I get this question all the time and I figured it was finally time to make a video about it. The short answer is no, you can’t soundproof a room. Is it theoretically possible? Yes, if cost and space is no object, then you can soundproof a room. But let’s talk about more conventional ways to reduce the sound of a room to make it a little more tolerable for your neighbors or housemates.

I once asked a studio engineer in a very nice studio how he would go about soundproofing a room. He said one option would be to build a room entirely out of cinder blocks and fill them with sand. While this may not be practical for too many situations, there is something to be learned from this.

Mass is one of the great barriers to overcoming sound since sound is waves of energy and increasing the mass requires substantial energy to have much of an effect upon something so heavy. Even the loudest sounds produced by musical instruments would have a hard time getting through. Even with all that mass, it still might not be completely soundproof.

Anywhere there is air, sound will escape. With that in mind, the way to help soundproof a room is to eliminate any space air can escape through. The way recording studios do this it to build a room within a room. That is, not only are all the walls duplicated with space between, the floor and the ceiling are “floating” meaning that they come in contact with adjacent structures only at minimal points. The dead air between the structures will inhibit the transfer of sound. The recording room will be contained in it’s own room, then there will be a space before the walls of the existing room. Every room in the studio must utilize this building technique. The ventilation system must be isolated from room to room as well utilizing baffles since any sound deadening is only as effective as the weakest point of isolation.

Notice the empty space between the walls and the ceiling. If you had something between those walls – like a stud in a traditional house or office – it would create mass for the sound to travel through since it isn’t so dense. As you can see in the diagram above, the best way to reduce sound is to have nothing between the two sets of walls. However, the floor will still have sound travel through unless it is floating as described above.

One helpful building method is utilizing resilient channel when putting drywall up. Resilient channels are metal strips that are screwed in perpendicular to the studs in walls which creates a slight gap between the dry wall and the studs. This cuts down on the amount of sound transferred between walls because it prevents the sound of the vibrating drywall from transferring through the stud to the drywall on the other side.

The best solution to soundproofing is to find an existing space that lends itself to soundproofing. For example, if you have a house with an additional building outside.

Some people might wonder why you can’t just put foam egg cartons on the side of a room. Don’t these soundproof?

They actually don’t. These are placed on walls to stop the reflections of sound that occur when sounds hits a wall. Instead of having them reflect back into the room, these foam pieces will absorb some of the sound and reduce it, but they will not soundproof a room. It will make the room quieter therefore it will reduce the amount of sound that transfers from room to room somewhat, but it’s not a solution for soundproofing

The more soft material you fill a room with, the less sound will reflect and travel and the more will be absorbed. Filling a room with large, thick carpets and heavy, cushy furniture will reduce sound in the room. Low frequency are very large sound waves. So, they require large absorptive panels to help deaden those frequencies. These are referred to as, “bass traps”. It might not be satisfying playing in an acoustically dead, room but it will reduce the sound. But it will not soundproof the room.

I hope this has been helpful to you, if you have any more questions about this topic or any other please contact me directly, Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Can you Soundproof a Room?

I get this question all the time and I figured it was finally time to make a video about it. The short answer is no, you can’t soundproof a room. Is it theoretically possible? Yes, if cost and space is no object, then you can soundproof a room.

Three pedals on a piano is the accepted norm on most pianos. Virtually all new grand pianos sold in the United States contain three pedals. Two pedal pianos are an increasingly rare breed but they do exist and we actually have some of them here in our showroom. The real question is, do you really need three pedals?

To be clear, today we are talking about the pedals on grand pianos. The pedals on upright pianos do not perform the same functions as the ones on grand pianos (with the exception of the damper pedal, the one on the right which sustains all notes). One of our first videos we ever produced covers this topic: Upright Pianos Vs. Grand Pianos.

No upright pianos actually have three functioning pedals. The middle pedal is almost always a dummy pedal that is used for other purposes than what is accomplished on grand pianos. A lot of them are used as practice pedals which place a piece of felt over the strings to dampen the sound for quiet practice. The left pedal on upright pianos also never functions as intended; they never shift the action as the una corda pedal does on grand pianos creating a quieter tone.

So that being said, if you have an upright piano, having two or three pedals will not matter.

Many older Asian pianos and European pianos have only two pedals. Why is this?

