Home Forums Progress Review Piano vs. guitar part 7

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    • #38018

      The future of guitar vs. the future of piano.

      Electric guitars are still evolving although most players use the 60s/70s styles. I guess my headless guitar could be considered an 80s design, also many decades old. Though it has a piezo pickup with chip-amp which is definitely 2000’s technology. MAB created the double-V-neck guitar, in the 80s, which is still futuristic today (and playable only by MAB because no one else can hack it 30+ years later?), and his string dampener in the 90s, still a recent innovation. Bumblefoot plays the electric double-neck fretless guitar, from the 90s, which is also still so futuristic that no one else can really play it either, and he also uses a pinky-thimble to give him up 30+ fretted notes on a 24-fret guitar.

      These days most images of the peak of electric guitar are either Gibson or Fender. One of the very common questions in MAB guitar clinics is “So, what’s next for guitar?” The answers seem to vary a bit but I guess most of us are still trying to catch up to a good skill level on just 6 strings. The rise of uke playing might show that a whole lot of people gave up on guitar around the early 2000’s and are settling for a much simpler instrument of just 4 strings and only 14 frets.

      The interesting book “Physics of the Piano” (Giordano, 2010) has a deep dive into piano manufacturing and some discussion on the future of piano.

      Pianos, which became accepted as instruments around the 1750s, have a stable design, few innovations. One curious thing is that the Steinway Piano brand is considered “The” piano even though the company has been sold many times to other companies as a subsidiary and is no longer original manufacturing. One bizarre aspect of piano is that so much early classical (Bach etc) was written for harpsichord (popular since the 1300s!) which has zero dynamics. Every note has the same velocity. Yet Everyone today is expected to play all the old material on a modern piano, and add in tons of “unwritten” dynamics and lots of “expressiveness”. I guess that’s a bit like insisting all of us guitarists must use Pog and wah effects pedals even on Bob Dylan songs. Like, “No, don’t play it like it was supposed to be played or originally played. Play it with a modern instrument and add in modern spacey effects.”

      The side effect of the harpsichord being so limited in terms of dynamics is that the players used lots of trills and tinkly ornamentation. There’s another effect caused by using trills, which I haven’t found discussed anywhere yet. On guitar, we play the blue note, or bend a note through the blue note, because it sounds so cool. On the harpsichord or piano, that’s not possible, but if you tinkle adjacent keys, it can sound sort of like a blend of the two notes, kind of simulating a note bending up through a blue note.

      Piano grew to 88 keys in the Beethoven/Mozart era. Surprisingly there are bigger pianos, up to 97 keys! “Bösendorfer Imperial Grand” with 97 keys spans eight complete octaves. Never seen one. The book has a chapter to explain why 88 keys is basically the maximum ever needed, therefore spending $$$ on 97 keys is not a good idea. This happens to be a question I’ve asked several classical pianists, and never got a straight answer. The 88 keys coincides with the pitch perception of the human ear. The highest piano note is C8 which is just below where humans can still discriminate pitch. Anything above that, and the note is useless in a chord or melody.

      Experiments have shown that the upper limit of human pitch perceptionis around 4,000–5,000 Hz. Above this frequency, humans are not able to recognize the pitch relationships in musical intervals.

      Tones with frequencies of around 5,000 Hz are at what is effectively the upper limit for a musically useful pitch.

      The highest note on a modern piano is C8 which has a fundamental frequency of about 4,186 Hz.

      My yamaha piano is 73 keys because there’s no way I can fit a full 88-key in my small mancave practice space. That’s a consideration which no piano lesson ever mentions. It has a key-transpose function if the extra range is really needed. Deciding on the number of keys to buy is actually a huge consumer decision where piano instructors seem to give misleading advice. This week I was reading the requirements of a local piano instructor with the thought I might get some piano lessons and her page says, students “must have an 88-key piano.” Well forget it, I’m not taking lessons from someone like that who is so closed off to alternatives. (And besides, the book she uses is the same-old, same-old, “Saints Go Marching In” nonsense.)

      The reality is, just like guitar where 6 strings and 22 frets are pretty much all that’s needed for rock n roll (and a $200 guitar works just fine), for piano, you only need about 73 to 76 keys, because nearly all music only uses that range, even classical. Newer MIDI pianos are in shorter ranges, an innovation to save desk space. A 2020’s era $700 weighted-key electric piano is indistinguishable in feel from a real grand piano. That’s something a classical pianist would not want to admit.

      The book doesn’t mention MIDI 2.0. But MIDI 2.0 could really open things up for piano as an instrument, I assume. It allows bending individual piano notes, like the Seaboard. I’m sure the spec has other futuristic aspects too.

      It says pianos are traditionally best made from spruce. Modern materials for the soundboard might still improve bass response, so there’s still room for innovation. Newer manufacturing techniques could create new pianos which sound even better than the world’s best centuries-old pianos. The lowest note on an 88-key is A0 which is 27.5 Hz. Actually the fundamental is missing from the piano, but humans don’t care because pitch perception fills in the missing fundamental. Although maybe the use of synths in EDM which actually generate the low fundamental of bass notes allows listeners to enjoy EDM more since it has a different feeling than piano music.

