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In closing this exploration of the initial stages of the tone production in the piano, it is tempting to conclude that the simpler a design may look, the more sophisticated its function appears to be. For instance, it was no great surprise to observe that a rather complicated process takes place in the elaborate action during a stroke. However, the flexing hammer shank and the nonlinear hammer felt - both seemingly very simple parts - showed a much more complex function than we had imagined.

The "simple" piano hammer, which is decisive for the tone quality, still hide some secrets, and more research awaits before they can be completely revealed. In the meantime, we may continue to play and enjoy the piano unconcerned, even though we do not know exactly how the tone is produced, not even in the initial stages.


The authors are indebted to the piano technicians at the Swedish Radio Company, in particular Hans Norén and Conny Carlsson, for their patient sharing of expertise concerning pianos and piano regulation. The kind participation of pianists Elisabeth von Waldstein and Ove Lundin in the experiments is gratefully acknowledged. Special thanks are given to The Swedish Radio Company for generously making one of their grand pianos available for the experiments.

Recommended reading

The interested reader can now and then find rewarding articles in the international journals on music and acoustics. We especially recommend the following articles, which cover different aspects of the material we have presented.

Boutillon, X. (1988): "Model for piano hammers: Experimental determination and digital simulation," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 83, pp. 746-754.
Hall, D. (1986): "Piano string excitation in the case of a small hammer mass," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 79, pp. 141-147.
Hall, D. (1987): "Piano string excitation II: General solution for a hard narrow hammer," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 81, pp. 535-546.
Hall, D. (1987): "Piano string excitation III: General solution for a soft narrow hammer," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 81, pp. 547-555.
Hall, D. & Clark, P. (1987): "Piano string excitation IV: The question of missing modes," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 82, pp. 1913-1918..
Hall, D. & Askenfelt, A. (1988): "Piano string excitation V: Spectra for real hammers and strings," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 83, pp. 1627-1638.
Hart, H., Fuller, M. & Lusby, W. (1934): "A precision study of piano touch and tone," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 6, pp. 80-94.
MacKenzie, C.L., Vaneerd, D.L., Graham E.D., Huron, D.B. & Wills B.L. (1986). "The effect of tonal structure on rhythm in piano performance," Music Perception 4(2), pp. 215-225.
Podlesack, M. & Lee R. (1988): "Dispersion of waves in piano strings," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 83, pp. 305-317.
Sloboda, J. (1983): "The communication of musical metre in piano performance," Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 35A, pp. 377-396.
Suzuki, H. (1987): "Model analysis of a hammer-string interaction," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 82, pp. 1145-1151.

About the authors

Picture of Anders Askenfelt Picture of Erik Jansson
Anders Askenfelt and Erik Jansson received their basic training from the School of Electrical Engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. After finishing their studies they joined the Music Acoustics Group at the Department of Speech Communication at the same institute; Jansson as a founding member in 1967 and Askenfelt in 1975. Since then they have been active in research in music acoustics, receiving their doctorates in 1973 and 1988, respectively. While Jansson has concentrated on the acoustics of the violin and the guitar, Askenfelt has been active in computer transcription of melodies, acoustical analysis of voice quality, and, more recently, research on the acoustics of the bowed instruments and the piano. They both enjoy music as amateur string players.

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This lecture is one of Five lectures on the Acoustics of the piano

© 1990 Royal Swedish Academy of Music