Regulation and Voicing

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Phone: 847.834.4448

joshua@youngerpiano.com

Regulation

What does it mean to regulate a piano?

In piano lingo, "regulation" is synonymous with "optimization" and "adjustment".

Depending on the style and manufacturer, a piano has close to fifty individual parts per note. Take a few seconds to look below at the cross section of a single key from a grand or a vertical piano. Now stack 88 of these right next to each other -- that's a lot of intricate parts! At first glance, it looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption, or the old board game 'Mousetrap'. Each of these parts you see has a specific individual function and requires an individualized adjustment. Due to the nature of their small size and the demanding requirements of having to produce a beautiful musical tone when played at the extremes of loudness and softness, the parts inside the piano need to be adjusted to incredibly small tolerances (often measured in thousands of an inch).

Grand Action Diagram

Grand Piano Action

(Click for larger, animated version)
Vertical Action Diagram

Vertical Piano Action

(Click for larger, animated version)

For the same reason a piano goes out of tune, a piano occasionally requires minor or major adjustment due to the changes in humidity that swell and shrink wooden parts. Also, the cumulative effects of playing on the instrument over time cause wear and tear. Just like your car needs periodic maintenance to adjust the timing belt and replace fluids, filters, and brake pads that wear, your piano needs occasional attention to the parts that are worn and out of adjustment from regular usage.

Really though, what benefit does regulating a piano bring?

Sometimes a piano has a feel that is too heavy or light to the touch. Perhaps the dynamic range isn't what it used to be; it's harder to play soft music in a controlled manner or maybe it just doesn't have the power it used to have. Maybe one note or one section of the keyboard has a different feel than the rest. All of these are signs that a piano needs adjustment.

The goal of regulation is to create evenness of tone, touch, and power from one note to the next and to make the piano transfer energy from the player's finger to the string in an efficient and completely controllable manner. It is so satisfying to play on an instrument that is in a beautifully balanced state of adjustment. One fine piano player wrote about his experience with a very well regulated piano:

"The instrument feels effortless to play. It feels so good that I can just forget about it - the music just flows out of my fingers and right through the piano without any resistance."

One of the most satisfying things I do on a day to day basis is to regulate pianos to a high level of precision. The results can be amazing, and I love the feeling of walking away from a piano knowing I have incrementally increased an instrument's capacity to be responsive to the player.

Voicing and Piano Tone

Piano Hammers

The term "voicing" refers to adjusting the piano's tonal properties. The tone of an instrument can be modified within certain boundaries to create the sound that the pianist desires. Some prefer a brighter, more confident tone. Some like mellow and subtle. Each player has a different idea of what his or her ideal piano tone might be, and every person has a different "language" to describe what they hear or want to hear from the instrument. With my customers, it's my job to establish a common "sound language" so as to best communicate what the piano sounds like currently and what the goals of tone modification will be. If you are interested in optimizing the tone of your piano, the Piano Technicians Guild has a very good article for a little more on the basics of voicing.