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Piano Vibrato

Pitch modulation via side-to-side key wiggling on a real piano
  (+8, -1)
(+8, -1)
  [vote for,

Do you play both piano and a string instrument? Have you ever found yourself wiggling your finger on the piano keyboard, trying to get vibrato? Well, why not? Once you get into the habit of doing it on a cello, or what-not, your hands just assume that it should work.

I am not, of course, suggesting vibrato on an electronic keyboard--that is already available, and electronic keyboards will never replace the real thing. I propose vibrato on a real piano through the following mechanism:

The end of the string is pinched by a pair of rollers. When the pianist wiggles the key left and right, the rollers roll forward and backward along the string, which causes the effective length of the string to change, thereby varying the resonant frequency of the string. (This would be analogous to what a cellist does when he wiggles his finger on the fingerboard.)

The linkage between the key and the rollers is leveraged such that a small wiggling of the key will result in a larger movement of the rollers, maybe over a range of about 1 cm for the longer strings. The left-right wiggle should not take a lot of effort from the pianist, but there should be enough resistance that one can play sans vibrato without accidentally altering the pitch.

Since the invention of the pianoforte, the instrument has undergone many technical innovations, some of which have been embraced by composers and musicians, and have had an audible effect on the evolution of piano music. For instance, with the “Moonlight” sonata Beethoven took advantage of the newly-developed sustain pedal. Rachmaninov made good use of the larger, louder pianos developed around the end of the 19th century.

Vibrato will give the pianist one more element of control over the sound produced by the instrument, thereby expanding the expressive potential of future composers and performers.

AO, Apr 01 2003

Piano innovations for Beethoven http://books.guardi...2084,913644,00.html
[AO, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Self-tuning piano http://www.qrsmusic...ress/pr02032501.htm
The one the [bristolz] mentioned. [AO, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Even tempered scale http://www.precisio...anotemp/temper.html
More complicated than it sounds [Frankx, Dec 05 2009]

Bebung http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bebung
Baked in clavichord form [pocmloc, Dec 06 2009]

Prior Art _27Tickle-the-Ivories_27_20Keyboard
Includes Wiggle-sensitive keys, from 2002 [pocmloc, Dec 06 2009]


       My understanding is that vibrato is used when a sustained single pitch is difficult to maintain; the vibrato 'diffusing' the pitch so that it only needs to be played (or sung) "in the ballpark." Not the case with a piano. I suppose it could be used as an affected sound akin to other prepared piano modifications. So, a + vote for this, especially for the explanation of how it could work.   

       Also, this would require pieces that more resemble arrangements for organs rather than the typically percussive piano arrangements where the fingertips are usually only in very brief contact with the keys.   

       One last thing: I recently read that a piano tech has devised an automatic tuning system for pianos that, once fitted, maintains tune. I think it does it by passing current through the strings to change their temperature. Certainly too slow a method to use for vibrato but interesting. I really should try and find a link.
bristolz, Apr 01 2003

       This is a fab idea. Vibrato on the strings adds to the harmonics and resonance, more pleasing tone than narrow pitch.
Most piano compositions take advantage of chording and intervals --multiple tones simultaneously--to provide the harmonics. For similar reason not a lot of vibrato used in guitar chords, right?
But why not expand the possibilities of piano sound? Bravo!
roby, Apr 01 2003

       If you really want to get right down to it, trills, well-played, are the piano equivalent of vibrato in that it maintains a pitch while keeping it interesting to the ear. Similarly, iteration and re-iteration (patterns) are used in piano compositions to maintain a pitch/tone and keep it lively.
bristolz, Apr 01 2003

       Vibrato can be (and often is) used to disguise bad intonation. This is obviously not the reason why the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Pearlman employ the technique. Depending on the amplitude and speed of the vibrato, it can help to make the sound richer, more intense, softer, sweeter, or give it any number of different qualities (in combination with all of the other ways that a musician can control the sound.)   

       With baroque music (e.g. J. S. Bach) modern string players traditionally don’t use vibrato. Trills of various types are much more common in baroque music for strings and keyboards.
AO, Apr 01 2003

       Listen, as someone with string, voice, and piano students nattering away the silence in this asylum, I'm all for any techniques to keep it interesting to the ear.
roby, Apr 01 2003

       As someone who has none of that, I'll defer to your judgement.   

