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Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Nyiregyhazi » Sat Jun 06, 2020 12:29 am

Tim Gillett wrote:Also the sustain pedal is always initiated while notes are already sounding - otherwise there would be nothing to sustain. To some degree or other, those already sounding notes will mask the sound of the dampers releasing.

But as already mentioned too, for serious live performance or recording sessions, pianos are normally prepared to be in top condition, which includes the dampers and their actions. That "sticking" you mention could be the result of the tapered felts having become conformed to the shape of the strings. When released, the felt may make more than the normal noise as it escapes from or "pops" off the string.

This isn't correct. If I'm playing Bach with no pedal in general then I play into nothing. In styles where I do pedal, I almost never start a chord without the pedal down. Frequently I start with a depressed pedal and then change the pedal just after the sound occurs. The difference between a dry attack and one concealed by open dampers is really significant.

I have noisy dampers on my piano too and it can get really annoying. I recorded this yesterday.

https://youtu.be/qDYKEl03oZU

It's not bad overall but I wasn't too happy with the first page. Part of it is because I'm so conscious of the damper noise that I feel very cautious about pedalling. The whooshing sound isn't picked up too badly to be honest but there are a few slight thumping noises in there. It's not from hitting the pedal against the top of the mechanism but something about the dampers lifting that does it. In fairness, although a related problem, this is one that really does need fixing, although the whooshing sounds annoy me too.

The slightly cautious pedalling I spoke of is partly because you sometimes get a cracking noise when changing the pedalling, related to the whooshing noise. I should probably do faster changes if anything, but that makes the thumps louder.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Eddy Deegan » Sat Jun 06, 2020 1:03 am

Nyiregyhazi wrote:
Tim Gillett wrote:Also the sustain pedal is always initiated while notes are already sounding - otherwise there would be nothing to sustain.

This isn't correct. If I'm playing Bach with no pedal in general then I play into nothing. In styles where I do pedal, I almost never start a chord without the pedal down. Frequently I start with a depressed pedal and then change the pedal just after the sound occurs. The difference between a dry attack and one concealed by open dampers is really significant.

Speaking as a pianist I find the sympathetic resonance you get from the surrounding undampened strings can make a big difference in some cases.

Nyiregyhazi wrote:I have noisy dampers on my piano too and it can get really annoying. I recorded this yesterday.

https://youtu.be/qDYKEl03oZU

It's not bad overall but I wasn't too happy with the first page. Part of it is because I'm so conscious of the damper noise that I feel very cautious about pedalling. The whooshing sound isn't picked up too badly to be honest but there are a few slight thumping noises in there.

I thought this was a beautiful piece, played excellently. I particularly appreciated the feather-like touch on the ppp sections, which I know is much harder than it looks to get right. A lovely performance.

Now that you mention it, I could hear the occasional low-frequency thonk but I probably wouldn't have noticed it listening on headphones on a laptop. I would imagine it is more apparent when played on a larger, good hi-fi.

That apart, I thought the sound of the piano as recorded was very good indeed. I very much enjoyed that :clap:
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Tim Gillett » Sat Jun 06, 2020 1:18 am

Nyiregyhazi wrote:
Tim Gillett wrote:Also the sustain pedal is always initiated while notes are already sounding - otherwise there would be nothing to sustain. To some degree or other, those already sounding notes will mask the sound of the dampers releasing.

But as already mentioned too, for serious live performance or recording sessions, pianos are normally prepared to be in top condition, which includes the dampers and their actions. That "sticking" you mention could be the result of the tapered felts having become conformed to the shape of the strings. When released, the felt may make more than the normal noise as it escapes from or "pops" off the string.

This isn't correct. If I'm playing Bach with no pedal in general then I play into nothing. In styles where I do pedal, I almost never start a chord without the pedal down. Frequently I start with a depressed pedal and then change the pedal just after the sound occurs. The difference between a dry attack and one concealed by open dampers is really significant...


You're right to correct me in that the sustain pedal can be depressed before the notes are sounded - if there is time in the context of the piece to do that. ie: to damp any previously played notes by releasing the pedal, and then to re press the damper pedal before the new notes are played.

