Open Piano Week

During the first couple weeks of our Fall term, I had several students who were very interested in (and somewhat distracted by) the moving parts in the piano while they played their music. So I decided that during the final week of August, we'd have an "Open Piano Week" here in the studio. During lessons that week, the lid on the studio's baby grand was lifted and each lesson included in introduction to what goes on under the lid when we play music. Students had some great questions and observations, and were so engaged that I think for next school year, we will dedicate our first Piano Party to a detailed look at how the piano works! 
So here's what we learned as we identified all the tiny moving parts that work together to make music when we strike the piano's keys:
learning about dampers
  • Strings - these are often the first things students noticed as we looked under the lid. We discussed how most of the notes on the piano have 3 strings that ring together, except at the lower register of the bass clef where there is just one or 2 strings per note. 
  • Hammers - Looking down past the strings we could see the hammers coming up to strike the strings when the keys were pressed. We discussed that when they hit the strings they cause them to vibrate, and that's what produces the tone we hear. 
  • Dampers - These were an object of big curiosity, since they are visible under the music stand when sitting at the piano (and so often causing distracted playing as curiosity takes over). We discussed how the dampers' job is to shush the strings and prevent them from vibrating. We noticed that when we push a key, it's damper lifts, allowing that string to vibrate without disturbing any of the strings next to it. 
    • We took this one step further and explored what the Damper Pedal (pedal on the right) does to create sustained sound. Students were often very surprised to see ALL the dampers lift when I pushed the pedal, and quickly grasped the concept of the dampers 'shushing' the strings when the pedal was released.
  • Tuning Pegs -  We remembered that since there are up to 3 strings for each note, it's very important that all three are tuned to the exact same pitch - otherwise the notes are out of tune with themselves! We remembered that it's important to get our pianos tuned about once a year to keep them sounding their best.
  • Soundboard - And the last element we talked about was the soundboard - the solid piece of wood that underpins the whole inner workings of the piano. We discussed how it's job is to amplify the sounds the strings make. 
One last note is that I encouraged students to look with their eyes, and point to the pieces they saw without actually touching the inner piano for the most part. The piano does have lots of moving parts that we don't want to disturb, and the oil on our hands can erode the strings and cause some other problems if done frequently.

That said, if you have an acoustic piano at home, I'd encourage you to open the lid and take a look! If you have an upright piano, it will look a little bit different than the baby grand because the layout is vertical, but if you lift the lid at the top and look down into the instrument, you can get a pretty cool birds-eye perspective! I feel that a better understanding of the instrument itself can increase a student's curiosity, wonder and engagement with making music on it, and the curiosity and excitement we saw around our Open Piano Week definitely seems to support that! 

Check back here next week for an announcement about our next one-month practice challenge. ;-)