       I wouldn't call Fred's work "baroque."
bristolz, Apr 01 2003

       I instinctively do not like this idea. I cannot pinpoint why exactly, so I will not vote against it.
waugsqueke, Apr 01 2003

       Interesting idea.
BTW, most synthesizers produce vibrato not from the wiggling of the key back and forth, but by 'aftertouch', pressing the key down into the keybed after the note has sounded.

       The problem with this implementation is that the tension on the strings (on average 170 lbs. or 77 Kg) would be too great to allow for easy length modification without some sort of electrical assistance.   

       In addition, the lengthening of 1cm for a string that is about 1 meter in length would produce the necessary vibrato, but as the strings lengthen (towards the bass range) the required amount of movement to produce the same vibrato will increase.   

       In all, though, being one that is assaulted daily with vibrato-modified piano sounds (electric), I must say that the piano creates a sound that is _not_ designed to have vibrato. (-)
Cedar Park, Apr 01 2003

       One of the purposes of vibrato is to keep long notes "interesting". On many instruments, a sustained note absent vibrato will be unchanging for its length. Adding vibrato avoids such monotony.   

       On a piano, however, even a single struck note anywhere above typically C3 for a grand or C4 for an upright will produce sound that ebbs and flows very nicely, and for about an octave below that will still ebb and flow somewhat (two strings instead of three).   

       If a more distinctive tremeloed sound is desired, it's possible to detune a string on each note so as to yield a more "honky-tonk" sound. Generally not desirable, but there are a few pieces that use it to good effect.
supercat, Apr 01 2003

       My definitions:

vibrato = a pitch variation of a tone
tremolo = an intensity variation of a tone
Somtimes organists also mention something called a "tremulant" which, apparently, is a combination of oscillating pitch and intensity variation.
bristolz, Apr 01 2003

       [Cedar] The tension of the string would not affect the length-modifying mechanism. The rollers pinch, but do not deflect the string.   

       It is true that the lower strings would require a greater amount of length modulation, but that is true of other string instruments. The mitigating factor is that lower notes are usually played with a “slower” vibrato (lower modulating frequency), and the overall effort required from the musician does not become too great. (Compare the left arms of a violinist and a cellist.)   

       I think the question of whether a piano is meant to have vibrato should be left to the artist. I would hope that musicians choose to play most existing works in the traditional style (as many string players do with baroque and medieval music). My idea is that vibrato would be a new tool for modern composers.   

       [supercat] While vibrato is most noticeable on sustained notes (on bowed strings, winds, and voice) it is very often put to good use on fast-dying notes. On instruments of the violin family, you will sometimes notice musicians vibrating even when they are not bowing the string (after the bow is lifted, or during pizzicato).
AO, Apr 01 2003

       I love it. The force of a wiggle will need to be mechanically or electrically amplified, however, due to the lever disadvantage and presumably a significant resistive force.   

       The practical difficulties will be at the active end of the piano string. In any high-quality piano there are secondary piano wires at the top of the anchors, (my invented term for the attachment pegs), which are not struck, but harmonize with their primaries to give the piano's rich sound. Many have even a third set. it's usually quite crowded at that end, and the interaction of the primary lengths, the additonal lengths, (not certain if that name is right), and these rollers is going to be a mechanical nightmare worthy of any mechanical genius.
RayfordSteele, Apr 01 2003

       <long story about how [CP]’s first paragraph applies to producing vibrato effects on individual notes within a chord on a concave guitar fingerboard by applying different pressures> Croissant!
Shz, Apr 02 2003

       I like it, though it seems to me that all that structure under the hood is meant to prevent this sort of thing. +   

       If you want to be able to produce the sound on individual keys, perhaps the wiggle should be forward-and-aft, rather than side-to-side. Otherwise the keyboard will have to be widened tremendously to provide adequate spacing between the keys. Or set it up so that the keys don't move at all; put a touchpad on each key to send signals to the string tensioning systems.   

       Of course, if you're not looking to do this on individual strings, then you could introduce a rolling mechanism just below the hammers (mallets?) that pulls and releases ALL the strings at once, kind of a wa-wa bar for the piano. With that option you could also use a foot pedal and forego the mechanical or touchpad key challenge.
Don Quixote, Apr 02 2003

       this is an awesome idea. the only thing that makes me wonder, is whether or not the keyboard length would have to increase in order to allow for this. and it'd probly also feel a bit wierd for the keys to "roll" but an awesome idea nonetheless
Seafris, Dec 30 2003

       I'd like to hear some piano songs with that '80s vibrato.
Amishman35, Nov 01 2005

       I recall reading about a self-tuning piano that used some electromagnetic gizmo to measure the resonant frequency of each string without having to play it, and then fed current through each string to vary the pitch (current==heat==pitch goes down).   

