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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

The brush

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La petite girafe et l’object:
The brush

Brushes and mallets are widely known as the objects which percussionists use in order to play on their instruments. Let’s consider a piano a percussion instrument. What can we do with a brush as pianists?

Obviously we might make use of it to scratch over the strings. Naturally playing on the instrument in such a way makes commonly more sense if we keep the right pedal down, but we should also take into consideration only scratching or striking the strings with the brush and leave the pedal in piece. I’ve tried out both ways while composing a new work for piano solo recently and, frankly, I was pretty disappointed. One might assume (I did!) that using a brush on the strings returns a somewhat spectacular and unusual sound, but it just didn’t. However, it’s quite nice to have the following effects: Gently tap over the treble strings and combine it with another playing technique inside the piano or some notes played on the keys. The resuly is quite silent and I would rather not use it in an orchestral work or in a piece for a large ensemble (needs to be amplified, considering the fact that such pieces are usually being staged in larger concert halls).

Another nice way to use it—and indeed this one is quite similar to the one described above—is to scratch over the section of the strings between the tuning screws and the bridge. Again this will produce only very fragile sounds. We might also consider to strike or scratch over the crossbeams with a brush. Again, the result is quite weak. Applying other mallets for that provides by far more options of creating and handling interesting thuds and noises.

Other possible playing techniques involving a brush which I haven’t tried out because they didn’t seem promising at all to me could be:

  • Scratching over the keys with the brush (consider playing Lachenmann’s Guero instead)
  • Using the handle of the brush (mind that not every brush handle is made of the same material)
  • Tapping the soundboard with the brush (again—consider using other mallets instead)
  • Scratching over the dampers (only do this if you hate your instrument)
  • Strike or scratch over the wooden parts of the piano (again, the result would be rather not interesting)
  • Applying the brush to the little giraffe (for obvious reasons)