when and how loud

I have been thinking about how exactly one accomplishes expression on piano and organ. It’s not like string instruments where one touches the string or wind instruments where the embouchure is critical. Fingers on an organ keyboard basically only turn the sound on and off. On a piano keyboard they also affect the loudness or softness of the notes produced. But what about tone?

I have seen studies that say no difference shows up on an oscilloscope (or whatever one uses to physically measure the sound) between using a pencil to play a note on the piano and using your fingers.

As a student of piano I have learned that one can somehow make a good tone on the piano. This involves using as much of the skin of the finger in contact with the key, we are taught.

And I can tell when a pianist is doing this.

But I have to ask myself what am I hearing when I hear a good tone quality in music?

Also when I was an organ grad student at Notre Dame my teacher, Craig Cramer, talked to me at length about thinking about producing a good tone with organ technique. He used to say that the beginning of any musical technique on any instrument is determining how to make a good sound.

This is borne out by a story Mr. Olson, (a clarinetist & teacher at Ohio Wesleyan University where I briefly attended) once told me. He said he was studying clarinet with some famous player in Paris. He went and played for him. The Parisian teacher stopped him. He said, play this note. Then he said, that is a good note. Go away and don’t come back until they all sound that good.

So Mr. Olson rented a church basement in Paris and played long tones attempting to match all of the notes in his register to the quality of the note his teacher had pointed out.

Tone is basic.


But I have come to suspect that the subjective experience of when notes occur in organ and piano playing  and how loud they are in piano playing creates a transmission of meaning and tone.

Another factor in my thinking is observing how technology allows complete accuracy in rhythm and pitch. One can either use it to make deadly accurate sounds or use it to adjust sounds into absolute accuracy.

The result is often curiously sterile.

So maybe the intention (usually not conscious) of beauty in sound on the piano and the organ causes tiny inaccuracies that end up sounding like meaning to the listener.

I recently was watching some YouTube videos of a masterclass by the pianist György Sebök.

click on the pic to go there

I was startled when he made this comment: “”We play the notes sooner and later, and louder and softer, and technically that’s all we can do.”

He was actually trying to gently lead a pianist to a less subjective rendering of a Haydn sonata movement.

So when you play a note on the piano and how loud and how soft you play it can lead to more or less coherent actual subjective meaning.


Frozen Dead Guy Days, a Festival in Colorado, Stays Put – NYTimes.com

Sick humor.


The Iowa Caucuses – NYTimes.com

Partisan but on the money. I especially like the phrase “dark and disturbing” when referring to the images Republicans are putting forth.


Oedipus Rex Complex – NYTimes.com

Maureen Dowd reminds us of the history of Mitt Romney and his dad.


The Forgotten Wages of War – NYTimes.com

Essay that says something I often think, what about all of the people being killed in wars?


Relatives of 9/11 Victims, Suspecting Hacking, Await Answers – NYTimes.com

Wonder if it will ever be known who was tapping this phones and if they used the information as this article implies.


China Set to Punish Another Human Rights Activist – NYTimes.com

Blithely reading this article and ran across quote from Jerome Cohen. He is the boss/mentor of my quasi-son-in-law, Jeremy Daum.


Manhattan Street Grid at Museum of City of New York – NYTimes.com

The history of cities fascinates me.


English Pronunciation | The Poke:

My niece, Emily Bastian, put this one up on Facebook. I enjoyed reading the whole thing aloud. I love words.


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2 thoughts on “when and how loud

  1. One of my criticisms of digitally recorded music was a loss of tonal quality. A magnetic recording device does pick up tonal variations and records it in the same way. I suppose that is why I have kept my vinyl recordings. Anyway, just an observation.

  2. You didn’t get rid of any of your records? Good man. I was foolish and got rid of some of mine. Still have around 250 to 300 sitting around, though.

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