The Microtonal piano

- and the tuned-in interpreter 

The piano is a rich instrument, but it also has its limitations. As I wish to be a flexible musician, as a pianist playing contemporary music, I need a flexible instrument with a considerably wider sound palette.

While microtonality* has become a lingua franca among other instruments, the piano has retained its 12-tone equal-temperament. Use of microtonality will increase the expressive possibilities of the acoustic piano. One can de-tune the instrument, and/or play with harmonics or prepare the piano strings (many of the nodes on the strings will produce microtones). Use of electronics is yet another option.**

By working closely with composers through several workshops, I will overcome seemingly practical obstacles in order to commission successful solo and chamber works for the microtonal piano. My experience with piano tuning will be useful when it comes to exploiting these possibilities, and making them realizable for composers.

When considering all the approx. 230 strings of the piano, there must be room for new and widely different sounds and expressions. The combination of playing microtones inside the instrument and on the keyboard is undoubtedly interesting, and something I will explore in the project, but I still consider microtonality through de-tuning being my main contribution to a possible renewed interest - within contemporary music - in pianists performing at the keyboard.

These are my artistic research questions:

- How can I expand the sound potential of the piano through de-tuning the instrument, and other ways of achieving microtonality? 

- How can I, as a pianist, pave the way for viable works including the microtonal acoustic piano, and make both existing and new microtonal works more accessible and realizable to myself and other pianists?

I believe this project belongs to a pianist since it eventually is the pianist who physically will explore and extend the possibilities of the instrument, choose the works, and perform them. Furthermore, with commissions from different composers, one can more easily demonstrate the instrument's potential to be used for great aesthetic diversity. Being a pianist working with the contemporary repertoire in recent years, an attentive listening to sound itself has become an artistic driving force.

In a time of widely different aesthetics, many composers today use microtonality without necessarily searching for "the ultimate, universal tuning", which, on the other hand, often has been the case of the developers of quarter/fifth/sixth tone instruments and just intonation instruments. I have looked into numerous search services for students/researchers, and I haven't found anything concerning de-tuning of regular pianos, harpsichords, organs etc., which is not involving full microtonal equal temperament***, just intonation or historical temperament. Nor anything about pianists who themselves experiment with de-tuning. I therefore intend to also develop a website with a catalog of microtonal piano possibilities, useful both for pianists and composers. 



*   In this project, my definition of microtonality simply means tonality containing intervals not found in the customary 12-tone equal-temperament. 

**  Electronics will in general not be considered in this research, since I wish to fully focus on the acoustic possibilities. 

*** quarter/fifth/sixth tone instruments etc. 

© 2015 Sanae Yoshida