The middle pedal is a relatively modern innovation in pianos that did not come into general use until nearly the 20th century. Music written before this time doesn’t require the middle pedal and doesn’t utilize it. So if you play only music from before the 20th century you will never have an opportunity to use the middle pedal!

The vast majority of piano music doesn’t call for the use of the middle (sostenuto) pedal. Even music that utilizes the middle pedal doesn’t absolutely require it. You will be able to perform the music fine without the middle pedal.

For most players, having two or three pedals isn’t a big factor when buying a grand piano. If you play a lot of contemporary music then it could be important for you to have three pedals on a grand piano. For the majority of pianists though, two pedals will not present much of a limitation to your playing.

To find out a little bit more about how the middle pedal functions on the piano watch our past video on: The Mystery of the Middle Pedal.

Thanks again for joining us here at LivingPianos.com. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact us directly at info@livingpianos.com (949) 244-3729

Do You Need Three Pedals On Your Piano?

Three pedals on a piano is the accepted norm on most pianos. Virtually all new grand pianos sold in the United States contain three pedals. Two pedal pianos are an increasingly rare breed but they do exist and we actually have some of them here in ou

Baldwin had its roots in the 19th century and became the #1 selling piano in the United States in the 20th century. Dwight Hamilton Baldwin started the company as a retail store. In fact, they were a Steinway dealership! The story is that Steinway had a relative who wanted to open a store in Cincinnati where Baldwin operated. When Baldwin lost the franchise, they began producing pianos. Very soon they won prestigious international awards which catapulted them into the concert arena. During WWII Baldwin manufactured wooden bracing for aircraft. The technology they developed was utilized in the incredibly strong pin block design they employed in their pianos after the war.

Baldwin went on to become a formidable force in the concert market with some of the most notable musicians of the 20th century and beyond choosing Baldwin pianos including: Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Earl Wild, Liberace, Dave Brubeck and Bruce Hornsby to name just a few. Baldwin acquired the great German piano manufacturer Bechstein in the 1960’s. Together they introduced the SD-10 concert grand piano in 1966 which was heralded as one of the great advancements in piano design in the 20th century. Eventually all the Baldwin grand pianos were redesigned with Bechstein.

Baldwin became a diverse financial multi-billion dollar company later in the 20th century. In 1984 they suffered a bankruptcy. The management team of Baldwin Piano Company bought Baldwin from the huge financial company and continued making top tier pianos. Eventually the competition of cheap Asian pianos took its toll and Baldwin suffered another bankruptcy in the early 2000s. Gibson guitar bought them and soon closed American operations. They bought 2 huge Chinese piano manufacturers and are importing pianos from them and putting the Baldwin name on them. However, word has it that the American factory is still operational. So, one day we may again enjoy new Baldwin pianos, some of the greatest pianos in the world being produced in the United States.

The History of Baldwin Pianos

Baldwin had its roots in the 19th century and became the #1 selling piano in the United States in the 20th century. Dwight Hamilton Baldwin started the company as a retail store. In fact, they were a Steinway dealership! The story is that Steinway ha

I was asked this question recently and it’s a tough one to answer. The brand of the piano does matter when it comes to how they are built and how they play, but even more important is the size of the instrument and the manner in which it is prepared.

The keys on larger pianos like concert grands, are longer than those of baby grand pianos (on the other side of the fallboard). So you will be moving more mass with each key press, requiring more energy to play.

Actions on different size pianos are weighted to compensate for their larger size, but a bigger action will still require more strength and can take more energy also because the strings are longer and there is more soundboard to excite.

When it comes to Steinway and Yamaha the opinions are endless. Some will claim that Steinway pianos are stiff and others will say that Yamaha pianos have heavier actions – or sometimes it’s the exact opposite!

So where does the truth lie?

The most important variable when it comes to how heavy an action can be is how it’s regulated by a technician. An action isn’t necessarily heavier or lighter by design, however, each individual piano, even new pianos of the same make and model vary in action weight. This is due to the handwork in manufacturing as well as the regulation performed on the instrument. Also, new pianos tend to be harder to play since the felt bushings aren’t broken in yet. So, there is more friction to overcome.

Most actions are around 48-60 grams of downweight. Lower notes also tend to be heavier than higher notes because there is more felt on the hammers and the keys are longer behind the fallboard.

You may wonder if there is anything you can do to change the weight of your piano action.

