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Why Is Key Regulation Important On A Piano?

First things first, what is key regulation on a piano? Key regulation is a part of the setting up of the piano, the regulation, and ensures that the keys are set up to the optimal performance level in relation to the rest of the instrument. Continue reading to understand why key regulation is important and how it can effect the overall playability of your piano.

There are several problems which can occur when the piano keys are not regulated properly. Keys can start rubbing on each other, feel sluggish, get stuck at the bottom of the depression, feel "wonky" and feel higher/lower than each other, make funny clicking noises - just to name a few!

As with many things piano related the key is at the beginning of the chain reaction so if it is not set up properly, this tends to domino through the process all the way to the sound production at the end. We will briefly cover a few basic "must haves" when regulating the keys and how doing it correctly can help prevent problems in the keys and the chain reaction.

The picture below will be our reference for some of these common problems. Please bare in mind this post is intended to be understood by all so technical jargon and detail is limited.

wonky piano keys Why Is Key Regulation Important On A Piano?

1. Key Easing: The Three Points

There are three points on a piano key which must be eased properly - made to the right size - in order to make sure that the key moves freely on it's pivot points. These are the bottom balance rail hole, the felted mortice at the top and the felted front mortice. If these points are not eased properly it an lead to key sticking and keys which are heavy/difficult to play as they are always rubbing. Continuous rubbing also leads to uneven and faster wear and tear on the materials meaning it will need servicing and parts replacing sooner.

Make sure a professional has eased the keys of the piano properly to ensure that you don't get these common problems when playing the piano.

Why Is Key Regulation Important On A Piano?
Photo of the underside of the key showing the middle balance rail hole and the front felted mortice - in this case needed to be rebushed/felted.

2. Wonky Keys

In the picture above the pink circle show a wonky key. You can see that the gap at the top is smaller than that at the bottom which shows that the key is wonky and not squared to the key base. This causes rubbing, sticking, a horrible feeling to play and a displeasing aesthetic. A competent piano technician should be able to easily diagnose this problem for you and provide a fix.

3. Key spacing

In the picture above the two blue circle shows bad key spacing. The key has a wide gap between it's neighbour on one side, and a very narrow gap on the other side. This looks aesthetically bad but also feels odd to the pianist to play as the keys give the illusion of being different distances from each other. The side which is close is most likely to rub and catch on it's neighbour, and the black key on that side will probably catch on it as well. Do a quick visual check to make sure your key spacing is even.

4. Key Levelling

The orange circle shows keys which are not level. This means that one key is higher than the other and is arguably one of the worst problems to have. This feels the worst to the pianist and looks dreadful when it is throughout all 8 octaves. Often piano with this problem look a little like comedic teeth even when the discrepancies are only a few millimetres out of line. It is not uncommon for pianos which are played regularly to gain a "dip" in the middle where it has been played most often and this will cause domino effects throughout the piano action so that the piano feels odd to play.

It is very difficult if not impossible to gain a good feel and touch on the piano as a pianist when they keys are not level. Imagine trying to learn to drive a car smoothly when the clutch is in a different place for every gear! You might adapt to that particular car but you will never gain the finesse needed for a smooth drive. The same is true of piano players and key levelling.

Although there are discrepancies between piano makers, brands, technicians and restorers about the exact height the keys should be levelled to; the most important thing is that they are level. This can be easily checked with a straight edge across the top of the keys - white and black - and addressed by your piano technician.

Why Is Key Regulation Important On A Piano?
Levelling the black key height on a piano with a straight edge

We hope this blog on Why Is Key Regulating Important? has been interesting and given you some food for thought. If you see that your piano visually or feels like it has any of these common problems, seek out a piano professional to assess and fix these problems.

It is important to note that these processes should only be attempted by a piano technician to ensure that they are done properly. We have only covered the very basics in this blog post and a good piano technician will understand the geometry of how these processes work together and need adjusting to work or your piano.

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