Can You Replace Just one Piano String?

 

Last week we talked about how long piano strings last, today we are going to discuss whether or not it’s possible to replace only a single string. This is something I deal with on a regular basis. I have very intense practice sessions and I regularly break strings on my Baldwin SD-10 concert grand piano.

 

When it comes to piano, you should always have an experienced tuner or technician replace the string for you – unless you are well versed in servicing pianos. You must install the correct gauge string properly so it matches the other strings – you will want to make sure it’s wound tightly and that the becket (the part of the string that points out from the hole) is flush, among other issues that must be addressed when replacing a string. It’s not a job for an amateur.

 

If you’re familiar with other string instruments, like guitar for example, you know that replacing a single string can be a bit problematic. In the case of a guitar, replacing one string will cause that string to stand out from the older ones on the instrument. It will have a brighter sound and it will go out of tune much more easily than the strings you already have on there until it stabilizes. When it comes to piano, you will find similar problems.

 

Replacing a single string on a piano will cause that string to go out tune quite regularly. It will need to be touched up regularly – possibly eight to ten times before it holds a tuning. What a lot of piano tuners will do is to stretch the string a little sharp and insert a small rubber wedge to avoid hearing the out of tune string. The next time they come to tune the piano the string will probably hold pitch better and they can hopefully get the piano back to normal.

 

What I suggest for serious players is to become somewhat competent in touching up the tuning of your piano. I own a tuning hammer and a set of wedges and I constantly touch up the tuning of my piano. This enables you to enjoy your piano without having to constantly have a technician or tuner come over to tune your new strings. It’s worth learning if you find yourself breaking strings regularly. Not only that, but you can keep your piano in tune longer by touching up the tuning between piano technician visits.

 

When it comes to copper wound bass strings, there is a bit more involved. These strings are very specific and it may require you to send in the string to the manufacturer and have them send you a replication. Mapes is a great string manufacturer that provides this service. If the piano is very old and the bass strings are a bit tarnished, a new bass string could be significantly brighter than the others. At this point you might consider replacing the whole set of bass strings which could really brighten up the sound giving new life to your piano.

 

It’s not the end of the world breaking piano strings, but it requires some work and the help of an experienced tuner to remedy the situation. If you find yourself breaking strings regularly, you should consider learning how to touch up the tuning on your piano. You may also consult with your piano technician to see if there are issues with your piano that are causing strings to break.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com

  Last week we talked about how long piano strings last, today we are going to discuss whether or not it’s possible to replace only a single string. This is something I deal with on a regular basis. I have very intense practice sessions and I regularly break strings on my Baldwin SD-10 concert grand piano.   When it comes […]

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Why are Instruments in Different Keys?

 

When you think about all instruments being in different keys it can be confusing. You have clarinet in B-flat, saxophone in E-flat, and French horn in F: why are they pitched in different keys? It seems it would be better to just write everything in concert pitch, wouldn’t it? Believe it or not, it makes a lot more sense to have some instruments in different keys.

 

When you look at the family of saxophones you may realize that all the different types of saxophones are pitched differently – yet they all have roughly the same fingerings. This enables a saxophone player to move from instrument to instrument seamlessly. The saxophone is also a transposing instrument. This means that a saxophone pitched in E- flat playing a C will sound an E-flat on the piano which is in concert pitch. Many instruments are transposing instruments which do not play in concert pitch.

 

This is where it can become confusing because a conductor will have to transpose many parts of the score because an orchestral score is not written in concert pitch. He or she must know what key the instruments are in and be able to transpose the notes instantly to ensure they are correct.

 

For instrumentalists it’s much easier. They only have to play the notes as written and everything will sound correct. However, there are some instrumentalists that do have to transpose. For example, I am also a French hornist and often there are pieces written in different keys from one-another. Even though the horn is an F instrument, you will find parts that are written in D or C or E-flat or other keys, and they are forced to transpose. This happens because the horn traditionally did not have valves so the composers wrote the parts in different keys to accommodate the music. The horn player would have to add additional pipes (or crooks) to pitch the horn differently for different pieces or different movements within the same piece. These parts were written so long ago that they must be transposed today with the modern valved French horn which is pitched in F (and B-flat with a double-horn, but that’s a story for another time!)

