Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the advantages of a weighted action on a keyboard or piano. You’ve heard these terms, of course. You might wonder, what is this all about? Can you get more expressiveness out of a weighted action just like you do on a grand piano?
All pianos have weighted actions because you’re moving a lot of mass.
Keyboards don’t have much mass. You don’t necessarily need a heavy action to get good control on a piano. Some pianos have heavy actions. Some have lighter actions. As long as the regulation is top notch, you can get tremendous control out of a lighter action, just as much as a heavier action.You might wonder why would you want to have a weighted action if you can get good control without it. The fundamental reason is that piano is different from most other instruments since other instrumentalists can carry their instrument wherever they go. If you’re a guitar player, a flute player, or trumpeter, you just take your instrument with you! No big problem. Well, obviously pianists can’t do that.
You must learn to adjust to any piano you encounter.
Whether it’s at lessons, school, church, recitals, friends’ houses, any piano you encounter, you have to be able to sit down and play whatever piano you encounter. If you’re practicing all the time on an action that isn’t weighted, you’re not going to have the strength to play an acoustic piano, because it takes more effort. You have to push down about 50, sometimes as much as 60 grams of down weight just to get the key down! So if you have a feather light action, you’re not going to be prepared physiologically to play other pianos. You’re not going to develop the muscles for it. So it’s really important to have a weighted action. I would recommend an 88 key weighted action.
You also hear the term weighted graded action. What does that mean?
If you look inside a piano, you’ll notice that the keys on the higher end are shorter and the hammers are thinner. In the bass, the keys are longer and the hammers are bigger and fatter, because they have to excite a much thicker, longer string. So indeed, pianos get lighter and easier to play as you get to the higher end compared to the lower end. On some pianos it’s a subtle difference. On other pianos it’s a dramatic difference. Is this important in your piano practice? Some people would say it is important. But to me it’s really not the most important aspect of a keyboard or digital piano action. The key travel is more important. When you have a keyboard that’s very small, the keys are short beyond the fall board. So when you’re playing black keys, or the white keys between black keys, the key travel is minimal. It’s just like being close to the center on a seesaw. It’s difficult to gain leverage. So to me, that’s more important than whether it’s graded or not. The action should have a substantial feel.
A real piano has what’s called escapement.
Try pushing a key down very slowly on your piano and you will notice at a certain point there’s a little bit of resistance that you have to push to overcome. This is normal. Pianos have what’s called a double escapement mechanism. It was a harpsichord builder named Cristofori, around the year 1700, who came up with the first harpsichord that could play soft and loud. He called his instrument, “Gravicembalo col piano e forte”, which translates to, “Harpsichord with soft and loud”. It could play soft and loud from the touch, and it had the essential escapement mechanism. What does that mean? Well, before then, there were no keyboards where a hammer or other implement could hit a string and escape it. On a clavichord, for example, the strings kept in contact with the blades that struck the strings. With a piano, as soon as the hammer hits the strings, it escapes the string!
Modern pianos have what’s called a double escapement.
When you play slowly, the hammer travels its full distance. But when you play quickly, there’s a back check that catches the back of the hammer, so the hammer doesn’t have to travel so far allowing for more speed. It’s an ingenious invention that came about thanks to generations of keyboard builders, as well as composers working hand in hand with piano builders. During Beethoven’s lifetime, the piano evolved substantially with the demands of the music being written for the instrument.
These are the important things to look for in your digital piano or keyboard.
Look for an 88 key weighted action. If it’s graded, great! But more importantly, is the feel and the key travel. And if you’re serious about playing the piano, you’ll want a weighted action even if you’re not playing other pianos that much. Your hands will develop more strength. You will accomplish more by doing the same amount of practice. If you’re like most people, it’s hard to find enough time to practice. So you might as well get as much done as you can for the time you spend!
I hope this is helpful for you! Let me know in the comments here at LivingPianos.com and on YouTube! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
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