Below are ten ways to mitigate problems in piano sound other than by voicing the instrument, beginning with some relatively simple things to do nearby the piano itself:

Buy a piano that's the right size for the room.

The first and best way to avoid problems with room acoustics is to buy a piano that's the right size for the room. Too large a piano can overload a room with sound, while one that's too small may not be heard equally well in all parts of the space. A rule of thumb: Assuming a ceiling height of eight feet, the combined lengths of the four walls should be at least ten times the length of a grand piano or the height of a vertical. However, it's not always possible to follow this advice—in many cases, the purchase decision will be dictated more by musical needs or budget than by room size. A small piano, for example, may have performance problems inherent to the instrument's size, such as poor bass tone or an unresponsive action, even when it's the right size for the room. Or, if you're longing for a large grand's growling bass, be aware that, even though such a piano is perfectly capable of producing that sound, your room may not be able to support it.

When the piano's size is not a good match for the room, try voicing the piano, or experimenting with one of the following tips:

Move or reorient the piano within the room.

Most rooms have three pairs of parallel surfaces: two sets of opposing walls, and the ceiling and floor. Parallel surfaces tend to produce standing waves—certain frequencies that sound much louder than others at some points in the room, but that are virtually inaudible at other points. Moving the piano away from room corners and partway along the length of a wall, and/or turning it at an angle this way or that, can sometimes mitigate this problem. You'll have to experiment, listening at different places within the room. Remember that the piano's sound when you sit at the keyboard will be different from its sound elsewhere in the room.

Use a piano cover to directly reduce loudness.

Typical cloth string covers designed for grand pianos—that is, covers that lie directly on the strings—will only marginally reduce sound volume, especially if they have only a single layer of cloth. Most reports say that thin string covers are effective only for the highest notes, to take the edge off the sound. Thicker, sound-attenuating string covers, custom-made for a particular model of grand piano, work better. An even more effective mute for a grand would be a full-size, quilted cover that reaches the floor. However, this will require closing the lid completely and placing the music rack atop the cover—though unattractive, in some situations this is the only practical way to reduce excess loudness. For a vertical piano, a blanket or section of carpet can be attached to the piano's back.

Place sound-absorbing material inside the piano, between the soundboard and the wooden structural support beams.

You may be able to drastically reduce a piano's loudness by inserting blankets or foam rubber blocks between a grand's soundboard and its wooden case beams, or between a vertical's soundboard and wooden posts. One possibility is to purchase the foam in sheets and cut shapes to fit. Your piano technician may have experience in doing this, and may also be able to help you avoid damaging the soundboard or creating the buzzes that can accompany this technique—ask for pointers. This method of loudness control won't be possible if you have a grand outfitted with a humidity-control system or an electronic player-piano system.

Place a rug under a grand piano to absorb sound.

The sound of a grand piano is sent out into the room via the lid, which is propped up at an angle on the stick—and by a considerable reflection by the floor of sound emanating from the underside of the soundboard. If your floor covering is a sound-reflecting material such as wood, stone, or tile, the loudness can be greatly reduced by placing a rug under the piano. To absorb even more sound, place a thick pad under the rug. Experiment with the size of the rug or carpet and its orientation under the piano. Other, more temporary solutions: place a dog bed or a collection of throw pillows under the piano.

Place objects under a grand piano to scatter sound.

Perhaps you don't want to absorb the sound coming out of the bottom of your grand piano, but just want to disperse it more evenly throughout the room. The space under a grand can be used for storage chests, plants, knickknacks, and the like.

The Definitive Piano Buying Guide for

Buying New, Used, and Restored Acoustic Pianos and Digital Pianos

Spring 2014    Page 102

Spring 2014    Page 102

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