My understanding though is that the action of pressing the key does exactly the same thing: fractionally before the hammer hits the string, the damper is released from the string, and stays released until we release the key. Is there a difference in sound between pressing the key first, or the damper pedal first? Not having a piano here now I cant test it for myself but my guess is it would be the same. If in pressing the key the hammer struck the string before the damper was released the attack sound would be dulled. Again, my understanding is that fractionally before the hammer strikes the string, the escapement mechanism releases the damper. So normally there should be no difference in sound. But I could be wrong.

edit: I can also understand Eddy's point that releasing the damper before striking the notes allows sympathetic resonance of other undamped strings, but I don't understand how it would affect the notes being struck.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Nyiregyhazi » Sat Jun 06, 2020 1:24 am

Thanks. I used a pair of om1s, on John Willet's recommendation. I'm on a soothe 2 trial which I used to tidy up the resonance and added reverb via rev plate 140 (which I was lucky enough to stumble on a free license for at Christmas).

It's funny, I find the same thing listening back to the opening. In theory, it was the very soft echo like effects into the pedal (particularly the quick ornaments with fingers 3 and 4) which I'd generally been more worried by. But once the microphones were on those suddenly turned into the safer bit and I'm quite happy with the control when those fade into nothingness. I think I'd probably have done the single line melody better if I wasn't listening so carefully for the pedal noises. I don't worry so much when I'm practising, but when the recording is rolling it makes me cautious to lift the pedal slowly and hope to avoid that cracking sound. If anything, the sound ended up being too dry after the slow releases. You'd think that a simple line played at a positive dynamic would be the easy bit (and without the pedal issue it probably would have been) but it actually ended up feeling far safer when I was doing the ppp bits into the longer open pedals.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Nyiregyhazi » Sat Jun 06, 2020 1:35 am

Tim Gillett wrote:
Nyiregyhazi wrote:
Tim Gillett wrote:Also the sustain pedal is always initiated while notes are already sounding - otherwise there would be nothing to sustain. To some degree or other, those already sounding notes will mask the sound of the dampers releasing.

But as already mentioned too, for serious live performance or recording sessions, pianos are normally prepared to be in top condition, which includes the dampers and their actions. That "sticking" you mention could be the result of the tapered felts having become conformed to the shape of the strings. When released, the felt may make more than the normal noise as it escapes from or "pops" off the string.

This isn't correct. If I'm playing Bach with no pedal in general then I play into nothing. In styles where I do pedal, I almost never start a chord without the pedal down. Frequently I start with a depressed pedal and then change the pedal just after the sound occurs. The difference between a dry attack and one concealed by open dampers is really significant...


You're right to correct me in that the sustain pedal can be depressed before the notes are sounded - if there is time in the context of the piece to do that. ie: to damp any previously played notes by releasing the pedal, and then to re press the damper pedal before the new notes are played.

My understanding though is that the action of pressing the key does exactly the same thing: fractionally before the hammer hits the string, the damper is released from the string, and stays released until we release the key. Is there a difference in sound between pressing the key first, or the damper pedal first? Not having a piano here now I cant test it for myself but my guess is it would be the same. If in pressing the key the hammer struck the string before the damper was released the attack sound would be dulled. Again, my understanding is that fractionally before the hammer strikes the string, the escapement mechanism releases the damper. So normally there should be no difference in sound. But I could be wrong.

The overtones in other notes help conceal the attack. It's not as big as the difference you can make when using overlaps to hide it underneath previous sounds perhaps. But a completely unmasked attack to start a melody can be a huge thing that really stands out. Sometimes the overtones are so extreme that they overload the clarity, so I generally tend to play almost anything into an open pedal, but then either change completely (after the attack has been concealed) or do a half change to take away just enough for the clarity to come. It basically simulates much the same as what would happen if doing a normal pedal change after something else had been included. You never normally get a note with that dry pointed start so it's best not to have it on the first one either.

Maybe a big hall can do more of the work for you with a good acoustic, but it's really a world of difference in smaller rooms.

