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Why Are The Levers Important On A Piano?

Sometimes known as Whippens, the levers on the piano are an important element in the basic physical chain reaction from pressing the key to the finished sound of a piano. Continue reading to find out more about how the levers enable the piano to play. in the blog Why Are The Levers Important On A Piano?
Grand Piano Lever Assembly:
Upright Piano Assembly: in the blog Why Are The Levers Important On A Piano?
Upright Piano Assembly:

The levers in the piano are absolutely fundamental to the working mechanism of the piano. Above are two photos which illustrate the Grand Piano Action and the Upright Piano Action - the first which effectively lies on its side whilst the other stands upright. In both, the lever (or whippen) is identified in the middle between the keys and the hammers, combining the other two elements together. The levers in both styles act essentially in the same way to enable the playing of the piano.

The first function of the lever we have discussed is to be the in between of the hammer and the keys. When the key is depressed at the front, the back of the key rises due to the pivoting properties; this pushes on the bottom of the lever up, which pushes on the bottom of the hammer, which is moved towards the strings in order to play. The same is true in reverse as the hammer falls back, so does the lever and the key to return to their original starting positions.

However the lever was not just made to facilitate this in between state but has been crafted to perform three other tasks aswell. To illustrate these we will look at the upright lever in more detail, although the grand lever works almost exactly in the same way.

Picture of a upright lever: in the blog Why Are The Levers Important On A Piano?
Picture of a upright lever:

In the picture above you can see the piece of wood pointing upwards attached to the spring. This is called the Jack and allows the hammers to "set off". As the green felt on the bottom of the lever is pushed by the back of the key, the lever rises which pushes the jack straight up in to the bottom of the hammer, moving it forwards. However, just before the hammer hits the string the jack "slips out" or "lets off" which prevents the hammer from blocking - or getting stuck - on the string which would be catastrophic for a pianist. If the jack is not working properly you can feel this in the key as it seems to get stuck in the middle of pushing it down and the only way to remedy is to let it come back up again. This is the literal feeling of the hammer pushing in to the string with no where left to go as it can't fall back away from the strings because the jack is in the way. Thus, the let off of the jack is essential. This is the first function of the lever assembly.

As the moving parts return to their starting positions, the spring pushes hard on the bottom of the Jack firing it back forwards and under the hammer again, so that quick repetition of the notes is possible. Without this function you wouldn't be able to play repeated same notes quickly on the piano as the lever and hammer assembly would not be in the right place. In antique and pre piano stringed instruments we see this where the repepated notes can only be played so quickly because there is no spring function. And so the spring firing the jack back under the hammer in to its starting position for repetition, is the second function of the lever assembly.

Thirdly the lever has a long wire with a "check head" on top. As the hammer falls back away from the string after hitting it, the check "catches" the hammer which prevents it from bouncing back towards the string as the chain reaction reverses. If the check function is not working properly the keys will feel "bobbly" and "jumpy" and you might here a "bobbling" repeated sound on the string. Again, this would also prevent or make the playing of repeating notes very difficult.

These three functions of the lever are essential to the piano playing properly and the pianist being able to play and enjoy music without issues. Without the lever it would be almost impossible to play the piano as we do today.

We hope you have enjoyed this short post Why Are The Levers Important On A Piano? and that it has helped you to gain a basic understanding of how levers work. Please note that this blog is not intended as an instructional for professionals but a basic overview for people who are interested. Tune in to our technical series for more comprehensive discussion.

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