      In my opinion the future of pianos would include a pedal board of effects. Current “electric pianos” are made to replace acoustic pianos yet only “keyboards” mostly without weighted keys include effects, and these effects aren’t foot controlled. Consider the typical rock n roll frontman in comparison: using both hands to play an instrument, singing, and tapping pedals or controlling a wah at the same time. That’s a huge amount of work. Compare that to a pianist who is only using two hands to play, and rarely using feet for controlling tone. Pianos and pianists have some catching up to do.

      What’s the future of electric guitar?

      I'm an intermediate student of Metal Method. I play seitannic heavy metal. All Kale Seitan! ♯ ♮ ♭ ø ° Δ ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬
      And on the Seventh Day, Mustaine said: ∇ ⨯ E = - ∂B / ∂t ; and there was Thrash; and it had a ♭3; and it was good.

    • #38020
      Dave Pickering

      MAB created the double-V-neck guitar, in the 80s, which is still futuristic today (and playable only by MAB because no one else can hack it 30+ years later?), and his string dampener in the 90s, still a recent innovation.

      While MAB has his own design, the string dampener is not a recent innovation. Jazz guitarist George Van Eps designed one in the 1950’s and it was used by a number of jazz and rock players–most notably Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist Scotty Moore.


      Regarding piano vs. guitar, I remember something one of my teachers told me many years ago: there is only one place on a piano where you can play the middle C tone, on a standard-tuned 6 string guitar, there are 5.

      My biggest fear is when I die, my wife will sell my guitars for what I told her they cost.

      1. scotty20moore20super20400.jpg

    • #38024

      Good point. Headless guitars are pre-80s too, at least in a few prototypes.

      The string dampener as a mechanical invention is a really cool device. I like innovation. I bet someday most guitars will have them as standard. All the highly technical young youtube guitarists are using random velcro straps as dampeners, or even hair ties, which work, but why not have the instrument’s tooling really accomplish the job properly.

      The lack of innovation in piano bugs me, and piano training too. Some say that piano has been regressing for a long while (like 100 years!). Like the recent article below. In comparison, Doug’s course goes into improvising in the 4th week and mandates improvising in most lessons after that, especially in the pentatonic weeks. Innovation in rock guitar usually includes lots of ad hoc improvisation skills. Creating new guitar sounds by keeping the “happy accidents” during a jam.

      Why today’s musicians should follow classical greats … and improvise
      A leading scholar says young pianists should follow in the spontaneous spirit of Bach and Beethoven
      Dalya Alberge
      Sat 6 Jun 2020 09.22 EDT

      Bach, Mozart and Beethoven all thrilled audiences with their spontaneous improvisations. But today’s classical pianists have lost the art, according to a music scholar, who argues that performances suffer because they are so dependent on the printed score.

      John Mortensen claims that such improvisation skills were all but lost by the 20th century and that few classically trained musicians can now do so in any style.

      He told the Observer: “There is something stultifying about a tradition where millions of pianists are all playing the same 100 compositions. The way we’ve developed musicians is falling apart, as it was designed for a very narrow outcome – preserving and perfecting the canonic repertoire.

      “When you say everyone has to play a Bach prelude and fugue, a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin nocturne, and we’ll do that until the end of the world, something in our soul dies.”

      Mortensen, professor of piano at Cedarville University in Ohio, added: “Now students are looking for a different, more flexible form of musicianship, and the schools are, by and large, not prepared to offer that.”

      He singled out Bach as “a composer, performer and improviser” who could create elaborate fugues on the spot. Then there was Beethoven, he said, who humiliated fellow German Daniel Steibelt, one of Europe’s most renowned piano virtuosos, “by riffing upon and exposing the weakness of the latter’s inferior tunes”. Steibelt is said to have been so humiliated, he stormed out of the room.

      He writes: “Bach could improvise fugues not because he was unique, but because almost any properly trained keyboard player in his day could. It was built into their musical thinking from the very beginning of their training.” He argues that even veteran concert artists today are “beginners at improvisation”: “Those who attend collegiate music schools spend nearly all their time and effort on learning, perfecting and reciting masterpieces from the standard repertoire.”

      Mortensen has dedicated his career to “perfecting and reciting masterpieces of the repertoire”, but he is also a performer who improvises complete fugues and other pieces in 18th-century styles. He teaches courses and workshops in classical improvisation at many colleges, including the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (RNCM).

      He said he had spoken to numerous music students in Britain and America who wanted to explore improvisation as well as remaining faithful to the standard classical repertoire. He believes that such performances would particularly attract young people.

      However, he spoke of resistance from purists and those embarrassed by their own inability to improvise. One professor told him he would not be invited to their campus as the senior professor “can’t improvise”.

      This part, the senior professor “can’t improvise”, it’s funny and might explain why it feels like I’m talking to a wall when I ask this stuff of supposedly-trained musicians. Simple questions like how the music works, or what they would write differently if they started with a famous part of music or something. Rock guitarists know how to play over stuff by ear but they usually can’t explain it verbally in theory terms. Trained musicians are supposedly learned in the theory aspect to be able to explain what music is doing what it’s doing but then they don’t know how to play over stuff, no innovation. Bizarre world. Add this to the list of the future of piano: complete classical improvisation.

      I'm an intermediate student of Metal Method. I play seitannic heavy metal. All Kale Seitan! ♯ ♮ ♭ ø ° Δ ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬
      And on the Seventh Day, Mustaine said: ∇ ⨯ E = - ∂B / ∂t ; and there was Thrash; and it had a ♭3; and it was good.

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