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It’s well documented around our website that JAM Duo always bring their own instruments. Anne-Marie has the option of both an acoustic or electric cello, whilst Jules has a Nord Stage Piano or a Yamaha Digital Clavinova.

We also have a grand piano shell which both our digital pianos fit into. So the best solution in most cases is to use this as then you have the look of a grand piano but the accuracy of a digital piano. In a lot of cases when we use our piano shell, most people think or assume this is a real piano. At home Jules also has a Yamaha Grand Piano. Whilst theoretically possible to bring this to a wedding, it would be quite expensive and highly impractical in most cases!

Cello and Piano Duo
JAM Duo at Westonbirt School

Pianos at the Wedding Venue

From time to time, we are asked to play a piano which resides in the wedding venue. These can vary, but in most cases, particularly in hotels or country house wedding venues, we find there is a small to medium sized grand piano, usually in the reception area.

Jules is always happy to play any piano in a church or wedding venue but it does need to be in tune for this to work with the cello (or indeed even for solo piano performances).

Tuning and Maintenance

A Grand Piano is an acoustic instrument and as such needs to be regularly tuned and maintained. Think of it a bit like a car. If you want your vehicle to remain reliable and useful then it needs to be regularly serviced and refuelled. To be kept in usable condition a piano should ideally be tuned every 6 months at least and given a thorough check over by a qualified piano technician every couple of years or so.

The problem is, this can be quite expensive and also relies on someone at the venue realising this even needs to be done.

Anne-Marie Humphries
Anne-Marie with the Electric Cello and Piano Shell

Why does Tuning matter?

If we are being asked to use a piano to accompany one of our cellos, then the most important thing is that the piano is in tune with itself. What I mean by this is that every note is relatively tuned to the others. A common standard for tuning is known A=440. This means the note of A4 (the one above middle C on the piano) sounds to an audio pitch of 440Hz. Some years ago Concert pitch was based on A=439 which is slightly under the pitch today.

In order to tune to the cello it doesn’t actually matter that much whether your piano is perfectly in tune or even slightly flat. What matters is that all the notes on the piano are tuned relatively to the A. So if the entire piano is slightly flat, we can tune all the strings on the cello slightly flat and the two would match.

If a piano is tuned regularly then generally speaking all the notes will stay in tune. However, if a piano is neglected and left for a number of years without properly being tuned then whilst some notes might remain almost in tune some might not. The problem then is this cannot be used with another instrument.

A piano keyboard has 88 keys. The number of strings depends on the model, but is usually around 230. For the tenor and treble notes, three strings are strung for each key, and for bass notes, the number of strings per note decreases from three, to two, and then to one as you approach the lowest bass notes.

A cello by contrast only has 4 strings (A,D,G and C). Each string is able to produce a range of notes with some notes being playable on more than one string. Consequently whilst you can tune every single note on a piano you cannot do the same on a cello. So the only option is for the entire Cello to be perfectly in tune. Yes it can all be tuned to be slightly flat but it has to be uniform across the entire range of the instrument.

For various reasons which I won’t go into here, (but mostly to do with ambient room temperatures), if a piano is neglected the 230 strings will not necessarily go out of tune at the same rate or indeed at the same time. After 12 months of not being turned for example, some notes might remain perfectly in tune whilst others could go sharp or flat to varying degrees.

In Summary

Any two instruments which are being played together need to be completely in tune across their entire range. Otherwise you will get some very odd sounds. By using a Nord Stage Piano, either with our Electric or Acoustic cello, JAM Duo can guarantee the tuning will be spot on between the instruments. This will make for a much more pleasing performance than would be the case if you teamed up the cello with a slightly out of tune piano.

If you have any questions about using a piano at your wedding then please do not hesitate to get in touch. No matter what, JAM Duo always bring their own instruments so even if we have planned to use the venue piano, if for some reason this is not practical on the day, we will have a backup solution.


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