By Hannah Beckett, RPT
Regulation is a very physical process. While specs and measurements are crucial for a good regulation, you should not underestimate the value of the feedback you get from your body as you regulate a piano. If you are a pianist, certain aspects of regulation may be more intuitive since you are accustomed to producing different types of blows with a key, but regardless of your skill level, it’s good to develop a sensitive and consistent touch when regulating. Jigs are also a very convenient way to achieve consistent results, but they shouldn’t be a substitute for your senses.
This article does not include any measurements for regulation, but rather focuses on the touch, look, and feel of various action components.
There are many texts that encourage testing the action with an “average medium blow.” In my time working with many technicians of all genders, ages, and body types, I have discovered that this “average medium blow” can vary significantly.
To achieve a medium blow, first practice making your arm weightless. This can be a new feeling to those who don’t already play the piano proficiently, but with practice, it will become second nature. Hold one arm in the opposing hand and pull all of the weight into your core so that your arm floats. Then, release your weight back into your arm and catch it with the opposing hand. A weightless arm will yield a pianissimo blow. Full arm weight will yield a forte blow. Half of the weight will yield a medium, or “mezzo forte” blow.
Half of your arm weight is what should be used on tests like checking and aftertouch. When playing a medium blow, it is important to keep a straight wrist and to use two fingers for each blow. Regardless of your age, do not underestimate the wear on your body that awkward angles and repetitions can take. Any opportunity to remove direct force on one joint will help to prevent your body from being harmed by repetitive use.
Letoff and Drop
Because letoff and drop are so closely connected, testing for these functions can be simultaneous, however, I would suggest that altering speeds for the two functions will yield a more accurate playing result. For both tests, use your thumb to depress the key while controlling the downward speed with the back of your second finger on the key front. I call this the thumb-stop method.
For letoff, you should play very slowly for the most accurate calculation. Identifying the difference between two millimeters and three millimeters requires visual concentration and focus.
For drop, play slightly faster so that the calculation becomes more of a feel in your thumb than a visual measurement. Drop should feel crisp under your fingers, not “soggy” or excessively deep.
Repetition Lever Height
Using the same thumb-stop method, slowly depress the key until the jack has cleared the knuckle. Even more slowly, release the key while watching the jack button. The jack button should return completely to rest on the button. If you practice this method with your eyes closed, you can actually feel a very subtle “click” in the key when the button hits the spoon. If you do not feel that click, the jack may not be returning to full rest position and repetition could suffer.
Feeling for ridges and bumps in key height can be difficult. Over time, fingertips lose their sensitivity. To get clearer readings on keytops, use the flat, fleshy part of your finger to move very slowly back and forth on the keys. It’s good to pick one finger and stick with it to develop accuracy.
Using a medium blow, put the key in check. Then, slowly withdraw the weight from your arm until the key rises very slightly. This should set the repetition spring into motion. It is good to watch the hammer to see how rapidly it rises, but also test a few times with your eyes closed and pay attention to how the key feels. The goal is to regulate the hammer to rise as quickly as possible without producing a bump in the key.
Aftertouch is felt at the bottom of the keystroke, and most serious pianists will know this term far more commonly than other action terms. On a medium blow, you should be able to feel the jack move an additional 1.5-2mm by compressing the felt punching a bit more.