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Una Corda, a piano with one string per note (klavins-pianos.com)
117 points by camtarn 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

At first I was confused and wondered whether my understanding of how pianos work is totally inadequate and whether normal pianos have fewer than one string per note (perhaps with some sort of a fret system to allow adjacent keys to share strings). Turns out they have more than one on average; typically two in the tenor range and three in treble, so as not to be overpowered by the massive bass strings.

The soundtrack that was playing throughout the film was made with this piano. You can get this effect by "preparing" a regular piano, which is one of Nils Frahm's specialities but it's quite a special instrument in itself, an ethereal quality. Piano technology is really fascinating, if you go back to the first struck instruments from the 17th century through to the massive modern day iron-frame stage monsters that can compete with a full-size orchestra.

Nils also made a wonderful contribution to the music community with his instrument plug-in:


Clavichords, which are small keyboard instruments predating the piano, can be fretted. As a result, they can have fewer than one string per note.

To my knowledge, harpsichords and pianos are never fretted and need at least one string per note.

Pianos typically have two strings per note. It makes the piano louder and helps the tone of the note to sound fuller. This happened when they started making a piano super strong frames.

That's incorrect. A typical piano has one string on the bass notes, then two strings per note as you get higher up the keyboard, then three per note higher up again. The exact point where the switch is made varies a little.

If you meant "typically" as in the majority, the majority of the keys have three strings.

Yeah, and tuning a piano is quite a feat! (patience is a virtue)

Pianos used to have a pedal that causes the hammer strike only one string. The pedal is still there and still called Una Corda but usually doesn't do real single string activation anymore. This is also not the same as a Una Corda piano that has only one string per note because in a regular piano sympathetic string resonance is a significant contributor to the sound.

Both kinds of pedal are typical, but it depends on the type of piano.

For uprights, the una corda pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings so they don't accelerate for as long on their way in.

But on a grand, the una corda pedal indeed still shifts the entire mechanism to the right so that the hammers truly hit una corda each.

Yep, my piano does just that. The entire keyboard (and hammer assembly) slides over slightly when the press the pedal.

From playing around with pianos, I've seen that there's a pedal that moves the keys over, and I never knew what it was for. Thanks for explaining!

>> string resonance is a significant contributor to the sound.

String resonance and the case. Removing the case from a piano is like a make a drum out of a hoop and a skin. The case modulates the sound. It softens the rough edges and projects sound in particular directions. Removing it doesn't make the sound better. The case also ensures that all the piano innards are in a homogeneous environment. Without a case, individual strings will be in different temperature regions. Wooden parts will be in different moistures. Felt and leather bits will age inconstantly. A piano living without a case is like storing a strat violin on a shelf: artistically interesting but not done by anyone who actually appreciates the instrument.

Check out the Native Instruments implementation which includes sound demos:


Oh man I actually really enjoy these audio demos as music. Anyone have good suggestions on more music like them? Piano music but in non-classical style with a touch of electronic editing thrown in.

Nils Frahm (namedropped on the NI page linked there because he was involved with making the real Una Corda) is a good place to start, his live shows are fun too.

You might enjoy this piece I recorded with a piano + delay fx:


('tis not-so-humble self-promotion, of course, but let me know if you do like it!)

Nils Frahm, the artist in OP's video, is great. His music is a brilliant combination of electronic music with piano.

Frahm uses prepared pianos — meaning pianos that have been modified with things like paper or fabric attached to strings/hammers, and with microphones placed in strategic places to capture subtleties that normal recordings don't. (His solo piano pieces are full of lovely creaks and clicks.)

Frahm hasn't made an uninteresting album so far. His solo piano album, Screws, is great:


His latest, All Melody, is more electronic:


I'm also a big fan of the American composer Luke Howard, who does very much the same thing:


Howard is also a brilliant jazz pianist. His album Open Road with the bassist Janos Bruneel is fantastic.

Another superb prepared-piano guy is Clem Leek:


And then there's Dustin O'Halloran, whose name sounds like he should be a gangly, wandering folk singer, but is actually a phenomenal pianist and composer. His three piano solo albums are great. He's been doing a lot of soundtrack composition recently that mixes electronics and piano; his score for the recent film Puzzle is on rotation in my Spotify:


O'Halloran's electronic side project, Winged Victory for the Sullen, is also superb:


The Norwegian pianist Otto Totland:


Also check out Hauschka and Federico Albanese.

