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15 messages

Clavichord thread

24 Apr 09 - 11:30 AM (#2617810)
Subject: Clavichord thread
From: G-Force

Anybody here got one? Anybody here ever heard one?

Unlike with the keyboard instruments of the piano, harpsichord or organ families, with the clavichord you can vary the pitch of a note after you have played it by varying finger pressure on the key. Sounds a bit like tremolo on the guitar, and can be very expressive.

The down side seems to be lack of dynamic range, and a tendency for the low notes to overpower the high notes. Still, the sound can be wonderful, playing the right music.

I did a forum search on 'clavichord' but nothing came up, so I guess this will be a short thread.

24 Apr 09 - 11:33 AM (#2617814)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: manitas_at_work

Apparently the tremolo technique was called bebung.

24 Apr 09 - 11:35 AM (#2617815)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Desert Dancer

How does it work?

24 Apr 09 - 11:44 AM (#2617820)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Jack Blandiver

Any amount of clavichords on YouTube:

24 Apr 09 - 11:53 AM (#2617827)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: manitas_at_work

The strings are struck with brass tangents rather than plucked as on a harpsichord. This is what allows the player to maintain contact with the string.

24 Apr 09 - 02:13 PM (#2617950)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Jack Campin

We had one - gave it to somebody who could make more use of it than I was ever going to. They have two problems: they are very quiet, and you need to retune them almost every time you play (and an electronic tuner won't do it, since they only make sense if you use meantone tuning). But there's no other instrument like it.

29 Dec 11 - 06:19 AM (#3281418)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Wolfhound person

Revived thread to see if anyone else has one. Its actually last year's Christmas present, but it only arrived in Oct, and I've been letting it settle before tuning over this Christmas.

Tips from any experienced owners on freeing up a sticky key lever would be appreciated.


29 Dec 11 - 09:45 AM (#3281450)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: GUEST,Peter Sumner

Regarding those sticky keys...
These are very sensitive to humidity changes...
The balance hole (pivot point) in the key can swell and pinch the balance pin and the top of this hole will have a felt lining (bushing)......and the front of the key will have a bushed (felt lined) hole which rides up and down on another pin.
These holes can be 'eased' with a small reamer for the wood or a smooth metal pin the same size as the balance and front pin.

This is the only movement there is in the whole action as the tangent, which hits the string is at the back end of the key....nothing else moves...that's where it will be sticking...unless the keys have warped a little and are binding someplace along the length.

The solution...

Figure out how to remove any casework that is in the way....remove all the keys in order...and number them !!!
Then clean the pins with a cloth and alcohol to remove any stickiness (if any).
Spray the pins with teflon powder if you can find it (not WD-40)...or merely polishing the pins could suffice...
Then put the keys back one at a time and test how it moves over the balance pin and ease the holes until the key drops under its own weight...DO NOT OVER EASE HERE)...
Then try playing it before putting the case work back...this should work....

Good luck...
Hope that all helps.

Peter Sumner
Concert Piano Technician
Redwood City

29 Dec 11 - 11:28 AM (#3281499)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Wolfhound person

Thanks, Peter, that's very helpful.

I'd found instructions on the web for removing the key levers (and extracted the offending one - the C# just above middle C)and had reached the conclusion that it was a tightening in the balance hole area.
There is a small protruding sliver of wood there which I'm going to gently remove with a parallel reamer of some sort (I am an instrument maker, just not keyboards, so have a fairly comprehensive workshop tool selection).

I'll also try cleaning the pin as you suggest. The other keys are fine.

I'm intrigued by the construction of the tangent end of the levers - there seems to be an insert of a chalky substance in the wood for about the final inch giving a kind of wood - "chalk" - wood sandwich layer effect. The chalk protrudes from the sides a little and rubs against the inset chalk of its neighbour.

I should have said, BTW, that this is an 40 year old entry-level Morley, not a really valuable historical instrument I'm messing with!!

Thanks for your suggestions.


29 Dec 11 - 05:09 PM (#3281684)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Wolfhound person

Sticky key solved!

Find diameter of balance pin hole using drill shank = 1/8"

Convert to metric (3.18mm) and use successive increments of 0.1 mm drill sizes (3.2, 3.3....) to increase hole size until keylever frees up.

Result at 3.4 mm - still less than 9/64".

Now to check out against my pipe drones and see where the wolf intervals are.


30 Dec 11 - 11:40 AM (#3281980)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Tootler

electronic tuner won't do it, since they only make sense if you use meantone tuning

Not entirely true:

You can get electronic tuners in which you can set the temperament.

If you have an equal temperament tuner with a scale marked in cents, there there are sites on the internet which will tell you, or enable you to calculate the adjustments to make from ET for various other temperaments. I have created such a chart for just intonation (based on C), though mainly for the sake of curiosity.

Final adjustments should always be made by ear anyway, but using an electronic tuner can significantly speed up the tuning process.

30 Dec 11 - 12:52 PM (#3282017)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: GUEST,IanA

I have an electronic tuner which is at least thirty years old which will do equal temperament, mean-tone, Werkmeister III and something it calls 'Bach temperament'. The only problem I see with electronic tuners is that, if you are operating them in a 'listening' mode, they will not be sensitive enough to actually 'hear' the understated tone of a clavichord.

30 Dec 11 - 03:57 PM (#3282092)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Wolfhound person

I used a sounding tuner for the first note (G above middle C), then tuned the octaves by ear. Since I'm used to fifths and fourths as well, I then tuned round the circle of fifths - G, D A E B F#.
Combinations of major and minor arpeggios seemed to work well enough.

I'm left with a few wolf thirds which I'm working on - the worst one is probably going to be in Eb which isn't a key I'm likely to use much.

Now I'm letting it settle again before checking a few anomalies.


30 Dec 11 - 04:49 PM (#3282119)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Jack Campin

Here is a brutally simple approach to meantone:

This is the take-no-prisoners full-on extended-disco-remix version of the story:

Kyle Gann: Historical Tunings

On a clavichord it makes a real difference.

30 Dec 11 - 07:14 PM (#3282191)
Subject: RE: Clavichord thread
From: Tootler

The brutally simple approach is an oversimplification. In the recorder group I belong to the usual procedure is to flatten the thirds slightly for a major chord and sharpen the third for a minor chord. This gives sweet chords which are well suited to an instrument like the recorder. As the tuning of most modern recorders is based on ET, the fifths are usually OK. The procedure is to sound the tonic, then the fifth then bring in the third and get the person playing the third to reduce their breath pressure till there is no perceptible beating.(for a major chord, that is)

The business about flattening sharps and sharpening flats possibly comes from the use of accidentals in renaissance and early baroque music. A sharpening accidental was commonly used to make a third that would normally have been minor in the key of the piece into a major chord and a flat accidental turned a third that would have otherwise been major into a minor one.

Kyle Gann's explanation is excellent, very clear and usable. His explanation why music practice these days doesn't like parallel fifths is interesting and makes a great deal of sense.