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@Livingpianos.com

  When you think about all instruments being in different keys it can be confusing. You have clarinet in B-flat, saxophone in E-flat, and French horn in F: why are they pitched in different keys? It seems it would be better to just write everything in concert pitch, wouldn’t it? Believe it or not, it makes a lot more sense […]

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Should You Start Learning on an Inexpensive Instrument?

 

This is an incredibly common question for many people and especially parents with younger children who are thinking about getting them music lessons.

 

The short answer – no matter if it’s for you or your child – should be to get the best possible instrument you can (and afford) at the very beginning.

 

A lot of people might look at this as being counterintuitive. Why would you want to buy something expensive and then be burdened later on with trying to sell it? The truth is, sometimes if you don’t invest in a good instrument it could lead to frustration and eventually end up in your child giving up entirely.

 

It’s important to commit to music lessons. If you don’t feel entirely committed or sure about something then you should look elsewhere. Music is something that takes a lifetime to master and if you think that you or your child is ready to embark on that journey then you should go full steam ahead.

 

However, starting with a cheaper instrument and working your way up can be a great option. As long as the instrument you are starting with is good enough to be played and won’t impede your progress or learning you will be fine. With pianos it’s a good idea to start with a high quality upright and then eventually upgrade to a baby grand or full size grand when the time is right. Just remember that you will eventually have to progress past an upright piano because the action is not the same as a grand piano – it will never be as quick and won’t be able to perform more advanced selections of music.

 

If you get the best instrument you can afford you won’t be sorry. Not only will the person learning be happier and more successful but it will actually retain its value much more than a cheaper instrument. Search around and find the instrument that’s right for you or your child.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com

  This is an incredibly common question for many people and especially parents with younger children who are thinking about getting them music lessons.   The short answer – no matter if it’s for you or your child – should be to get the best possible instrument you can (and afford) at the very beginning.   A lot of people […]

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Should You Play Famous Pieces of Music?

 

This is an interesting question because a lot of times people get into studying instruments because they are enamored with certain pieces of music. It may drive them to a certain instrument and they wish to recreate the sound and music they’ve heard before. But is it a good idea to fill your repertoire with well-known pieces?

 

There are a few things to keep in mind when learning any new piece. One of the biggest is the familiarity of famous pieces versus lesser known works. When it comes to learning a piece you’ve heard dozens or hundreds of times before it can become a crutch – you know what it sounds like and you will naturally emulate what you’ve heard in the past.

 

When it comes to pieces you haven’t heard before it may be much harder to learn them on your own. It’s actually quite an accomplishment and something you should definitely undertake in your musical development to learn music you’ve never heard before. Don’t listen to it at all while you are learning it. Simply figure out the music as written and use your knowledge as your guide. Once you feel confident with the piece and can play it well, listen to some recordings of it. You might be pleasantly surprised at different interpretations of the same piece and you will certainly be taken with how much of a unique spin you have put on your own version of the piece!

 

When it comes to public performances, is it better to play pieces the audience will be familiar with? There is such a wealth of music available and much of it is unknown to a lot of people. After all, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas and only a handful of them are really well known. On the one hand, you might be worried that by playing famous pieces you will be compared to other musicians and you will be expected to perform at a certain level. This is not always the case.

 

A lot of times choosing a famous piece can be a safe bet for a performer. Orchestras constantly play the same symphonies and concertos over and over again because people really want to continue to hear the music they known. The audiences will show up time and time again to hear these pieces because they are well known and loved – just the thought of hearing them again makes them happy.

 

One of the best things you can do for your programming is to use famous pieces as a hook to get people interested and generate an audience. Once you have them there, play the famous pieces you promised but also mix in some lesser known works – you will expose them to additional music and they will love you for it. It’s a great idea to pepper your repertoire with famous pieces and lesser known ones as well.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is an interesting question because a lot of times people get into studying instruments because they are enamored with certain pieces of music. It may drive them to a certain instrument and they wish to recreate the sound and music they’ve heard before. But is it a good idea to fill your repertoire with well-known pieces?   There […]

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How Long Do Piano Strings Last?

 

This is a great question but it does not have a simple answer. If you play guitar you know that the oils in your skin can degrade the strings quickly and you will need to replace them often to get a lively tone. The piano is certainly not this extreme but the strings are susceptible to the elements as well. However, there is no definitive answer when it comes to this question.

