) if it is removed with a dry cloth.  Also, make sure you use soft fabric towels – like cotton – and avoid most synthetics as they are usually quite coarse.

Avoid polishes. Common household products such as “furniture polish” and “lemon oil” should be avoided absolutely, as they can ruin the finish. Furniture polishes often contain silicone and other oils that actually soften the finish, making it more prone to scratching. The presence of silicone is especially dangerous as it contaminates the wood beneath the finish, and can spread to the internal parts of the piano, often wreaking havoc on vital, interior parts. Also, avoid aerosol sprays, as the over-spray from these canisters can damage the metal parts inside your piano, such as the tuning pins and the strings. If you feel your piano does need some polishing, make sure you buy a sanctioned polish specific to your piano’s finish that is designed FOR pianos. Your best bet would be to stop by your local piano dealership and ask their technicians what they recommend.

And lastly, you may notice that over time your piano’s keys become grimy from accumulated oil and dirt from playing. The best method for removing this buildup is to use a soft cloth with water and just a little bit of mild soap.  Make sure the cloth is good and wrung out so that no water or soap trickles down over the side of the keys into the keybed.

With these few precautions, you can keep your piano’s finish looking as good as it did the day you bought it!

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Give Your Child the Gift of Music

Music heals the mind, body and soul. In our current, broken world, the need for music may never have been so important. Scientific study after study have shown that the power of music stretches far past just generating the impulse to dance. Soothing classical music has been proven to reduce blood pressure, alleviate anxiety, child with headphonesdecrease depression, take away general tension, and correct mood disorders – as opposed to treating these issues with prescription pills, which in turn create a litany of other problems.   

Studies have demonstrated that learning to play an instrument exponentially increases these health benefits. Not only does playing an instrument improve the speed and efficiency of established cognitive pathways, but it also helps create new ones – especially in the cortexes that handle mathematics and language. These changes aid in the processing of information beyond just musical notes and rhythms, and have been shown to actually increase the proficiency of vital organs. The world in which we live is full of tension and stress, and having music as part of your daily life can help your mind and body cope with the pressures.

For these same reasons, it is extremely beneficial to introduce your children to music as well. If introduced at an early age, the likelihood that they will eventually develop the skill set to play an instrument is greatly increased. boy at the pianoBut just having music present in your home is enough to increase the cerebral benefits music brings.

Exposing children at an early age to the world of music can help create cognitive pathways that otherwise may not develop, or at least not as strongly. It has been proven that children who are exposed to music – particularly the learning of a musical instrument – learn new information faster (and retain it better) than their non-instrument-playing peers. If you really want to give your child a head start in life, introduce them to a musical instrument.

The piano is a great place to start. Out of all instruments, it is the one that is most immediately playable. Without any formal training, anyone can play all 88 notes of a standard acoustic kids at the pianopiano. Like all other instruments, there is absolutely proper technique in playing the piano as well, but no other instrument (except similar percussive instruments, like the marimba or vibraphone) is as immediately accessible – making it the perfect instrument to introduce a child to. As an added bonus, pianos double as beautiful decorative pieces for the house. Having a piano present in the house is often enough to generate the curiosity to start playing (that’s how I got my start!).

Here at the Piano Emporium, we have pianos of all colors and sizes that fit every budget and preference. Child with musicCome by either of our two locations – 828 Hendersonville Rd, Asheville, NC or 285 N. Main St., Weaverville, NC – to see our selection of both new and used instruments, and give your child the gift of music!

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Why You Should Have Your Piano Regulated

Even if you have your piano tuned regularly, you may eventually start to notice that your piano doesn’t quite feel the same as it did when it was newYamaha Piano FrontThis will be especially true if your piano receives a lot of use. This occurs for a variety of reasons, such as normal wear and tear to the action, excessive expansion and contraction of the wooden parts, loss of strength in the steel springs, normal felt compression, damage from moths or other bugs with an appetite for felt, or just general neglect. Even a tolerance loss of a few thousandths of an inch can cause the regulation in an action to operate differently. These changes will eventually become evident in the way the keys feel and how the piano plays. Because these parts within your action will inevitably change, it is important to have your piano regulated occasionally to return the piano back to its best playable condition.

