Reinventing the Piano is a course available through Kadenze which put the first session up on September 13. The subject is of course the piano, and the course goes through how it is built, why it is built the way it is, and what would happen if it were deconstructed and rebuilt in new ways. I haven’t had music theory since college, and haven’t played much since I broke my right pinkie finger more than a decade ago, but the first session, though it rehashes some information I’ve heard before, is an excellent outline of the instrument itself.
The course is taught by Dr. Dan Trueman of Princeton (bio here).
The course can be audited for free, or can be taken with a $10/month premium membership which gives the student the ability to submit course work, get a certificate of completion, keep a portfolio online and other perks. Students can participate in the forums as either free or premium users.
These are my course notes so I can refer back to them from future sessions and note the books mentioned.
Session 1.1 – Course Intro
Session 1.2 – Musical Scales and the Keyboard
- quotes from Piano Notes by Charles Rosen that keyboard layout has a huge influence on western music. I think this book is in a box in the storage unit!
- diatonic keyboard layout (traditional keyboard layout) favors octaves (of course). Keyboard as a rule. Black keys are pentatonic scale
- chromatic keyboard layout (all white keys) makes for a crappy ruler (all the same)
- wholetone keyboard layout (alternating white and black keys)
- octatonic/diminished keyboard layout (two white keys, then a black key). black keys are a 7th chord
- hexatonic or augmented keyboard layout (two white keys, then two black keys with a blank space between the two black keys).
- Messiaen’s Sixth Mode of Limited Transposition (standard three white keys with two black keys beween them, separated by one single white key)
- reviews a couple more: one built around Harmonic Minor, one for Harmonic Major, one for Acoustic/Lydian Dominant
- Books mentioned:
- Foundations of Diatonic Theory: A Mathematical-Based Approach to Music Fundamentals by Timothy Johnson
- A Geometry of Music by Dmitri Tymoczko
Session 1.3 – The Action
Session 1.4 – The Harpsichord Action
- Discussion by Dr. Gavin Black (this one and the Clavichord one)
- Harpsichord always gets my vote for one of the coolest sounding instruments
- The action plucks the string like a lute is plucked, not hammered like a modern piano
Session 1.5 – The Clavichord Action
- Can’t play two notes right next to each other as they are actually hammering on the same string
- Should play on the ends of the keys, mostly without thumbs, to get the most action (the far end of the lever)
Session 1.6 – The Organ
Session 1.7 – The Piano Action
- I want one of those Kawai Action cut away models!
Session 1.8 – The Sound: Strings, Soundboard and Timbre
- Some keys have one string (lower notes), others have two or three. Provides for better loudness, timbre and sustain
- Interesting program Dr. Trueman uses called SPEAR. He was right, couldn’t hear the notes on my MAC without headphones
- Sympathetic resonance is a cool idea and a good rock band name. The demonstration of partials at the piano is particularly enlightening.
- The closing bit on how we hear and the graphs on audible range are more familiar now that I’ve had some hearing tests due to tinitus in one ear. The JND (Just Noticable Difference) is, of course, subjective, and an average of many test subjects, so every listener will, no doubt, be different.
Session 1.9 - Pedals
- Review of the three pedals: una corda, sostenudo, sustain. And demonstration of how they work.
- Half-pedaling (used when no sustain, usually?) as a pump or a half-press of the pedal
Session 1.10 - For Coders
- I was hoping there would be some code….do have an idea for a musical app, but it will have to get in-line behind other work products.
Session 1.11 – Closing
Coursework – there is a Spotify Playlist with the same piece (C.P.E. Bach’s Moderato from Sonata in B-minor, Wq.49/6) played on clavichord, harpsichord, fortepiano and modern piano). Before I played the songs, I noticed that they were very different lengths. Then I went and read the assignment (yes, when I was a student, I often jumped too far ahead!) and the first question is…why are they different lengths.
- Miklos Spanyi (on clavichord) 12:27. My assumption is that the clavichord recording is longer because of the playing style required that was demonstrated in the video, i.e., playing at the end of the keys and particularly not using the thumbs.
- Bruno Procopio (on harpsichord) 9:59. Similarly, the playing style of the harpsichord, with the need (or capability) to play an upper and lower keyboard, which takes time to move from one to the other,
- Sharona Joshua (on fortepiano) 6:14. I have no clue hear, other than assuming the fortepiano does not have pedals, and perhaps Mr. Colombo did use pedals on the modern piano one (need to listen through it again.
- Claudio Colombo (on modern piano) 8:14. Used this one as the benchmark since it is the only instrument I have played.
The assignment also suggested taking a phrase and comparing it from piece to piece, picking a favorite performance and explaining why, and discussing why the harpsichord version’s lack of dynamics affects the piece.
The other suggested piece was Schubert’s Sonata in Bb-Major, D.960. I found a version of it on Spotify here. I much prefer the Andante Sostenuto movement over the Molto Moderato movement.
There is also a quiz and other coursework for those who are not taking the course in audit/free mode.
Session 2 is scheduled to be online September 27.