Different Pianos

My teacher has a much travelled Kawai grand and a Steinway. I usually play the Kawai and each time it seems to take me 30 minutes before I start to like it. Three or four lessons back, I was on the Steinway (I can’t remember why) and it was terrible – I just couldn’t control the sound, notes would stick out all over the place and I got rather depressed about it.

I’ve often wondered how to put into words that instinctive feeling one gets when sitting down to play a ‘good’ piano and what it is that makes me say I’d never give others house-room. I think it comes down to responsiveness. It’s as if a poor piano has only 3 volume levels and you the player have more (say 6) so the piano rounds up or down your input and it’s totally dissatisfying that the sound you get doesn’t reflect your input. The corollary of this is that a really good piano totally exposes any unevenness of touch which a lesser instrument would even out. I’ve no idea is any of this is scientifically valid.

Having worked on expression, tone and line at home recently I found myself on the Steinway and it was different I felt much more able to do what I wanted with it. I played the opening of the Faure Nocturne in E flat, perhaps rather timidly and with a narrow range of expression but I did feel in control. With encouragement I then broadened my dynamic range and I really enjoyed it.

Fear of playing unmusically can really get in the way and lead to a downward spiral of fear, tension, poor results, more fear etc. After playing for 30 years plus, I am now becoming aware of ‘freedom’ and ‘relaxation’

Another feature of the Steinway was the scale passages in a Beethoven last movement. My teacher said they were leggiero and legato would be better. I could certainly hear gaps between the notes and this was puzzling me because I don’t hear any at home. So now I am wondering if the Steinway damps a few milli-seconds more quickly than my piano. Until I worked with my teacher, my legato was always the same, but she has encouraged me to overlap the notes and I have read about this in books. So having played scales the same way for 30 years I’m now trying to hear the next note before releasing the current one. I could do with an hour’s private exploration of the Steinway.

At my level, a pianist’s work is never done.