Clunky, old instruments - Experiences with clunky, old instruments

Play more than piano? Interested in a different instrument, including voice? Talk about it here.

Postby Stretto » Sat Jul 02, 2005 11:28 pm

Happy 4th of July everyone! :unclesam: (I've wanted to get this Uncle Sam face in here somewhere!)

I thought it would be fun to hear everyone's experiences of any old, junky, out-of-tune, terrible, etc. instruments that you have ever had to learn or practice on. Do you think it affected your ability to learn or play?

The piano I first started learning on was an old white upright piano my dad paid $50 for and kept it from being sent to the dump. He had it before I was born and kept it in our unfinished basement. Half the ivory on the keys was missing. I goofed around on it when I was little way before formal lessons and even wrote the letters on some keys in pen so I could remember which keys I needed for "Jingle Bells". I also taught myself guitar on one my dad's uncle had picked up somewhere along the way when he fought during WWII. I used that old upright piano to tune the guitar. :laugh: After 4 years of learning on that piano, my dad bought a decent one and when I knew I was going to teach, I saved for about 2 years or so for a brand new one.
Some of my piano students have reported to me several faults with their pianos as well (keys that stick, registers that don't work, being way out of tune, etc.)
I still have a special place in my heart for that old 'clunker' I first learned on and it makes me appreciate the nice ones so much more.

What experiences have you had with old, 'clunky' and 'junky' instruments? :laugh: I am interested to hear about the condition of the instruments everyone has had to put up with along the way.
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Postby minorkey » Sun Jul 03, 2005 9:15 pm

I began lessons at around age 12 on my grandparents' beautiful old Kranich and Bach cabinet grand (upright), which had been given to my family several years before. It has all the fancy carving typical of turn-of-the-century pianos, and came with the old round stool with claw feet. It was tough for a kid to learn on, though. The sound was (and still is) deep and rich, but at 70+ years old, it was definitely showing its age. Many keys were broken and/or sticky, and overall the action was in sorry shape. It was a struggle to play, and I probably developed terrible technique as a result. In comparison, I loved playing on my teacher's piano- a newer Baldwin concert grand with its own area code.
Sadly, my interest in taking lessons and playing waxed and waned in part because I felt I didn't sound good on our piano. I did return to lessons on that piano several years later, for another couple of years or so, then quit again when I left home. I've recently returned to regular lessons and playing with the help of a great new upright, and will not quit ever again!
Our old clunker still has a special place in our family, and is still used at my parents' house when we visit (one of the grandkids plays as well). I have no regrets about learning on it, given its heritage. But I do wish I had had more practice opportunities on a newer piano during those years when I was so far back on the learning curve. Now I am wondering if I can have the 100+ year-old clunker restored/refurbished to some degree, without spending a fortune....
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Postby 88keys » Tue Jul 05, 2005 7:27 am

The piano I learned to play on was an ancient upright grand. It weighed a ton and it was so out of tune the Bb above middle C sounded like a car horn.

I firmly believe it affected my ear training because when I was in ear training in college I was consistently thinking the note being played was a whole step lower than it actually was. (For example, if the prof was playing D, I thought it might be C.)

Parents, don't let your babies grow up playing horrible pianos!!!!
That's my story and I'm sticking with it!
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Jul 05, 2005 2:05 pm

When I was eight we got our first instrument, if you could call it that; it was an old pump organ with bellows so leaky that in order to get a sound you had to run a foot race. I developed my legs more than my fingers on that thing, but it was all we could afford--we paid two dollars for it.

My other experience like this was when I was in the army, staioned near Washington, D.C. I studied organ at The Washington Cathedral, and then had to go back and practice on an old Hammond in the post chapel that didn't even have a full pedalboard--talk about contrast!

But the real fun is being asked to perform somewhere and then finding you have to use an impossible instrument. Has anybody had similar experiences worth relating?

Dr. Bill.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
Dr. Bill Leland
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Postby Beckywy » Tue Jul 05, 2005 8:04 pm

I was asked to perform a piano piece David Foster wrote for the 88 Winter games with a band and when I got there, all they had was a small keyboard. Talk about adjusting and transposing octaves on the spot.
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
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Postby Stretto » Thu Jul 07, 2005 8:19 am

Quote by Beckywy - July 5: I was asked to perform a piano piece . . . and when I got there, all they had was a small keyboard.