It makes me think, slightly, of the minecraft sound track (https://youtu.be/bIOiV4d1SVI). If you haven't listened to that yet, give it a go. :)

Ólafur Arnalds is another one to check out!

He is my favorite New Classical artist. His actually hired a programmer to control two pianos and has a custom made randomizer. As a Hacker Olafur is the most interesting artist right now.

Interesting Read: https://grapevine.is/culture/music/iceland-airwaves/airwaves...

+1 for Olafur

Another artist who has used a specially-crafted MIDI-controlled piano is Dan Deacon. His stuff is not exactly New Classical, though, it's a bit more frenetic and goofy, but quite good.

He talks about it quite in a bit in a Pitchfork TV video that documented him working on one of his albums, Bromst: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPg4Vcr56F0

Erik Satie. Non-classical, but without electronic touch.

Thank you, that's great!

Fun fact: Beethoven once owned a piano that had four strings per key on the higher range[1].

I'm not sure if he used that piano to compose his sonata Op 110, but it has a section[2] that starts with una corda, with a very serene melody, and as it gradually picks up its energy Beethoven instructs the player to use more and more strings... an effect that's not quite possible with modern pianos as modern una corda is not actually one but two strings per key (in the middle-to-high region), and that's the only distinction we have.

[1] https://books.google.com/books?id=q6oZkreoZtQC&pg=PA57&dq=be...

[2] See, for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI1viKPG3TI starting ~18:32 until the end.

I remember seeing a piano from the early XX century that had a fourth string, however it was sympathetic (never struck) and there was no fine control of how many strings were being struck.

EDIT: found it! https://www.pianostreet.com/blog/piano-news/bluthner-and-the...

I have a 64 note piano and love it. It is has one or two strings per note instead of the standard 3. I bought mine at a garage sale for $240 bucks about 20 years ago, and it is my favorite instrument. I love the idea of this but not at that price point.

What make is it?

A sample library of the Una Corda is available from Native Instruments. It's a very useful instrument, providing a lighter and more ethereal alternative to a conventional piano. It has a surprisingly complex timbre, evoking hints of a harp, steel pan or kalimba in the upper register.


Some of the tracks sound a lot like a picked guitar, which I guess isn't that surprising. How much that comes through probably depends on exactly which sound banks, strings, etc. are used.

Unfortunately, most of the samples are of obscure compositions. I think some tracks of traditional piano standards, especially side by side with a regular piano, would really show off the sound more.

This. I'll admit I don't use it much (it isn't really appropriate for a lot of what I do), but it is genuinely a wonderful instrument.

Dang, $150 for a pack of samples from one instrument? As in, 88 WAV files? Is that the usual price for this kind of thing?

This vertical grand piano - you have to go up a short flight of steps to get to the keyboard - from the same company, is ACE https://www.klavins-pianos.com/products/model-450i/

but.... why not just design it so the keyboard is on ground level, and the strings go up instead of down? is this just a design flex?

You don't want to sit in front of strings that loud and sympathetic (meaning one string makes many other strings vibrate along both due to harmonics as well as plain physical vibration travelling into them).

It would be super uncomfortaable and players would damage their hearing so fast. You want to be out of the path of the sound, not just for the "listener"s benefit, but absolutely also your own. It's why grand pianos reflect sound "to the side". If you used the upright approach of sending it over the pianist, you'd end up with a lot of damaged ears and broken players.

For those unfamiliar with the Michelberger Hotel: if you have the opportunity to stay there, do so. It's like nowhere you've been before, and the fact that this piano was shown off there first is a surprise to no one who ever had the pleasure of spending one or more nights in their hotel, especially if you're multiple people and explore each others' rooms. And I do mean explore.

Do you have a link / reference about this you can post?

