This "metronomic" shaker sound is annoying me. What's it there for?
January 30, 2009 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Could someone explain this strange sound that I hear at the start of each bar in various acoustic piano tracks?

On several CDs of acoustic piano music that I have, there is a strange sound that I can hear in the background in various tracks. Basically, it sounds like a "shh-chh" sound, very quick, like a single shake of a cabasa or something, very faint and at the start of each bar of the music. I thought it was some sort of metronome concept for the musician, but sometimes it's slower and sometimes faster, almost like someone is (this will sound bizarre) shaking a sand shaker at the start of each bar of music for some bizarre reason. It's not an MP3 artifact. I've heard it on several CDs, including "In My Time" by Yanni. I believe that when it is present, it always accompanies only piano tracks (ie no other acoustic instrument music that I own, and I own plenty). Didn't really know how to phrase my search on Google - "strange sound at start of bar piano music" and various other combinations didn't get close to what I was after. Could someone explain what this sound is and why it's so necessary for them to have recorded something so obtrusively audible on what would otherwise be pretty relaxing headphone music? Is it a bizarre mastering glitch with this sort of music? If nobody has a clue what I'm talking about I can snip ten seconds or so off the front end of a example track and post it somewhere temporarily.
posted by tra to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
Best answer: Could be a pedal sound? Pressing the pedal in preparation for playing the proper piano keys?

posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:06 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Does it sound like either of the first two clips here? If so, it's a foot pedal, which is used to dampen or sustain the strings.
posted by malocchio at 5:16 PM on January 30, 2009

Response by poster: Could be the pedal. The first part of those sound effects on sounds a little like what I'm talking about. gives a brief 25 second snip of a track which has this sound. I just wouldn't have thought that the pedal would be close enough to the piano recording mike or whatever that it would transfer into the final track..
posted by tra at 5:22 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I'll n'th the pedal sound suggestion.

Bear in mind that even though the pedal itself may be relatively far away from the mic, the mechanical parts that actually produce its effect will be up with the strings.
I'm not a piano player, but watching my brother play he'll quickly lift then re-push the sustain pedal every bar or so during sections like this, so as to stop the echoes from all blending together.
posted by lucidium at 5:43 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Dampers, damper pedal, can make a woosh sound and, sometimes, if the compression used in the recording or mastering process is aggressive it can make the noise much more obvious to the listener of the recording than it would be to a live listener of the same performance.
posted by bz at 6:21 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I think it is the pedal also. I notice even if I'm not playing and have the pedal down, I can pick up vibrations from the voices or other instruments. So I tend to leave the pedal down, until I just begin to play. Sometimes my in ear monitor will pick up a sound very similar to your recordings. So I'm guessing pedal noise.
posted by snoelle at 6:49 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Yeah, I'll nth the sound of the dampers and/or pedal when the sustain pedal is depressed.
posted by ob at 7:27 PM on January 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. (Still don't get why I don't hear this on every solo piano track I've listened to - I suppose, like bz says, it's probably the difference between shitty and good recording/mastering.)
posted by tra at 9:23 PM on January 30, 2009

Pedal noises.

I actually hear them regularly in live performances during pp sections. I hear them sometimes even in mp sections if they've mic'ed the piano in a way that accentuates it.

Still don't get why I don't hear this on every solo piano track I've listened to - I suppose, like bz says, it's probably the difference between shitty and good recording/mastering.

Some ideas:

*Not everyone uses the pedals at the same rate or with the same violenceenthusiasm.
*Loud sections cover up the sound, while soft sections don't.
*The recording/mixing is different.
*The action of the piano is different--better quality instruments may have less noisy pedals.
*The floor is a different material.
*Manual sustains over bars in some pieces mask the sound of pedal operation.
posted by Netzapper at 11:16 PM on January 30, 2009

I'll go out on a limb here and say "pedal sounds."
posted by wastelands at 1:23 AM on January 31, 2009

A good player can often incorporate the rhythm of the pedal movements into the rhythm of the piece - this makes it far less intrusive and can even be used to good effect in some cases...
posted by SNACKeR at 5:36 AM on January 31, 2009

This isn't just a matter of "good" vs. "bad" recording, especially if you're hearing it in pop music and not just straight-up classical. I've heard records where the various creaks and shifts of the piano were seemed to have been emphasized in order to give the recording a more "intimate" sound.

Think of it like the fingers-on-guitar-strings that you hear on some acoustic guitar recordings. It's a non-musical sound the instrument makes. Some recordings bury it naturally; some try to hide it; some play it up in order to give you that "OMG I'm in the same room as this guy" feeling.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:36 AM on January 31, 2009

If you've ever seen the micing diagrams for a piano, you'd realize that it likey is the pedals. There usually are several mics right above the strings. Any pedal work is instantly heard by mics at that range.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:57 AM on January 31, 2009

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