A prudent piano owner Piano action will have their piano serviced regularly. During routine tunings, a quality technician can check for issues within the action and can even make spot regulation adjustments. A complete action regulation involves the adjustment and timing of thousands of parts that make up the action mechanism within all acoustic pianos, and this needs to be scheduled separately from a tuning, as it is a pretty time-intensive process. Occasionally having this done will keep the piano from developing response issues in the future, and keep your piano playing like you want it to. This kind of preventive care lengthens the life of the piano, and allows for the continued enjoyment of the instrument.

piano action removed

Having your piano regulated occasionally will make playing your piano a more pleasurable experience. Next time you have your piano tuned, ask one of our certified technicians to examine your piano’s action to see if there are some changes that could be made to help your instrument sound and play better.

 

Piano regulated - Piano action with boards removed

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7 Undeniable Reasons People Love the Piano

In the world of musical instruments, the piano is king. No instrument (with maybe the exception of the human voice) has had more impact on western music than thePiano of luxury piano. Invented early in the 18th century by Bartolomeo Christofori, the piano eventually worked its way into nearly every household by the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Before the advent of the radio, the piano was the central entertainment piece of nearly every house in the developed world. The same reasons people love the piano today are the same reasons people loved the piano 100 years ago, and here are seven of them:

  • Fun – Playing the piano is a true joy. In an era not dominated by electronics and gadgets that provide instant (yet superficial) gratification, the act of playing the piano was a very common pastime. Set a child in front of the ivories, and that child will sit and play uninterrupted for as long as the adults in the room can stand it. Obviously some of us enjoy sound more than
    others, but a love of music iChild playing pianos virtually universal. If the time is invested in playing, the joy from producing beautiful harmonies and melodies is one of the best things on earth.
  • Sound – The sound created by the piano is unlike anything else on the planet. Capable of sounding fleeting and effervescent one instant, and gritty and powerful the next, few other instruments have anything close to the range of the piano – both tonally and dynamically. Of all instruments, the piano is also considered the most similar to the human voice. Try listening to a Chopin Nocturne (I recommend the one in Bflat minor) played live and tell me that sound doesn’t move you.
  • Looks – Pianos are elegant. concert grand pianoPianos are classy, and automatically raise the status of just about any room they sit in. The shiny, black silhouette of a concert grand piano is about as iconic as it gets. Some of the cases are incredibly ornate, but across the board, nearly every piano produced is at least intended to be aesthetically pleasing.
  • Health – Playing the piano is good for your brain and the overall functionality of your body. It has been proven over the past few decades, as the technology to quantify changes in the brain has improved, that playing music stimulates more of your brain simultaneously than any other activity. Playing an instrument is also one of the best mental releases, and actually helps regulate your organs and body functions as well.
  • Positivity – Playing the piano is good for your mental health and mood. Separate from #4, the actual act of sitting and playing causeperson playing pianos a large release of serotonin, much more so than just listening. Though there is certainly a most efficient way to play the piano, you don’t have to learn any embouchure or fingerings – just press the keys – which makes the piano one of the easiest instruments to learn how to play, and will give you a way to healthily regulate your moods (as opposed to turning to prescription drugs).
  • Educational – Learning the piano is the best way to study music and learn music theory. Unlike all other instruments – with the exception of other percussive pitch instruments, like the vibraphone and marimba – piano entertainerthe piano is the only instrument you look directly at the notes your playing. Even the guitar is not as cut and dry. There is one and only one key for each pitch. And they are laid out in a very visible black and white color scheme, making it much easier to see what you’re doing. Learning the piano also makes learning other instruments less difficult.
  • Entertaining – Even if you’re not a piano player yourself, you never know which one of your guests may be able to dazzle you with their skills. Just having the instrument present in the house provides the potential for some great live entertainment.

There are more reasons to love the piano, but here are seven of them. If you don’t own one of these fine instruments, but are thinking about potentially buying one, don’t hesitate to give us a call! We have pianos of all sizes that fit every budget.

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Getting the Most Out of Your Instrument: Helping Your Piano Retain its Value

Caring for Your Piano

Do you own a piano? Are you thinking about possibly selling it? There are some things you can do to help it retain its value.