I am all in favour of equality, but the inequality we have now and the one we've had in the past produces these great and bizzare artifacts that people still value after centuries if not wins. We still go to see the sphinx in Egypt - a true homage to slavery and I suspect archeologist in the future would prefer to uncover such a piano as opposed to 1000 more old cars or TVs

Slightly related quote:

"You know what the fella said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Here's a video of the real deal (not NI plugin) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgtD5mZP8AU

What I find interesting is in this video the Piano still has that acid Steinway sound (I really dislike)

where as the video on the OP link is soft and almost like a dulcimer with a boatload of felt. I suspect thats also down to another layer of felt and playing softly.

either way, it sounds fantastic.

This is still a typically stringed piano, just with felt added to dampen the other strings, I believe. The webpage describes an Una Corda piano built with only one string

One string per note (as opposed to the usual 1/2/3 depending on where in on the keyboard you are talking about), not only one string.

The video the parent linked to is the Una Corda - played by the designer/builder

Nice. It's hard to invent new meaningful, playable acoustic instruments. Respect to anyone who does.

Another one I really like is the Array Mbira, up to 7 octave chromatic Mbiras with stereo pickups.


That thing probably belongs in the hands of Johnny Greenwood, if anyone.

Beethoven stage piano is still experimental and in fact you may note the moonlight do not go higher note. But more importantly the sound meadower. Chopin also have a weaker source Piano.

Not all are concert pianist. Should have an option

Pricing 64-key Una Corda® Piano……………………………………………………..€ 15,900 net* Including big wheels, tone modulator, and music stand

88-key Una Corda® Piano……………………………………………………..€ 21,900 net* Including big wheels, tone modulator, and music stand

Why would any serious musician spend 22k Euros on this piano when they could get an actual grand piano from a reputable maker? If you're super wealthy and you like fun toys, sure, but this is going to be an inferior instrument in volume, tone, tone control, sustain, and pretty much all the features a serious pianist is adept at manipulating.

>Why would any serious musician spend 22k Euros on this piano when they could get an actual grand piano from a reputable maker? If you're super wealthy and you like fun toys, sure

You answered your own question but you're still unsatisfied with something?

This is the first line of text on the website: "Commissioned by and in cooperation with Nils Frahm we have developed the Una Corda Piano."

Here's Nils Frahm's website http://www.nilsfrahm.com/ so maybe you can find out why he decided to commission it.

Really can't figure out why this irrelevant, negative comment is highest upvoted...

$22k on an instrument is not an eye-raising amount of money for a "serious" musician. I'm a (not very serious) guitarist and I have a couple k into my '74 Martin D18. You can _easily_ spend $10-20k or more on a high end handmade guitar or vintage Martin, Gibson, Taylor etc. Some high end concert grand pianos sell for over $100k as far as I know.

I don't think you understand the market for those concert grands. First off, they are into the $250k and above range for true "concert grands." However, the idea that private individuals need to buy one is ludicrous. They are sonically designed for concert halls, even a mansion would not be big enough to properly make use of one. So, take those off the table, they are for the top 100 players, the millionaires/billionaires, and concert halls, not for average serious musicians.

Second, it's a bit delusional to say most serious musicians can easily afford 22k Euros on what is essentially an experimental piano. I know dozens of serious amateurs/semi-pros/pros, and basically none of them could afford this instrument.

This is a toy for the rich and the superstar musicians who actually get paid creme of the crop wages. The rest of us 99% of the serious pianists who get paid between 0 and 100k a year, lets say, will get much much higher value on 22k euros by buying a used Steinway, Yamaha, or other instrument. Hell, I've been playing classical piano, trained with concertizing pianists, for 20 years and I make great practice use out of a $9k Kawaii bought for $6k.

> Second, it's a bit delusional to say most serious musicians can easily afford 22k Euros on what is essentially an experimental piano.

Never said anything of the sort so I am not sure who you are arguing with. I said that it was not surprising for a serious musician to spend 20k+ on an instrument. I think that's a reasonable statement for some definition of "serious." In any case, my general point is that in the world of fine instruments 20k is not an absurd number to hear.

This isn't a replacement for a traditional piano, but an additional option for composers, conservatoires and collectors. Nils Frahm explains it himself in the video - guitarists have a vast choice of different instruments with unique timbres, but the piano is largely a monoculture.