The start of this (in an older recording with very louder damper noises captured) is a good example of a place where it would be ruinous to start without pedal. I think in this case I don't do the quick change but just play into the open pedal. If I played and then pedalled you could get the worst of both issues- with both a hard attack to start and then a really quick loss of clarity to the overtones.

https://youtu.be/U9dPu44FdhM
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Tim Gillett » Sat Jun 06, 2020 3:01 am

You sound like a fine pianist both technically and in artistic interpretation. It seems to me you shouldn't have to be adjusting your playing technique to compensate for problems which may be piano related. Maybe the small untreated room is not helping as you say.

Apart from the 'whooshing' sound we can hear when the felt damper wedges enter or exit the strings, (I cant hear them here but that may be due to my ageing ears) I hear what sounds like louder than normal "boomp" sounds. I'm a technician by trade but not specifically in pianos but I do remember dealing with this problem in my first piano when still a teenager. Some felts in the piano (not the damper felts) had over the years become compressed and hardened and so pressing keys or the sustain pedal - or releasing them - made that boomy sound. I think I ended up replacing various felt bump stop pads. It fixed those problems but it was a cheap piano and so its tone was never going to be great. Yours is a much nicer instrument.

But not even a Steinway in perfect condition has no extraneous sound from its mechanism. There are trade offs involved. But to my ears your piano may need some attention to reduce extraneous noise from the mechanism, perhaps especially in the bass part of the spectrum.

Some piano tuners may just not be interested in fixing these issues if simple tuning is all they're about. You may need to locate a technician who's more skilled and prepared to dive in a little deeper to address these noise issues. As always compare your piano's performance in this area to others so you have a benchmark.

If this was a vintage recording with the pianist long gone we would have no choice but to either leave the noises as they are or to try and improve things in processing without doing too much damage. Believe me I've had to attempt that enough times and it's often a depressing business with little overall gain made.
But you're not in that position. You're alive and well and able to make great performances on new recordings. If you want a good result I'd always say be wary of resorting to audio processing tricks after the fact to mask faults in the instrument or room. So much better in the long run to fix the problem at its source.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Ariosto » Sat Jun 06, 2020 9:19 am

Nyiregyhazi wrote:
Tim Gillett wrote:Also the sustain pedal is always initiated while notes are already sounding - otherwise there would be nothing to sustain. To some degree or other, those already sounding notes will mask the sound of the dampers releasing.

But as already mentioned too, for serious live performance or recording sessions, pianos are normally prepared to be in top condition, which includes the dampers and their actions. That "sticking" you mention could be the result of the tapered felts having become conformed to the shape of the strings. When released, the felt may make more than the normal noise as it escapes from or "pops" off the string.

This isn't correct. If I'm playing Bach with no pedal in general then I play into nothing. In styles where I do pedal, I almost never start a chord without the pedal down. Frequently I start with a depressed pedal and then change the pedal just after the sound occurs. The difference between a dry attack and one concealed by open dampers is really significant.

I have noisy dampers on my piano too and it can get really annoying. I recorded this yesterday.

https://youtu.be/qDYKEl03oZU

It's not bad overall but I wasn't too happy with the first page. Part of it is because I'm so conscious of the damper noise that I feel very cautious about pedalling. The whooshing sound isn't picked up too badly to be honest but there are a few slight thumping noises in there. It's not from hitting the pedal against the top of the mechanism but something about the dampers lifting that does it. In fairness, although a related problem, this is one that really does need fixing, although the whooshing sounds annoy me too.

The slightly cautious pedalling I spoke of is partly because you sometimes get a cracking noise when changing the pedalling, related to the whooshing noise. I should probably do faster changes if anything, but that makes the thumps louder.

Very nice! Well recorded too. I was certainly not worried about the noises at all.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Nyiregyhazi » Sun Jun 14, 2020 2:19 am

Tim Gillett wrote:You sound like a fine pianist both technically and in artistic interpretation. It seems to me you shouldn't have to be adjusting your playing technique to compensate for problems which may be piano related. Maybe the small untreated room is not helping as you say.