Buying an instrument is an emotional decision. In order for someone to pay a fair market price for your piano, they will need to fall in love with the idea of buying it first. Help your piano retain its valueHow can you help retain its value? Make sure the piano is receiving regular tunings so it is functioning at its best. These are ideally done during the spring and the fall, when the humidity levels start to drastically change. Another thing to consider would be to have the action regulated, so it feels smooth and effortless to play. Your piano doesn’t sound like it used to? Consider having one of our RPT [Registered Piano Technician] certified techs voice your piano (see Does Your Piano Need Voicing? for more information on exactly what this process entails, and check out our blog The Right Piano Care, the Right Technician to learn more about why you should use an RPT certified tech) to improve its sound. And use a PRE-APPROVED method of conditioning the finish – DO NOT use some of the ‘do it yourself’ techniques, like using lemon juice, as this can irreparably damage the finish and hurt the value of the piano. We sell a few different piano-specific polishes that will make your piano shine like new!

You're perfect

Just remember, first impressions are important. If you decide to sell your instrument, and it’s not in tune, someone who may have otherwise bought your piano may play it and decide it’s not for them – even if they KNOW that all it needs is a regular tuning. Buying an instrument really is an emotional decision. Make sure you do your part to make that interaction between the potential buyer and your instrument as impactful as possible.Antique Piano

 

If you have a piano but know little about its history, make sure to check out our Antique Piano Guide to help you get started. Have any questions? Give us a call at (828)277-5566, and we will be glad to help! 

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The Right Piano Care, the Right Technician

Piano Care: Making Sure You Have the Right Technician

Piano Care - Open PianoYour piano is probably one of the most mechanically complex items you own. There are over 10,000 individual parts in a piano that all need to be maintained in order for the instrument to work properly. Even the best cared-for pianos require occasional work, and they certainly should be tuned at least twice a year – not only for the sake of the piano player, but for the overall health of the instrument too – so, getting the right piano care is extremely important.

Piano care Technician at work

Piano technician regulating the action

Because these instruments are so complex, it is also important to have the right person service your piano. Here at Piano Emporium, we are fortunate to have three Registered Piano Technicians (RPTs). These members are part of the Piano Technicians Guild, which is the world’s premiere source of expertise in piano service and technology. Between all of our techs, we have over 80 years of experience tuning, maintaining, and servicing pianos. 

Notice keys starting to stick? Your piano doesn’t have the same sound or feel that you remember when you first got it? Any notes having trouble repeating? If you find yourself stuck with any of these problems (or anything else relative to your piano), please don’t hesitate to give us a call! We are here to serve you.

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Humidity Control System: How to Save Your Piano’s Life

piano humidity control system 1

About 90% of your piano is made up of two things: metal and wood. They seem like sturdy enough materials, right? Well, they are, but one of the properties of wood causes a problem. Wood swells and shrinks with changes in humidity, and presses against the metal parts. And thus, we have the age-old battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

In the summertime, when it’s hot and muggy, the wood inside your piano is going to take on moisture. That is the unstoppable force. Even the best climate controlled homes are not perfect, and the wood in your piano will absorb any increase in humidity. The same applies in the winter when the dry, arid air draws any remnants of moisture embedded in the wood, and subsequently shrinks it. This seasonal game of tug of war between the wooden and metal parts ultimately can be very damaging to the instrument.

The process of the wood seasonally swelling and shrinking, pressing firmly against the metal components, is what will eventually hinder your piano’s ability to hold its tune. Believe it or not, there are over 20,000 lbs of pressure exerted on your piano by its strings, all pulling at components called the tuning pins. These pins are drilled and inserted into a large wooden block, called the pin block. Eventually, if that block swells and shrinks enough with changes in humidity, the wood directly in contact with the pins loses its structural integrity, and can no longer firmly hold the pins in place. Then, the pressure of those strings pulls the pins out of their intended alignment, the pins lean, and the piano goes out of tune. It’s that simple.

Why am I telling you this? Because there is something you can do about it. You may not be able to control the absorptive properties of wood, but you can do something about the humidity inside your piano. Oftentimes, people think controlling the climate in the house is enough. But as I mentioned before, no house is a perfect vacuum. There are places – like near doorways, windows, and air ducts – that fluctuate in humidity, no matter how powerful a house-wide climate control system is. In fact, areas near AC ventilation tend to dry out the wood inside your piano, even if it is during the hottest, most humid part of the year.

