In the corner of the lounge at Maggiano’s restaurant on Nashville’s West End, Jeff Alfiero plays the piano five nights a week. It’s far from a lonely job. People gather around the piano to listen and shrug off the tension of the day.
The craft is about far more than just filling time between requests. It’s knowing how to set the mood, read a room and when to play Happy Birthday.
In this episode, Jeff tells us what it’s like to have played in the same lounge for 15 years, the songs people request and having some of Nashville’s premiere musicians stop by.
How pianos are built
The 88 keys on a piano give it the greatest range of any other instrument and to make each note perfect, a lot of care goes into construction of a piano and its 12,000 parts. Ten thousand of those are moving parts.
You have Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori in Italy to thank for the first piano that was created in 1709.
There are vertical pianos and grand pianos – those are the ones that stretch out horizontally and often have the lid popped open.
Pianos come in sizes. Grand pianos range in length from about four to nine feet from the front of the keyboard to end of the bend. Baby grands are five to eight feet. Smaller grand pianos are called “apartment size.” Larger sizes are called medium grand and concert grand.
The vertical piano has seen only minor changes since 1935. They range in height from 36 to 52 inches. The five standard sizes from smallest to tallest are the spinet, consolette, console, studio, and professional pianos.
Maple is typically used for the outside of the piano because it can be bent into curves. Spruces are used for braces. Since vertical pianos don’t require curves, other woods can be used. Strings are made of high tensile steel in factories that specialize in piano wire. Vertical pianos usually don’t have bends and are simpler to construct. Their strings are also shorter.
Steinway uses 22 layers on the rims to bend them to the desired shape. Lacquer, paint and sealants are used to give the piano its finish.
The soundboard sits under the strings in a grand and vertically on vertical pianos. Steinway makes it from spruce because of is resonance. Like the exterior, the spruce is curved to produce the best sound.
Strings arrive at the factory flat, not rolled so they can be more easily be stretched on the piano without irregularities.
When one of the keys is pressed, it raises a hammer that then falls onto a string. Felt is used to silence the string when the key is released. The hammers are most responsible for the piano’s tone and sound quality. The hammers are also balanced so they all respond to equal pressure.
Some notes are made by hammers that strike multiple strings. The pedals can control the number of strings struck and whether the tone continues once the key is released.
As construction nears its end, pedals, keyboard, lid and other finishing touches are added, then the piano is tuned. New pianos should be tuned four times a year after they are in their new home as it string tension will change as it adjusts to its new environment.