 

Right now we have two Steinway pianos in our inventory from the 1930s. Both of these pianos actually have the original strings and they sound incredible. The bass sounds robust and the tone is vibrant; there is simply no reason to change the strings. On the other hand, we have a Steinway piano from the 1980s that we actually replaced the strings. How can this be? How can a piano that is fifty years older than others not need to be restrung? It has everything to do with the environment the piano is in.

 

The strings of a piano don’t actually age on their own; they age through outside forces and elements of their surroundings. A piano that is in a very humid environment – like near the beach – is highly susceptible to the elements. I have seen pianos in homes near the beach where the lid of the piano is left open with windows left open and the strings are rusting, breaking and just completely degraded within a decade.

 

However, here in Southern California if you go only ten miles from the beach and not too close to the desert you have an incredibly ideal environment for your piano. Just ten miles from the humidity of the beach there is an area where you can have a piano even left open in your home and not experience rust or serious problems with your strings possibly for decades. This is where I have seen 80 year old pianos still with the original strings; and they sound great!

 

There is a limit however to how long strings can last. I have seen pianos 50 to 100 years old lose some of the tone in the copper wound strings – which is where you will first see string problems. There is a simple way to check for this. Play a descending chromatic scale on the piano and notice where you transition from the steel strings to the copper wound strings. If you hear an abrupt change in tone in this transition to the copper wound strings, you know that it’s time to replace at least those strings. Sometimes you can twist the bass strings and get them back to life and sometimes you can simply replace the bass strings and be just fine.

 

The big red flag when it comes to strings is seeing rusty and broken strings – and this can be both the copper wound and steel strings. This is a sign that more strings are bound to break and it’s a good idea to restring the whole piano.

 

If you have any more questions about replacing the strings of your piano or if you have a piano in particular you would like advice with, please contact me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is a great question but it does not have a simple answer. If you play guitar you know that the oils in your skin can degrade the strings quickly and you will need to replace them often to get a lively tone. The piano is certainly not this extreme but the strings are susceptible to the elements as […]

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How Many Musical Pieces Can you Practice at a Time?

 

This is a great question and it’s something people don’t often consider. Most of the time people are used to the lesson plan of learning a new piece during the week – if you’re just starting it will probably only take you a week to learn – and then starting another piece the next week. The question is, what should you do with those older pieces and when you advance further in your playing, is it possible to work on two pieces at the same time?

 

When it comes to learning new pieces, it’s always a good idea to continue to practice the pieces you’ve already learned. It’s not worth forgetting about them. If you’ve taken the time to learn them, you should continue to reinforce them and expand your repertoire as much as possible. It’s much better to have a few pieces of music in your repertoire that you can play extremely well and as you continue to practice your older pieces you will be able to play them easier and more effectively. As you continue to learn new music and continue to practice all of your pieces you, will expand your repertoire very quickly.

 

Once you get to a certain point you might have too much music, which means that you might have to start dropping older repertoire to have the time to learn new pieces. This is a good place to be. It’s always great to have a solid repertoire you can refer to and once you begin to learn and master new pieces you can simply replace older ones you no longer like as much or you don’t think showcase your talents as well. Later you may revisit these pieces.

 

Instead of playing exercises, try playing your older music It can be more beneficial than simply practicing just exercises and it will allow you to refine your playing even more. I highly recommend playing older music as warm up exercises. You will become intimately familiar and comfortable with the music.

 

Once you advance to a certain level of music, it’s going to take you a long time to learn and master a new piece. If you’re entering competitions or playing recitals you will have to learn a lot of music all at the same time. It’s beneficial to practice each of your pieces at least thirty minutes to an hour a day – and many times you will have to practice much more than that. Learning one piece at a time simply isn’t feasible for a schedule like this and you will have to learn more than one piece at a time in order to keep yourself current with your music and the goals you’ve set for yourself.

 

So the short answer is yes, you should always practice more than one piece at a time, especially your review pieces in your repertoire because it only expands your personal music library and enables you to have many pieces on a high level at the same time. I know some people who simply learn a new piece each week and drop the older ones they were learning – they never have a piece that is on a high level they can simply play at a moment’s notice. The bottom line is that if you are to perform concerts, you must have a substantial repertoire under your fingers even though you can’t keep everything you’ve learned on a high level all the time.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is a great question and it’s something people don’t often consider. Most of the time people are used to the lesson plan of learning a new piece during the week – if you’re just starting it will probably only take you a week to learn – and then starting another piece the next week. The question is, what […]

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