That Unfamiliar Piano

Some students fret that the recital piano is a huge grand whereas they practice on a small upright. Fortunately, the larger pianos are easier to play than the smaller ones. Therefore the issue of a different piano is usually not something to worry about for the typical student recital. Larger pianos generally have better action, and both louder and softer sounds are easier to produce on them. In particular, grands are easier to play than uprights, especially for fast, difficult passages. Thus the only time you may have to be concerned about the piano is when the recital piano is decidedly inferior to your practice piano. The worst situation is the one in which your practice piano is a quality grand, but you must perform using low quality upright. In that case, technically difficult pieces will be very difficult to play on the inferior piano and you may need to take that into account, for example, by playing at a slower tempo, or shortening or slowing down the trill, etc. The actions of grands can be slightly heavier than those of uprights, which may give some beginners problems, so it is advisable to practice on the grand before the recital. On average, the key weight feel of grands and uprights is about the same because, although most grands have heavier action, they produce more sound, and the two effects tend to cancel each other out. Of course, it is impossible to generalize about pianos because there is so much variation from piano to piano, even within the same model piano from the same manufacturer. Therefore, you should always try to practice on the recital piano before the recital.

Another important factor is the tuning of the piano. Pianos in good tune are significantly easier to play than one out of tune. Therefore, it is a good idea to tune the recital piano just before the recital. Conversely, it is not a good idea to tune the practice piano just before the recital unless it is badly out of tune. Therefore, if the recital piano is out of tune, it may be best to play slightly faster and louder than you intended. Because of the tendency of out of tune pianos to cause flubs and blackouts, the practice piano should always be in reasonable tune. Otherwise, the students may develop a habit of stuttering or lose their confidence in their ability to memorize.

Proper voicing of the hammers (see Chapt. Two, section 7) is more critical than most people realize. The importance of practicing musically, and especially of being able to play softly, is mentioned repeatedly in this book. You can't do any of that without properly voiced hammers. Hammer voicing is too often neglected in practice pianos with the result that musical playing becomes nearly impossible. How can you practice performing on a piano with which it is impossible to perform? There are many students who think that they cannot perform, simply because their pianos were not properly maintained. The folklore that a great pianist can produce great music using any piano is not true. Please read the section on voicing.