If your action is too light, your technician should be able to re-weight it and make it heavier for you. If it’s too heavy, there are techniques to get things moving better unless there are serious problems or the hammers have been replaced with the wrong specification hammers.

What’s more important for a technician than the weight of the action is to ensure that the action is running properly and moving smoothly. There are dozens felt points of contacts on each key and if there is unnecessary friction, it can severely impact the weight of the action. Sometimes it’s necessary to rebuild an action in order to get proper response if parts are gummed up such as Steinway pianos with verdigris problems.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a good technician. I’ve sat down at wonderful pianos that played like a nightmare because of bad work. Something as routine as replacing the hammers on your action could end up ruining the touch response. Just a few grams of extra weight from the wrong hammers or wrong geometry can make the piano feel extremely heavy.

Sometimes when a piano has been played a great deal and the hammers have been filed again and again to reshape them for proper tone, the action can become substantially lighter. It may not affect your enjoyment of the instrument, but if you want optimal response, you could either replace the hammers or have your technician re-weight the action.

Overall I don’t think there is a specific difference between Steinway and Yamaha when it comes to the weight of the actions. It’s a very specific issue that is more dependant on the size, condition and regulation of the instrument rather than the manufacturer. I would love to hear from pianists and technicians what experiences you have had with the action weight on different pianos.

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

Steinway Vs. Yamaha – What Piano is Harder to Play?

I was asked this question recently and it’s a tough one to answer. The brand of the piano does matter when it comes to how they are built and how they play, but even more important is the size of the instrument and the manner in which it is prepare

This is an incredibly common question for many parents who are starting their children with piano lessons. After all, a keyboard has the same number of notes as a piano (as long as it has 88 keys); how different can it really be?

Before we get into the finer details of the differences between keyboards and pianos let’s first examine the cost – which is the driving factor for most parents. Like pianos, there is a large selection of keyboards available. They range from a few hundred dollars well upwards of $15,000 for some very advanced models. If you plan on getting a decent keyboard you could be looking at thousands of dollars.

Most piano teachers will agree that the bare minimum for a beginning student is an 88 key weighted action digital piano. In case you might not have heard the term weighted action before, this refers to a keyboard or digital piano that has weighted keys – which replicate the weight of keys on an actual piano. If you’ve played a regular keyboard you might notice that the keys are incredibly easy to push. If you’ve played a piano you know that the keys take some force in order to generate a good sound. So if a digital piano (keyboard) can replicate this, will this be enough? Not really. An actual piano action has hundreds of moving parts on each key and while a weighted action keyboard has weighted keys, it’s impossible to replicate the feel of an actual piano.

The keys on a keyboard are also very short. On a piano, the keys extend far behind the fall board. On a keyboard, this is impossible to replicate. If you play on a keyboard it’s like pushing down on a see saw close to the center when playing black keys and between black keys. On a grand piano, the force necessary to push down the keys is more equal from the front to the back of the keys.

The action on an upright piano is an improvement over a weighted action digital piano or a keyboard but it still isn’t as good as a grand piano action. Here is another video where I explain the differences between uprights and grand pianos. Eventually, every pianist who continues to play will outgrow the action of an upright piano and must eventually practice on a grand or baby grand piano because an upright action isn’t fast enough to keep up.

One of the biggest reasons parents decide to buy a keyboard in lieu of a piano is that they are worried that their children won’t continue to play. There is truth in the idea that the interests of children change rapidly – but starting them off on an inferior instrument is really only a recipe for failure. Investing in a suitable instrument will not only reinforce the interests of the player, it will actually help them develop much more quickly. Having an actual piano to play on will do wonders for the development of any musician.

So is it OK to start with a keyboard? Sure, it’s far better than nothing. But if you plan on actually playing the piano, prepare to make an investment at some point in the future and get yourself an actual grand or upright piano.

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

Can you Start Learning Piano on a Keyboard?

This is an incredibly common question for many parents who are starting their children with piano lessons. After all, a keyboard has the same number of notes as a piano (as long as it has 88 keys); how different can it really be? Before we get into t

So, are pianos from California really better? Often times, yes! The reason that used pianos from parts of California are generally in better condition is because of the stable climate.

You might hear about companies that climatize their pianos for certain regions and while this might sound like a good idea, this is not always possible. Let’s take California for example. There are a multitude of climates within different geographical areas. No two places are exactly the same. Right here, 10 miles from the beach, the climate is moderate year round. But there are dramatically different climates not far from here.

