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hammer technique

  • 1.  hammer technique

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-13-2014 15:48
    There have been dozens of posts under "going faster," when the topic should have been hammer technique.  I would ask those people who have tried to describe hammer technique with long posts, submit to this new thread with an idea to teaching hammer technique.  I'd like to see more concise descriptions.  Here's mine:

    I break my hammer technique into three distinct major movements:  jerk, smooth, impact.  Each movement is further broken down into 10 gradations (I could say 20 or 30, but I'll stick with 10 for simplicity's sake).  

    Jerk technique:  This involves first applying a little pressure to the end of the tuning hammer, and then, while keeping the pressure on, bobbing my wrist/elbow to get the pin to pop in the pin block, or at least let the pin tell me what it's doing.  I describe is as a Monty Python move ("nudge, nudge, wink, wink).  The variation in initial pressure and bobbing pressure is practically infinite.

    Smooth technique:  I use this more often in grands.  Constant smooth pressure is applied until the hammer/string moves.

    Impact technique:  I use this more often in uprights.  It works like an impact hammer in that the tuning tip slaps the pin.  My hand literally slaps the end of the tuning hammer to get the pin to move/settle.  The amount of pressure needed is infinitely variable, but care must be taken not to make the tuning hammer fall off the pin.  

    Learning to tune well means learning to use the three basic movements in increasingly subtle ways.  This involves three tasks: 1) hearing precise changes, 2) the muscle physicality to control the string well enough to perceive slight changes, 3) having the intellectual tools to know what to listen for, what goal you're striving for, and when to stop.  

    Each string has a target.  The outer rings are rings of the target that even laymen can hear.  Technicians work within the bulls eye, the shades of which are so subtle that the layman can't discern the differences except in the overall effect of the whole piano being in tune. We're shooting for the center of the target.  Thats where the best placement of pitch is.  That's where the best stability is reached.  If we are satisfied with leaving the string slightly low or high, when humidity changes and the bulls eye moves, the pitch will fall out of the target and be noticed by the layman.  If we hit the center, the target can move, but the pitch will still stay within the bulls eye, albeit off center. Long term stability is achieved when the pitch stays in the bulls eye even after a few hours of playing and even though the humidity may have slightly changed.  

    Hammer position, verticals:  best is 12 o'clock, acceptable range 11 o'clock to 2 o'clock.  Grands:  hammer pointing to the treble, roughly parallel to the pin block, acceptable range pointing to the end of the piano to where the hammer hits the stretcher.

    Accuracy:  Working toward good accuracy is like a parachute fall.  In the beginning the goal is far away. The target gets bigger the closer we get. Feeling the pin move in the block controls the initial movement.  But as we're about to hit the target, it blends into the grass and dirt and becomes almost invisible. That's where controlling the string movement is critical.   We have to circle around that target a bit to discern the very center and land right there. Flexing the pin allows for string movement without changing the pin position in the block.  

    I'll stop there.  I'd like to see all the ink in previous emails summarized for teaching purposes, boiled down to the essence of tuning in concise language.  And I have a couple final questions to throw out.  Are there techniques that are bad?  What techniques may be acceptable but are just simply inefficient? 


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    Richard West
    Lincoln NE
    402-477-7198
    440richard@gmail.com
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  • 2.  RE:hammer technique

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-13-2014 16:12
    Richard,

    I'm very similar to your ways  nudge nudge wink of the eye know what I mean.  Uprights: I try to keep as close to 12 noon (or midnight, depending on the time of day), and even at 11am on the bass strings as that's where they are.  On grands, I was taught to keep about that way, but over the years, I tend to be closer to 1-2pm, being right handed.  I just have better control that way. But that's just me.  On pitch raising though, I will stick closer to noon if possible, since I'm moving the hammer more. I'm not comfortable with 10-11am. I don't know why, it's just how I do it.  25 years gave me either good or bad habits, but the end result is a great tuning with never a complaint from top notch performers, faculty, or students.  I do understand the importance of stabilizing the tuning pins, however; so I've adjusted my techniques over the years to account for that as well.

    I've also now starting applying a drop or two of McLube444 on the underfelt I really notice a difference in rendering, especailly on one not tuned in awhile, but have been seen doing this around the school of music on tempermental pianos.  I learned this for Steinway 1098's from Kent Webb at a Steinway/Oberlin seminar 5 years ago.  1098's.  There's another topic for another day!!

    It's all good however it works for you!  Keep the information coming.

    Paul


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    Paul T. Williams RPT
    Piano Technician
    Glenn Korff School of Music
    University of Nebraska
    Lincoln, NE 68588-0100
    pwilliams4@unl.edu

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  • 3.  RE:hammer technique

    Posted 02-13-2014 19:51
    One of my RPT buddies shared with me that McLubb 444 was recommended by Steinway to help string rendering. I used it frequently until I learn they apparently changed their mind and decided that this product Harden felt.