Apart from the 'whooshing' sound we can hear when the felt damper wedges enter or exit the strings, (I cant hear them here but that may be due to my ageing ears) I hear what sounds like louder than normal "boomp" sounds. I'm a technician by trade but not specifically in pianos but I do remember dealing with this problem in my first piano when still a teenager. Some felts in the piano (not the damper felts) had over the years become compressed and hardened and so pressing keys or the sustain pedal - or releasing them - made that boomy sound. I think I ended up replacing various felt bump stop pads. It fixed those problems but it was a cheap piano and so its tone was never going to be great. Yours is a much nicer instrument.

But not even a Steinway in perfect condition has no extraneous sound from its mechanism. There are trade offs involved. But to my ears your piano may need some attention to reduce extraneous noise from the mechanism, perhaps especially in the bass part of the spectrum.

Some piano tuners may just not be interested in fixing these issues if simple tuning is all they're about. You may need to locate a technician who's more skilled and prepared to dive in a little deeper to address these noise issues. As always compare your piano's performance in this area to others so you have a benchmark.

If this was a vintage recording with the pianist long gone we would have no choice but to either leave the noises as they are or to try and improve things in processing without doing too much damage. Believe me I've had to attempt that enough times and it's often a depressing business with little overall gain made.
But you're not in that position. You're alive and well and able to make great performances on new recordings. If you want a good result I'd always say be wary of resorting to audio processing tricks after the fact to mask faults in the instrument or room. So much better in the long run to fix the problem at its source.


Yeah, I was overdue for a tuning when lockdown began, so I think it had probably been over a year when I did that recording. I just had the tuner in the other day now, with things easing up. The whooshing sound is something I'll just have to live with, but he was able fix the bump sound, as well as one particular damper that was making a cracking sound on slower changes. I'd recorded this shortly before getting it done.

https://youtu.be/dIF82_jfBL4

If you jump to one minute in you'll hearing a couple of those grinding sounds. I think it must be when a damper is slightly offline or something. Whooshing is something that can theoretically be removed, but would take a huge amount of work, but those cracking/buzzing sounds are probably a fairly basic fix. I heard one commercial recording with quite a few of these. It was the first volume of the Debussy piano works on Naxos, played by Francois Joel Thiollier.

I certainly wouldn't want it if I was making a commercial recording, although part of what I like about recording things for YouTube is that there's no sense of pressure for everything to feel perfect. Although it's nice to aim towards high quality, somehow having the video makes it feel more like it's okay to have some flaws, both in terms of sound and performance. If I was going to record some audio only it would feel as though everything ought to be just right. With a video it feels a bit more like documenting a real life event, where it's good to have as much quality as possible but it feels more like a bonus rather than the basic requirement.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Jun 14, 2020 5:45 am

Glad the piano tech was able to help with at least some of the noise problem.

Watching the Bach/Busoni piece and hearing the dampers hissing repeatedly it occurs to me the piece may test the limits of what this piano or perhaps any standard piano can do. Even if one is only using the damper for just one bass note, the dampers still operate on nearly all 88 notes, a much louder cumulative noise than on only a few strings.

I guess this is basic piano design. A solution might be extra pedals which would allow the pianist to limit the damping to certain groups of notes whilst playing, but that would of course open up a can of worms in terms of traditional piano playing technique, as well as making the piano an even more mechanically complex beast than it already is!

All the best with your playing and recording.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Nyiregyhazi » Sun Jun 14, 2020 2:10 pm

Yeah, I think I just have to be careful with the mic placement for that. I think the basic changing noises are a bit louder there than in other recordings I've made. I use omnis, but I've heard that higher pitches are still directional to a notable degree. I think I might have had it aiming pretty closely towards the damper location.

I heard someone suggest that the reason these noises are common these days is because most pianists would prefer super quick damping for clean staccato, plus slight whooshing sounds, over removing these and slowing down damping. Personally I think I actually prefer slightly lethargic damping, which is often the norm for older pianos. It's not many situations where I want the very shortest possible staccato, even when I intend detached sounds. The Bach arrangement is interesting, because it sounds very poor with conventional clean pedalling. In a way you have to pedal slightly "badly", but not too much so. If anything, this is probably far more difficult with the modern norm, than with slower damping. It's a case where pedalling is for much more than keeping the notes from being released though. The overtones from having all dampers open are absolutely vital to the effect.
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