I had to play on a keyboard once for a relative's wedding and it is a funny feeling to perform on a little keyboard when one's used to a big piano. I think I knew ahead of time about the keyboard but when I got there, there was nothing to use to sit on. (I was told the church keyboardist just stands to play it.) I had to fend for myself to find something to sit on and couldn't get everything adjusted to the right height. Then before the wedding, I noticed the photographer had a small adjustable stool and I asked her about borrowing it. She was very nice about letting me use it. She saved the day for me.

Quote by minorkey - July 3: I began lessons at around age 12 on my grandparents' beautiful old Kranich and Bach cabinet grand (upright) which had been given to my family several years before.

You reminded me of the old upright piano my Grandma had I forgot about. All the grandkids used to goof around on it. I'm going to find out what happened to it just for curiosities sake.

All the goofing around on clunky instruments my dad had around (the old guitar I mentioned, piano, and also an old trombone he played in school), is most likely what originally sparked us kids' interest in wanting to learn an instrument. Looking back I really appreciate that old clunky piano we had as I may not have had an opportunity to learn otherwise. I remember getting really frustrated sometimes when practicing. I'm not sure if the piano had to do with it but I'm sure it affected my technique.

In college, there were a limited number of practice rooms with nice grands and the rest of the available pianos weren't that great. When the good pianos were being used, I had a system of which rooms to check next based on bad to worse pianos.

Just recently, I used my former college's hall for my students' recital and hadn't been there for about 10 years. They recently purchased a new Steinway and said we could just use the 'old' Steinway for our recital. I didn't remember it being so old. (A Fine Arts Festival had the hall reserved from 8 am to 10:30 pm everyday for the whole month prior which prevented me from checking things out ahead.) The keys on this piano seemed a lot different in size and spacing and the touch was extremely light. (Perhaps it was my imagination or my lack of knowledge and that is normal for a Steinway). I thought it would throw my students way off but all my students sounded beautifully and it didn't phase them one bit. (I've always made excuses for getting thrown off by 'different' pianos.)

Does anyone else have any experiences with poor instruments in practice or performance, etc? It doesn't have to be just piano. The experience could be with any instrument. :)

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Postby Tranquillo » Sun Oct 07, 2007 6:16 am

Actually I know a friend with a violin experience.
This music teacher at school gave this girl an old, old dusty, violin owned by the school. Nobody picked music and played violin so she got to keep it. It seemed as thought it was valueless and really perhaps something fanciful for the wall as a ornament.
The girl cleaned it that afternoon, got the woond polished and the violin restringed ... as well as ... dont know the term but when violinists 'clean' thier bows... well yeah she pretty much got it repaired and in a frest out of the box state. The guy at the shop rambled on the rarity and quality of the violin as it was made in 1901 - the time of Australia's fedaration. It turned out to be worth 10 thousand dollars. She decided to keep and apparently it projects a really nice sound.
... so old clunky instruments can be useful !
Music is organised sound
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Oct 07, 2007 7:55 pm

Good violins get better with age, while bad violins stay bad. Maybe it's because they don't have mechanisms that can wear down, like pianos. The bow was rehaired. That means a set of strands of hundreds of horse tail hairs replaced the hair that was on originally. That is done from time to time when the hair wears down.

When I had no piano I played one at a place that I visited a few times a year. It was not tuned. Once of the notes was like C,C#,D when hitting the C key. Some of the keys were hard to push down. One key in the bass register stuck completely, so to play it I had to grab it with thumb and finger and push it up and down by hand. I got to strengthen my fingers and hear (sort of) what dynamics might sound like. The pedal made a hollow banging sound as if a little man was there with a sledge hammer, and it hardly made a difference otherwise.
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Postby Stretto » Tue Oct 09, 2007 8:12 pm

The violin story reminded me for some reason of a couple old guitars we have moved around with us for years. One was my husbands guitar as he took lessons for a while as a kid. After moving it around with us for a few years to 3 different states with very differing climates, I took it to a store and asked if they could put new strings on it as I was going to suprise my husband with it for a birthday present along with buying some lessons for him (I had this notion I could take up banjo and he could revive his guitar skills). I found out that from storing the guitar upright rather than flat (which is what they recommended we should have done) the neck had warped and if they were to try to put new strings on, they said it would cause the neck to crack :( . So much for that idea.
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