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    Thomas Black
    Decatur AL
    256-350-9315
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  • 4.  RE:hammer technique

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-13-2014 23:39
    I can't summarize the previous emails on the other subject line (there's too much to rehash) but will disagree with your hammer position on grands--at least based on the way I tune.  I would say somewhere between 11:00 and 1:30.  Never past 3:00 and rarely even at 3:00. The methods I describe in great detail on the other link will help explain why.  The proof is in the speed and stability.  Bad techniques are those that slow you down too much and produce less stable results.  Less bad are slower (less efficient) but still produce stability.  I can't rewrite everything right now.  

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    David Love RPT
    www.davidlovepianos.com
    davidlovepianos@comcast.net
    415 407 8320
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  • 5.  RE:hammer technique

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-17-2014 12:12
    David,

    We technicians love to agree to disagree.  I'll try to pay a little more attention to my hammer position and body position as I tune.  I do know that I use the 3 o'clock position in grands but I also move to the noon to 1 position as well, especially in the high treble when it's impossible to use the 3 o'clock position.  I sometimes stand; I don't usually sit parallel to the keyboard but angle my right side in toward the keyboard.  Some technicians use a super long tuning tip so that the hammer is above the stretcher, but I don't like the feel of that.  My tip is close to the pin, and the angle is 10 degrees.  Less than 10 puts the hammer too close to the pins; more than 10 and I feel like I'm in a position that makes me start to flex the pin too aggressively (I think that's also a problem with the super long tip).  Tip length and angle are big choices to the feel and control of each pin/string. I continue to use the traditional hammer.  I've tried some other newer designs, but I come back to my rosewood handle with extendability.  I've rarely have had bodily pain as a result of using that hammer.  One final  note, as my hammer technique improved over the years, my need to beat the piano into stability subsided.  Good technique and mezzo forte blows gets the job done without bodily abuse. 

    My reasoning behind hammer position strategy goes back to the traditional explanation that we've all heard.  If you use the 3 o'clock position in grands, the rotation and flex of the pin matches the pitch direction you want to have. That is, rotating the pin clockwise and flexing the pin toward you, raises the pitch and relaxing your pull settles the pin and string into stability, ideally, that is.  In an upright the 9 o'clock position acts the same way, hence the idea that tuning left handed is better for uprights.  I don't tune left handed mostly because I'm too lazy to learn, but also I want to keep my right hand in shape so that I can give my most experienced hand to grands.

    Learning to tune well, however, is learning how to deviate from the traditional model to find what actually works.  Here's where agreeing to disagree comes in, because there are lots of things that will work.  We also have to subscribe to the dictum, "Do no harm!"  I'm of the opinion that being overly aggressive with pin flex can result in flagpoling which can do harm.  Dan Levitan proved what we all knew, but were cautious to state:  Pin flex is a given.  Every rotational movement usually involves some pin flexing.  That doesn't mean we have to get carried away with it.  I've removed tuning pins that wobbled out and were clearly bent.  Pin block holes do get loose and not only from spit wood.  I suspect poor hammer technique can contribute.  But that's only a suspicion without actual proof.  Perhaps someone has studied this to determine if tuning enlarges pinblock holes. 

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    Richard West
    Lincoln NE
    402-477-7198
    440richard@gmail.com
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  • 6.  RE:hammer technique

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-17-2014 13:44
    Richard: "My reasoning behind hammer position strategy goes back to the traditional explanation that we've all heard.  If you use the 3 o'clock position in grands, the rotation and flex of the pin matches the pitch direction you want to have. That is, rotating the pin clockwise and flexing the pin toward you, raises the pitch and relaxing your pull settles the pin and string into stability, ideally, that is."

    A 3 o'clock position will maximize the amount the pitch of the string will rise (when you are raising pitch), beyond the amount associated with the turning of the pin in the block. The greater the torque on the pin, the greater this effect will be (both pin twist and pin flex - flagpoling). The more you have gone sharp and need to settle back, the less you know where you actually are (where the pin is in the block), and the less likely you are to come to a stable end product, particularly because strings do not settle back very reliably if there is any amount of significant friction at the bearing points.

    I guess I need to clarify that "flagpoling" and "flex" are two words for the same thing as I use the terms: vertical plane springing. Both are done well within the elastic limits of the tuning pin - we're not talking about "bending pins" (and it is certainly possible to bend pins with a tuning hammer). I think you are using "flex" where I would use "twist": the amount by which the top portion of the pin moves rotationally before the bottom portion actually breaks friction in the block and rotates in the wood.

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    Fred Sturm
    University of New Mexico
    fssturm@unm.edu
    http://fredsturm.net
    "When I smell a flower, I don't think about how it was cultivated. I like to listen to music the same way." -Federico Mompou
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  • 7.  RE:hammer technique