So what weather is best for pianos? Moderate humidity and a consistent temperature create the best environment for a piano. You don’t want them to go through drastic swings of cold and hot and you certainly don’t want your piano to have to endure extremely humid or dry environments.

California generally provides a gentle environment for pianos, but not everywhere. For example, I live about 10 miles from the beach and the weather is semi-arid and the temperature remains fairly consistent year round. Down by the beach the salt air can damage pianos in just a few years. Likewise, travel inland to the high desert not far away, and the dry climate can play havoc with soundboards and other wood parts of your piano.

In a gentle California climate a piano can reside in a home for decades without experiencing any damage to the soundboard, case or action particularly if it is kept closed most of the time and maintained on a regular basis. I have personally run across countless pianos from this region which can be well preserved gems. This is not possible in most other places in the United States – in New York a vintage piano can suffer soundboard and other damage from the wild swings from the humid summers to the dry heat of the winter – particularly pianos manufactured before the advent of air conditioning.

But beyond whether or not California is a good place for pianos the care you provide for your instrument is critical. You may be able to provide a suitable environment for a piano in any region as long as you keep it in a consistent environment. For example, you may live in a high rise in Chicago with climate control of temperate and humidity and have a great environment for your piano. People at the beach can try to mitigate the moist air by simply closing the piano at night and possibly installing a Dampp-Chaser System. This applies to pianos in the desert as well. Ideally you treat the room. When this isn’t possible, there are technologies that can help to stabilize your piano.

If you have any more questions about how to care for your piano please contact me directly Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Are California Pianos Better?

So, are pianos from California really better? Often times, yes! The reason that used pianos from parts of California are generally in better condition is because of the stable climate. You might hear about companies that climatize their pianos for ce

Many people wonder if there is anything they can do to improve their fundamental skills of playing the piano once they progress past the basic lessons to become a competent player. Are there any tips, tricks, or advanced exercises you can employ to progress your playing even further?

I’ve stressed in the past the importance of learning all major and minor scales and arpeggios. But beyond this, are there any hidden secrets that will make you a better pianist? There is a simple thing you can do that won’t take much time and can greatly improve your playing:

Practice at least 10 minutes a day

Seriously, that’s it! You may not be able to do this every single day, but if you sit down and practice even a little bit every day, it can dramatically change your piano playing. Like any endeavor, whether it’s music, writing, drawing, or physical fitness, the key to success is to work consistently over time.

By practicing every day for even a few minutes, you will be keep yourself in shape on the piano both mentally and physically. Whether it’s scales, arpeggios, or what I recommend above all else, repertoire, you will enjoy benefits to your playing. You will also build on what you have worked on the previous day instead of taking two steps forward and one step back forgetting what you had learned previously when you skip days.

You can revisit a piece you played in the past, play through something you are working on currently, or learn a brand new piece. Focusing your practice sessions on actual music is one of the best ways to improve as a pianist, and it can be an enriching experience.

Just sight-reading through music can help you grow musically by getting exposed to new music while improving your reading. Learning new music will help you expand your horizons as well. You’ll learn new techniques, get exposed to new sounds, and discover new ways to play your instrument. As pianists, we are extremely lucky because there is more solo music written for piano that any other instrument. You will never run out of new music to learn!

So instead of focusing on just scales, arpeggios and exercises, try focusing on music and work some at the piano every day. Not only will you be exposing yourself to something new that presents fresh challenges, you will be able to actually play something enjoyable for people once your master a particular piece.

I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions about this topic or any other, please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com for more information.

How to Continually Improve Your Piano Playing

Many people wonder if there is anything they can do to improve their fundamental skills of playing the piano once they progress past the basic lessons to become a competent player. Are there any tips, tricks, or advanced exercises you can employ to p

You might think this sounds simple. (All you have to do is play a note, right?) but there is actually a lot more to it. Tuning correctly with other musicians is vital to a good sounding performance.

I can’t tell you how many times my wife Florence (florenceflutist.com) and I have attended a concert where we see the musicians barely pecking out notes when tuning. Many times we look at each other wondering how they can possibly be sure of their tuning. That’s because they aren’t playing the notes anything like they will play in the performance.