I could never entertain spending €22k on a musical instrument, but I own the Native Instruments sample library for the Una Corda and use it often. It's a beautiful instrument and I'm glad that it exists in the world.

Sorry, at what point do you think a professional pianist making enough money to live in a reasonably nice house with nice things and driving a nice cars would go "hm, time to choose between these two types of pianos and that I'll actually buy my own"?

There are plenty of performance and studio artists would are far more likely to go "well my home setup/shared studio already has several pianos including at least one grand, $30k for this Una Corda? I can probably budget for that".

Especially recording studios. Getting a Una Corda and getting the kind of artists in that would play it is worth the up front cost.

I had the same question, the piano is already a well developed and standardized instrument from centuries of revision and engineering. Returning to one string seems like a step back into the past. The video is really nice though, explaining how they came to this idea, and now I want to hear one of these one-string pianos! From Nils Frahm:

"It really felt like a brilliant new instrument, it was so nice. First time in my life to have kind of like a new piano. It sits in between a clavichord, guitar and a harp, and that was exactly what I wanted."

> Why would any serious musician spend 22k Euros on this piano... inferior instrument in volume, tone, tone control, sustain, and pretty much all the features

It's a different sound. For a certain type of music, it's superior to regular pianos.

There are how many kinds of electric guitars, acoustic guitars, woodwinds, brass, strings, percussion instruments, electronic gear...? Very very many. Even in piano-land, different makers have characteristic tones. A musician hears a sound in their head, and wants to replicate and shape it exactly.

They wouldn't.

This is a piece of functional art like a Rolex.

I don't think that's necessarily fair or accurate.

Most gear above a certain pricepoint isn't even really marketed directly to musicians anymore. It's recording studios, live music production companies and backline rental companies who are going to be buying these things and they're totally going to sell.

I'd go out on a limb and say, no, no its not.

I have relatives that play the European baroque music circle. They have a fine collection of various stringed instruments.

Most of them are older than the USA. to give a rough price just look at this page: http://www.contrabass.co.uk/cstopquality.htm

A "decent" baby grand piano (used) is about £10k. A "concert" baby grand is about £18k (you know, loud, acid, overly bright)

For the sort of music I want to play, the Una Corda, is perfect. If I was working at a recording studio again, I suspect there would be a large market for having this piano in.

In most of the studios I've been in, the piano is stripped bare and has all sorts of padding in. (and no, its not fun to vacuum.)

It absolutely is not. It's a musical instrument that real artists have used on real albums.

Why is this better than a traditional piano (that has ¿3? strings per note)?

It's not better, necessarily, but it's a very different sound.

For higher notes you need thinner and shorter strings, which are quieter. Traditional pianos have different numbers of strings per note (one for bass notes, two for the mid-range, and three for treble notes) so that the notes sound roughly the same volume across the keyboard. This also gives a very rich tone, as the strings are very very slightly different in frequency.

The Una Corda only has one string per note. It's probably a lot quieter in the high octaves, but it has a thin and very pure tone which doesn't sound a lot like a traditional piano, which is very appealing to people who are looking for new and interesting sounds. And the quietness doesn't matter so much with modern amplification technology.

So basically if you want something similar on the cheap, take an old piano, remove the extra strings, open up the cabinet?

No just press the left pedal of a grand piano, called the una corda pedal. It shifts the keyboard so that the hammers hit only one or two strings instead of 2 or 3. And open the lid.

That’s not quite the same because the extra strings still resonate. But yeah, it has the same name for a reason.

The extra strings are dampened IIRC.

Unless you also press the right pedal

You'll need to soften up the hammers as well.

If you break down the sound of a piano (mentally) the start of the note is sharp and sudden, followed by a hum.

The extra strings are never actually perfectly in tune, which is partly why a piano sounds "bright" If it were a person it'd sound a bit nasally. (the more out of tune the strings the more honky tonk and wobbly it sounds)

rough guide: a concert piano sounds like a nasal person making an "EEEEGGHHHHHHHH" noise, but with a smile. (well a Steinway does)

A softened piano, or a Una Corda sounds more like a hhMMMMMmmmmmm. Because it only has one string, and has a less violent hammer action, the sounds is more sinusoidal, so sounds smoother.

edit the soundboard also significantly affects the tone, but I can't remember how.

