What is the Difference between Voicing and Tuning?
Voicing is doing adjustment to the tone and quality of sound to the piano. The tone can be changed without changing the pitch. Take for example, on the stereo set when we turn the bass or treble knobs the tone changes but the notes played as recorded by the musician stays the same. A piano technician can do voicing to a piano to change its tone from bright to mellow or delicate to robust. The range of tone depends on the design and condition of the piano.
The adjustment of the tension of all the piano’s 220 or more strings to the correct frequency or pitch is tuning.Tuning ensures that when notes are played, they sound in harmony.
What do you consider a good tone?
The tone varies even among pianos of the same model or make. Size or cost of any piano should give us a wide range of tone, from sweet, soft to bright and loud. The tone should be smooth from the lowest up to the highest notes. Most importantly the sound should be musical when played.
What do you think a perfect piano tone would sound like? Here there is no single answer because everybody’s musical taste varies. Furthermore tone characteristics varies from different style of music. A lively, bright tone is suitable for jazz music and a dark and rich tone should be suitable for Beethoven’s music. In the market there are many different models and sizes of pianos available to suit your style of music. You should choose one that suits you.
The catch here is the piano tone changes with use. As when played the hammers wear and become more compact. As it becomes more compact the tone often becomes harsh and bright. The days of sweet tones are gone. With wear and tear, the piano regulation or the adjustment of the mechanical parts changes and thus the touch becomes uneven and lost of control will start to set in. The piano becomes less responsive to the pianist touch and he will find it difficult to control the tone and even the volume. A delicate pianissimo piece become more difficult and nearly impossible to play. Some keys may not sound when played ever so lightly or sounds too loud and bright.
Tone can diminish with the age of the piano strings and the structure.
Many other factors affects the sound of your piano too. Here are a few examples
- Room Acoustics
Hard surfaces in the room such as windows, bare floors, bare walls tend to reflect high frequencies thus making the sound loud and bright. Ceilings that are high and adjoining rooms that are large will add resonance to the sound. Soft furnishing like rugs and upholstered furniture tends to soften and add warmth to the tone.
- The Lid
Grand and vertical l pianos will sound brighter and louder if the lid is left opened.
Your ears will perceive sounds differently when you spent the whole day in a loud environment or a quiet office. This is because they are sensitive and the tend to be influenced by the environment they are in.
When does my piano need voicing?
- Your piano does not sound like when it was first purchased.
- You find the sound not to your liking even after you have it tuned.
- The tone is uneven and varies radically across the notes.
- You have trouble achieving a range of tone from mellow to bright at different loudness.
- You cannot play the piano softly. Very little control over the volume.
Before you decide to do voicing you must make sure it is well tuned and well regulated. Play a wide variety of music on the piano. You must understand the voicing procedures are long lasting and normally cannot be undone. Please give yourself some time to explore the sound before you decide to do voicing on it.
The frequency of doing voicing depends on the piano usage and the intended audience. Pianos in recording studio and concert hall are voiced before each performance. A piano in the home only needs some initial voicing to suit the owner’s taste. It only need to be done once every one to five years depending on the usage.
The need for voicing depends on your musical needs. Only you and your piano technician can decide and plan a schedule for periodic voicing. You can get your technician to voice one or two notes to see how much it improve the tone before doing a complete voicing.
What does a technician do to voice a piano?
A piano must be well tuned and regulated before you or your piano technician can fully evaluate the tone. Tuning will be the first step in improving the sound. You may not need to voice your piano after tuning so its best to get it tuned first. If you find the tone not up to your liking or satisfactory then the technician will first inspect the action, hammers and of course the strings. If any of these components are worn they need to be changed or repaired first before we started improving their tone.
- Hammers that are moderately worn can be reshaped with sandpaper. The grooves to be removed and restored to their original rounded shape. Make sure the hammers are aligned and strike each of the strings squarely.
- Regulation to the actions should be adjusted and checked. This will definitely ensures an even and smooth yet powerful response from each key.
- After tuning, hammer shaping and regulation done correctly, it’s time to check on the tone to see if they are too bright or mellow to your liking. Now it’s the time to decide with your technician whether to do voicing.
- If the tone is too loud, too bright and seems to fade too fast, the hammer felts need softening. This can be achieved by inserting needles into the hammer felts to increase its flexibility and softness.
- If the tone is too mellow or too weak, the hammer felt needs some hardening. Here a chemical hardening solution is applied to harden the felt. It is applied after filling away soft outer layers of the hammer felt first.
- Once you have achieve the overall tone it’s time to voice individual tone to make them as even as possible across the keyboard. Certain notes in the piano will sound different no matter how skillful the piano technician is. This normally occurs about an octave below middle C, here the strings starts to change from steel wires that are wrapped with copper to the plain steel wire. This is due to the design of the piano and will not and cannot be corrected by voicing.
Now to enjoy you well tuned, well regulated and well voiced piano
Tone is definitely one of the most important asset of the piano. When properly voiced, you will enjoy playing it as it offer a rich palette of expression and inspire the musical talent in you and your family. If you have always only tune your piano now is the time to voice it to improve the tone and enjoy the full potential of your piano.