One great technique when tuning is to play the tuning notes separately so you can compare the pitches. It may be easy to tell if you are in or out of tune, but to know whether you are high or low can be difficult when playing at exactly the same time. You can certainly overlap the notes, but have at least some time where you can hear the pitches separately.

The best way to play a tuning note is to alternate notes and play them out – just like you would in the performance. On a piano you can add D and F below the A forming a D minor triad which is easier to tune to. (You can also provide an A Major Chord, A – C-sharp – E and the A an octave above.)

For an example of this technique watch the video included with this article. Florence and I demonstrate our technique for you that we use in every performance we play.

Sometimes soloists are squeamish about tuning – they don’t want to play too loud if they don’t have to. (They seem concerned about alienating the audience). But it is far better to endure a few moments of tuning than suffer through an out of tune performance!

So remember to take your time with tuning and make sure the soloist is comfortable and has time to adjust their instrument as needed. You should never rush a tuning and you should always make sure you are tuned properly before you perform. Your audience will appreciate it!

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

How to Give a Tuning Note on the Piano

You might think this sounds simple. (All you have to do is play a note, right?) but there is actually a lot more to it. Tuning correctly with other musicians is vital to a good sounding performance. I can’t tell you how many times my wife Florence

There is a lot of conflicting information about this topic floating around online. When it comes to rebuilding a piano or buying a rebuilt Steinway piano, you will encounter a lot of different opinions from various sources.

There are some people who believe that if you rebuild a Steinway with different parts (other than those provided by Steinway directly) the piano shouldn’t even be considered a Steinway anymore. This might sound a little extreme but there is some truth to this claim. If you replace the soundboard on a piano, it is a fundamentally different instrument. The soundboard is responsible to a great extent for the tone of the piano. Replacing it changes something intrinsic to the instrument. Much like removing the top of a Stradivarius violin means it’s not a Stradivarius anymore. The same rule applies to pianos – if you remove the soundboard it’s no longer the same as the original piano.

However, there are a lot of other parts on the piano besides the soundboard. What about strings, hammers, felts or one of the dozens of other parts on a piano? There is a lot of misinformation out there about this subject and I will do my best to clear this up.

There are two reasons you will hear people dissuade you from purchasing a rebuilt piano or rebuilding one of your own. On one side you have people who are generally trying to help customers avoid making mistakes. There are some rebuilders out there who will use substandard parts or not deliver the quality of instrument they really should. This is not a common practice but it is something to be aware of and why you should really have a technician check out any rebuilt instruments if you’re buying from an unknown source.

On the other side, the largest competitor to new Steinway & Sons pianos are used Steinway pianos! The market for used Steinway pianos is very strong because there is a large market for Steinway pianos in general. New Steinway pianos often cost a significant amount more than used Steinways and many people have their minds made up that they will only purchase a Steinway piano. Instead of breaking the bank, a lot of people will purchase high quality used pianos. It is in Steinway’s interest to sell as many new pianos as they can and dissuade buyers from purchasing used Steinway pianos.

So when it comes to the original question, do you need to rebuild a Steinway with Steinway parts? Yes, if they are the right match. There is a big caveat to rebuilding with only Steinway parts; they are not actually a parts manufacturer. The only parts they have on hand are for pianos they are currently building. So let’s say you had a 1932 Steinway Model M and a novice rebuilder wants to replace many of the action parts. They might call up Steinway and ask for parts for a Model M. After the rebuilder finishes and installs the parts, he might find out that the specifications are not correct for that particular piano. Some of the new parts won’t match what they had made in the past: the action weight could be off, the geometry might be wrong, there is a whole host of possible issues.

In some cases, Steinway parts are not the appropriate parts to use. For example, you could purchase Abel hammers or parts from Renner that could match the original specifications much closer. In fact, Renner provides all the action parts for Steinway pianos made in Hamburg, Germany. So no, it’s not wrong to use other parts from high quality manufacturers many of which will provide parts that match particular vintages of pianos better than what Steinway may have available at that time.

The biggest factor in rebuilding a piano is to use high quality parts that are the right match for that particular piano. It takes a knowledgeable rebuilder who has worked with Steinway pianos a great deal to make the right choices.

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

Does a Steinway Piano Need Steinway Parts?

There is a lot of conflicting information about this topic floating around online. When it comes to rebuilding a piano or buying a rebuilt Steinway piano, you will encounter a lot of different opinions from various sources. There are some people who