Be Prepared to Be Prepared

February 9, 2017

Two consecutive concerts, two wildly different pianos—it’s nothing unusual for a touring musician. Most players just deal with whatever they get. But what if the piano’s interior is more important to your gig than the keyboard action itself?

I recently spent two weeks workshopping a theater piece that featured a prepared grand piano onstage. The biggest challenge was adapting the required sound palette to a new instrument in each venue. Because the interior layout of pianos differ depending on the make and model, it can be difficult to play certain notes with, say, an ebow due to structural variations between instruments in different venues. Check out the two instruments pictured—a vintage C. Bechstein and a newer Yamaha—and you’ll see differences in string lengths and proportions, in crossover points of the middle- and low-register strings, and in the bracing features of the harp. So how does one stay prepared, so to speak?

When booking a show where I plan to work directly on the strings, I always ask ahead of time if it’s okay to add preparations and what kinds of materials would the piano owner prefer I don’t use (such as metal screws or dimes). I also ask for the make and model of the piano and request a photo of its interior so I can plan ahead for areas of the instrument that are difficult to access. And if I am playing a model that I haven’t seen before, I snap a photo (with the preparations inside) to remember the details, in case I run into that same model in the future.

If you are interested in exploring techniques for playing directly on the strings of a grand piano, visit keyboardmag.com to see some of the materials that are commonly used and to learn how to prepare the instrument without causing damage.

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