Turn that piano down

piano modI don’t have much in common with Stephen Hough. He plays piano, I play piano. He is regarded by some as Britain’s finest pianist. I am… currently supporting myself by working for an advertising company.

One other thing that we have in common, if I can believe the programme from the concert that I attended at the St. Lawrence Centre a while back, is that neither of us like knowing our neighbours can hear us practice. Mr. Hough’s solution was to win a prestigious fellowship and use a portion of it to finance the soundproofing of his rehearsal space. My solution was to ask my wife to pick up a few yards of felt and a dowel at the mall.

As any fool who reads Wikipedia on a regular basis can tell you, some modern upright pianos are equipped with a “practice pedal” which, when depressed, lowers a curtain of felt between the hammers and strings. My Yamaha U1 is not. I duplicated the effect, if not entirely the convenience, by the following method:

  1. measure the distance from the lowest to the highest hammer
  2. cut the dowel to the above length
  3. cut a piece of felt to this length as well, and about 6-8″ wide
  4. screw a screw eye into each end of the dowel
  5. wrap the felt around the dowel and glue in place
  6. run a length of string (or ribbon, my aesthetic preference) through the screw eyes and loop it around the lid of the piano
  7. adjust length of ribbon
  8. play your piano very quietly

It’s been said many times that there is nothing to be gained from practicing on a “dumb” piano, and this procedure, like the practice pedal after which it is modelled, only renders my U1 slightly better than a dumb piano in that respect. You’re not going to develop a lot of nuance while this mute is in place. But even the most patient neighbour or housemate will tire of your scales and Hanon exercises sooner or later – and this mod will help you develop finger strength with impunity.