Extended techniques for piano? 3


I must admit that this post by Chris Foley at Collaborative Piano got me thinking and worrying about what ‘new music’ is doing to the beloved acoustic piano.

Here’s some things that some modern composers are calling for, as well as some of the workarounds required to achieve this:

  • strings to be plucked with a plectrum
  • it is necessary to put stickies inside the keyboard on the edge of the string
  • Next, the piano part in Rose Bolton’s Netsuke calls for a dulcimer-like effect on the strings. I originally tried the ends of a pair of pencils, but couldn’t get the right sound. Next I stripped the erasers off the pencils to get more of a metallic sound, but Rose’s fine score called for a higher grade of metal. Finally I tried a pair of spoons from our Oneida everyday flatware set held on the spoon-end and played on the handle-end. Perfection, but again demanding a high level of accuracy
  • one work that called for a metal chisel to be slid across one string in order to bend the pitch
  • once where I was called to pluck strings with my finger, I used a Palm stylus to even better effect
  • standing up and sitting down with one’s foot on the damper pedal

And I am sure these are tame.

Am I a purist (or maybe I’m not a purist in these enlightened days) ?

Continued below...

This strikes me as odd, and almost sacrilegious. Why do we have to do things to the piano that it wasn’t intended for?

I shiver to think of running chisels across piano strings.

Interesting thoughts, as I am sure is the music. At least it will never happen on my digital piano. 🙂


3 thoughts on “Extended techniques for piano?

  • Chris

    The chisel across the strings is actually from George Crumb’s Voice of the Whale, a work written in the 1960’s–many of these techniques are actually decades old, shocking once, but relatively familiar nowadays. Check out Crumb’s oevre, lots of new ways of playing, but within a very musical framework.

  • Andy Post author

    Heh, I guess I’m just an ol’ stick-in-the-mud – my piano teacher never encouraged me to get behind the keys or use anything other than my fingers to touch the piano with…

    To be honest, I wouldn’t have dared do anything unusual to her baby grand piano 🙂

  • Penelope

    I performed a lovely piece by a fellow composition student that required the performer to go back and forth from keyboard to strings. I used an orange peeler to pluck the partials (it attached to my thumb like a ring), which was very convenient. I also memorized the choreography so I didn’t have to use blu-tack or stickies (the techie wasn’t having that on a Steinway D!)
    I understand the need to protect the instrument; that’s valid, but most composers are pretty respectful.

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