Changes You Can Make Yourself Which Affect Your Piano's Tone
First a bit of the science of sound. A piano with a "bright" tone has many upper partials. A piano with a "subdued" tone lacks a large number of upper partials.
Hard surfaces reflect sound. Soft surfaces absorb it.
Where Your Piano is Placed
Where you place your piano influences how it sounds.
Hardwood or tile floors, high and hard ceilings, hard walls (windows, wood paneling, brick), non-upholstered furniture, and absence of people provide the most "live" of acoustical conditions. Conversely, a room with a plethora of soft surfaces, such as upholstered furniture, thick carpet and drapery, and people, has a more subdued acoustic condition.
If you want a bright, incisive sound, place your instrument in a room with a preponderance of hard surfaces.
If you prefer a more muffled tone, don't worry about hard surfaces. If necessary, add soft surfaces to help absorb the sound.
For a Brighter Sound
There are some simple things you can do to improve the acoustics in your piano room.
Barring a subdued sound as the result of factory specs, here are some suggestions for making a muffled piano tone brighter:
- Open the lid of a grand piano. Sound from the strings is reflected outwards by the lid, which acts as an amplifier. The lid should open out into the room rather than towards a wall.
- Keep draperies to a minimum. A single, unlined drapery will absorb less sound than a lined, double window treatment topped with a deeply-draped cornice. An undraped window is even more live. Be careful that sunlight doesn't stream in on your instrument, however, as temperature changes cause your piano to go out of tune.
- Open the draperies so the hard glass is exposed.
- Use light fabrics. Velvets and brocades absorb more sound than does antique satin, cotton chintz, or gauze.
- Replace plush, wall-to-wall carpet in favor of a lower-nap carpet or an area rug on a hard floor (wood or tile).
- Remove acoustical tile or texturing in the ceiling.
- Select furniture which has minimal or no upholstery.
- Have your tech revoice the piano.
For a More Subdued Sound
Some piano rooms are too live. The instrument's sound is strident or the reverberation is so long that notes seem to ring forever, causing a muddled result. If this is the case, add "dampening agents" to the room.
Here are ways to dampen the upper partials and absorb sound on a general basis:
- Close the lid of a grand piano or use the half-stick.
- Put acrylic caster cups under the piano legs. This isolates the piano from the hardwood floor so that the floor no longer functions as an extra soundboard/amplifier.
- Put weather-stripping at the bottom of the outside doors.
- Put cork on the walls and acoustical tile on the ceiling.
- Install wall-to-wall carpeting.
- Add heavier draperies.
- Install double-pane windows.
- Select lushly-upholstered furniture.
- As a last resort, have your tech voice the piano to a more mellow tone.
copyright 1999-2006, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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