       I wonder how quickly such a piano could vary a string in each set just a little bit in response to a control. That would allow some interesting detuning effects if it could be done quickly.
supercat, Nov 03 2005

       I like it. I play piano and violin, and have independently come up with the exact same idea. Of course the movement must be side to side, but I don't think the keyboard would have to be made wider: imagine T-shaped keys (looked at from the front), the normal width at the top and narrower underneath. Once a key is pressed down, there should be plenty of room on either side. For notes next to each other, you would just have to do the same vibrato for both.   

       I see no reason why the vibrato shouldn't be used in late C19th romantic music - surely composers would have used it, without necessarily changing the pieces, if they had had the option.
corobcook, Jan 13 2008

       You could just place the pianist and piano on a vibrating platform controlled by an additional pedal.
oneoffdave, Jan 13 2008

       Sounds like fun. You build it and I'll play it.
corobcook, Feb 29 2008

       //place the pianist and piano on a vibrating platform//   

       bingo... just nail the piano to a platform and doppler the sound. Easier than modding the piano.   

       Note: vibrato is *not* about bad intonation; different instruments have different intonations: vocal and strings can change intonations (relatively) easily; pianos and organs take half an hour with a tech; other stuff is stuck on one intonation.
FlyingToaster, Feb 29 2008

       Minute alterations of pitch can correct the compromised pitches of the even tempered scale. This is possible on a fretless string instrument and it must be frustrating to a pianist to have to forego this dynamic. Kudos if you get this to work.
tonybe, Dec 05 2009

       Just shake your head back and forth at the appropriate time. You'll get an approximate effect.
Cuit_au_Four, Dec 06 2009

       I have seen somewhere on the internet, a working electric keyboard that used longitudinal sliding of the keys to adjust the pitch up to a semitone, allowing sliding as well as vibrato. Can't find a link though.
pocmloc, Dec 06 2009

       Could not a pedal with a reverse ratchet type mechanism achieve vibrato on the piano?   

       A lift & drop sort of device ought to give the strings the side to side shake. Perhaps a non-play damper resting on non played keys would be needed.
Zimmy, Dec 22 2009

       Do you ever feel as if you need to sweep your right hand back and fourth to produce volume on a piano? Voila: The Bopianow a piano with strings that elevate so you can bow them when you press their key.
WcW, Dec 22 2009

       ... what ?
FlyingToaster, Dec 22 2009

       I have an idea of how this might be done. I've been thinking for a while now that this would be neat since I have a tendency to pause and "wiggle" on some notes.   

       I think the rollers would be neat , but It seems any type acoustic action would be difficult to build. So my idea is to do it electronically with a mic, amp AND sensor. Instead of putting sensors on your fingers to detect the "wiggling", you could simply put one on your wrist. If you watch your own wrist pretending to add vibrato to a note on the piano, it wiggles about as much as your finger does. It might be possible to make a clunky prototype of this with a wii remote (strapped to your wrist) and GlovePIE to write a script that activates a vibrato filter on a computer.   

       If you amp your signal louder then the piano you should be able hear it over the acoustic piano itself. Or, you could plug headphones in to hear the pure vibrato as intended.   

       With the right resources, I'd imagine you could design a package which includes a nice unobtrusive wrist band sensor and a receiver with customizable control knobs that do the vibrato work and then pass the signal off.
nitrosmd, Jan 12 2011

       Huh... never thought of that: a MIDI-capable wrist acceleration sensor... considered Posting it ? mind, you need something to switch it off between affected notes.
FlyingToaster, Jan 12 2011

       "considered Posting it ?"   

       Not sure what you mean.   

       "you need something to switch it off between affected notes"   

       You might be able to do it with a gesture. I'm also thinking that it would be better if it weren't midi and rather a filter over analog signal. But I guess midi could be neat in conjunction. My experience with midi hasn't been that great.
nitrosmd, Jan 26 2011

       Sure, use a pedal input on the back if one's available on your sound source and can be linked to an LFO. Of course if you have that then you may have Aftertouch as well which is the normal way of doing it.   

       The thing up top of the page on the left hand side, but not as far left as the menu options is a "post". Roll your own. Highly suggested is to read the FAQ first to avoid bad karma.
FlyingToaster, Jan 27 2011


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