I'm willing to bet that nothing to do with pianos is that simple. Who knows what sort of weird distortions that would cause.

Yeah, I originally wrote that as "the same thing" and then thought for a moment and scaled back to "something similar" :-P

Or stick foam / felt between the "extra" strings like a piano tuner does. It won't totally take the strings out of the equation, but it's non-destructive, and it will probably only take a few minutes.

When you play music, you often don't need "better". You need "different". You get used to playing certain things on certain instruments, and so having a different instrument available means you stop playing the things you usually do, and end up exploring things you'd never try or even stumble upon otherwise.

I love the sound of this. When I was all into Ableton this was the only piano library that I used, ever. It sounds wonderful.

Can this be tuned precisely? Since each note maps to one string, will there still be the irrational tuning problem?


there is a technical reason why pianos have more than one string... equal temperament tuning does not sound right on a piano and the other strings allow somebody to change the notes soft/hard dynamics without changing the notes pitch. this is important when trying to get some chords in equal temperament to harmonize.

I love that the piano maker's name is Klavins. I know it means Maple Tree or something like that in Latvian(?), but it's also very close to "klavier", which means piano in various languages.

If you wonder una corda means one string in Italian

It sounds like a more refined version of a poorly maintained upright that needs restringing and new hammers

For a moment I thought that Native Instruments actually built it and got into that business.

Wouldn't be unprecedented after Arturia.

I guess Nils has a new piano :)

Some thoughts on this, from an enthusiast, collector, and amateur player of odd and arcane keyboard instruments.

On the subject of one string per hammer: while this is novel for a modern acoustic piano, it is not especially so for other members of the family. Smaller harpsichords, for instance, are always strung like this, and even in larger ones having multiple "choirs" of strings, the number of strings being plucked simultaneously by a single key can always be configured, typically through levers or pedals.

In the 1970s Yamaha brought out line of single-strung stage pianos (CP-70, CP-80, etc.) that were popular with rock players because they were relatively portable and significantly faster to tune. (Kawai also had an upright of similar design.) These were not loud enough to be played acoustically, but instead were fitted with electric-guitar-style pickups under each string much like the Una Corda has, producing a similar sound. In fact, as I listened to the soundtrack on the video, I was struck by the resemblance of the sound not only to the Yamaha CP-70, but to the Rhodes electric piano, which has rigid steel tines instead of strings, but also one to a key.

I like the ability to swap in various felts to modify the timbre; many modern harpsichords have this facility also, with something called a "buff stop." Player pianos in the first half of the 20th century frequently featured a lever that would lower a comb of felt with little metal rivets between the hammers and strings, producing a "honky tonk" or "tack piano" sound; presumably one could fashion something similar for the Una Corda.

The open, vertical design reminds me of the beautiful Clavicytheriums produced by the American harpsichord builder Steven Sørli (http://www.lautenwerk.com). Here's a video of one: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL89758D803857A19B

Yes, these are quiet instruments, but the late-Renaissance and Baroque music one would typically perform on them is much better served by this sparse clarity than can be produced on the modern grand piano. I suspect that the Una Corda would be similarly friendly to this repertoire.

Another benefit of the single-stringing is that, presumably, a capable player might reasonably expect to tune the instrument themselves, permitting the setting of very specific configurations other than twelve exactly equal divisions of the octave tuned to A=440. For acoustic and historical reasons, a lot of pieces really bloom in a certain way when you can do this, but on the modern grand piano it's a time-consuming task usually best left to a professional tuner/technician. (Because of the relatively unstable nature of their instruments, harpsichord players, like harpists and guitarists, have to learn to do this themselves early on in their studies, and thereby gain exposure to various temperaments and reference pitches, e.g. Werckmeister III at A=415.)

On the matter of price, 22,000 Euro (~$25K) is about the going rate for a new custom-built harpsichord, so that's not totally unreasonable. Other classical and orchestral instruments of professional quality frequently command similar sums, and new grand pianos easily get up into the six-figure range.

I would love to see one of these in person. Anyone spotted one in the US yet?

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