Humidity Control System: A Solution for Your Piano

piano humidity control system

So, what is the solution? A humidity control system designed specifically for the piano. These systems will regulate any changes in humidity with a built in humidifier and dehumidifier, keeping the humidity level constant. Thus, there is virtually no swelling or shrinking of the wood, no pressing and receding against metal tuning pins, and no bending and cracking of the soundboard. They also greatly increase the longevity of tunings, meaning you will not have to deal with painfully sharp/flat notes in between regular tunings. And they greatly reduce issues with the action – like stuck keys, which are a result of the wooden parts swelling with humidity.

Humidity systems also have many other benefits. They help protect the piano’s finish. They greatly decrease the chance of glue failure throughout the piano. When something like a hammer, or pieces of felt around the keys, or dampers come loose, they are very time-consuming to fix, and can run up steep repair costs. The system also keeps the strings and other metallic parts from developing rust – rusted strings being much more likely to break, and rusted tuning pins more difficult to turn during tunings. Regulating the humidity within the piano keeps the hammers from becoming too firm (in low humidity periods), which generates a harsh and overly bright tone. And keeping humidity levels constant keeps the hammers from softening too much as well (in high humidity periods), which will make the piano sound muffled.

For a small upfront cost, a humidity control system can actually save you a lot of money in the long run, and make your playing experience much more enjoyable. Please talk to us today about having one of these systems installed on either your upright or grand acoustic piano! It may just save your piano’s life (and help your pocket book too!).

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The Yamaha Montage: the “Mother of all Synths”

The Yamaha Montage: the “Mother of all Synths”

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the new Yamaha Montage – and for good reason. It is an absolute beast of a machine. Yamaha pushed the envelope of what synthesizers are capable of with the new Montage, prompting publications like Music Tech to call it, “the mother of all synths” and, “possibly the biggest synth ever made”. The Montage has barely even made it to stores, and it’s already turning heads both in the music industry and among hobbyists.

Yamaha MontageResoundingly, the first impression of every review has been how incredible the SOUND is. Quietly for years, Yamaha has been bringing in the best sound engineers on the planet to construct the sounds for the Montage, and their painstaking attention to detail clearly paid off. Everything, from the strings of the actual Seattle Symphony Orchestra to the massive 9-foot CFX grand, sounds absolutely incredible. To quote Keyboard Magazine (who gave the Montage their coveted ‘buy’ stamp of approval), “Montage’s sound quality is so good, and its real-time performance control so engaging, that it may well be one of the most influential synthesizers of the next 15 years.” This thing truly is a artist’s dream.

The Montage is first and foremost a performance instrument. That’s not to say it can’t function as a workstation, but the folks from Yamaha focused their design and also put heavy emphasis during the rollout that this is NOT intended to be a workstation. Accompanying the high praises for its sound, the Montage is also being lauded for how effortless it is to use, especially in a ‘live’ setting. The new Motion Control Synthesizer engine – which is actually made up of two separate engines, the Advanced Wave Memory 2 (AWM2) and the state of the art Frequency Modulator (FM-X), either used individually or in tandem – ensures that any changes on the fly happen instantaneously.  And, thanks to the new Seamless Sound Switching (SSS) technology, they happen without interruption. The patented new SSS technology makes switching from one sound to the next audibly indistinguishable – which is ideal for the live performer.

Yamah Montage with PerformerThe next generation of Frequency Modulation engine, dubbed the FM-X, is what really makes this instrument shine. The sounds are incredible, as is the layout, but it’s the Montage’s ability to morph these sounds into endless colors and textures that is really driving the hype. Building on the legacy of the groundbreaking DX-7, and the more recent Motif, Yamaha has exponentially increased the capability of the new age synthesizer with the Montage.

It may sound cliché, but you really do have to hear the Yamaha Montage to believe how incredible this machine sounds, and use it to fully understand how remarkably easy and fun it is to use. You do not have to be a professional to derive hours upon hours of musical pleasure from the Yamaha Montage. Come stop by the Asheville store and try it out for yourself!

Yamaha Montage

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