Piano practice at SJ Pianos

22 Oct

Learning to play piano on a digital instrument has advantages. If, like myself, you live in a flat then the ability to pop on headphones and render your efforts silent to the outside world is a real benefit for your neighbours. This is especially true if you are taking exams with their requirement to perfect endless, frankly rather boring scales and arpeggios.

What a digital piano cannot do though, is to reproduce faithfully the full range of tonal and harmonic sounds that come with playing a real piano. The almost tactile quality of sound produced, I assume, by the circulation of air around a vibrating string; the complex blending of beautiful harmonies produced by the recursive stimulation of strings and their neighbours and harmonic relatives; the subtleties of pedalling: all these are missing from the electronic shadow instrument.

So when preparing on a digital for an exam to be played on an acoustic piano, there are important differences to cope with. To avoid being put off by a Pandora’s Box of unfamiliar sounds and effects coming out in the fraught atmosphere of the exam room, it behooves the digital student to spend as much time as possible playing real pianos in advance of the exam and for this reason I hired a grand piano for four hours this morning at Samuel Jacques Pianos in Edgware Road, London. It’s remarkably inexpensive: £7/hr for an upright and £11/hr for a grand. With free coffee and wi-fi and beautifully appointed and sound-proofed rooms and good quality pianos, it’s well worth the money.

The instrument was a Kawai and beautiful it was. I got straight to work with relish but as I launched into some scales, the degree of my ill-equipped-ness quickly showed. The individual notes were lost in a miasma of muddy noise set up by my clunky keystrokes. No matter how sophisticated the mechanical action and electronics of the digital, it can’t ever replace the real thing.

It took a good two hours of practice to feel that I was starting to be in control. After three hours I was delighting in the power at my fingertips to produce a totally superior kind of sound, lingering on the notes and chords to enjoy the pure, ringing tones. It is a little disconcerting though, to have the keyboard shift to the right when soft pedalling!

I played Bach for about an hour in a kind of reverie, but the four hours ended sooner than I expected. I finished by singing a couple of favourite Rogers and Hammerstein show songs, “Younger than Springtime” and “Hello Young Lovers” and noticed how much more naturally the voice and string sounds blended together than when I do this at home.

One anomaly to deal with is the fact that on any real piano, some notes may be out of tune or may be of different quality to others. This you don’t get on a digital, where tuning is pre-set and the mechanics are much less prone to mis-calibration.

At the appointed hour I left through the basement area, an Aladdin’s cave of pianos, stools and paraphernalia, some instruments in pieces or on their sides, stacked in piles or half-assembled, up into the gleaming showroom with its treasury of Steinways, Kawais and the rest.

To sum up, please get me a detached house with a decent space for a baby grand. Then plug your ears because there will be a lot of noise coming!



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