On Spoons: a Clarification

Welcome back.

Something needs to be said.

Or rather, needs to be said so that when people find out that I’m a pianist, and then rapidly proceed to comment about that Black Books episode where Manny (played by Bill Bailey) plays the piano (specifically with spoons whilst lying inside it) as though it’s highly relevant to the field of art music, instead of glaring and launching into a heated explanation as to why it’s not realistic “because it seems so feasible”, I’ll instead refer them to this blog, so that they can do it in their own time. That was a long sentence.

Usually I’ll say outright that it’s not actually possible, to which I get a patronising smile and nod “Oh yes I know … but it could be done.” Sigh. This is officially my rational response….

Let’s do this:

A) Firstly, if you hit a piano string with a spoon, you won’t get much of a sound at all, as most of the strings are dampened by felt until they are released through pressing the keys.

B) If you hit an undamped piano string with a spoon, you won’t get a piano sound, but more like a harpsichordy-metallic ding.

C) There is no room for a human under the strings and the piano’s soundboard. No. Not even close. Fine! I’ll go measure. Ok, I’m back. I get about 2.5 cm, which will required some pretty spectacular ribcage compression.

D) A human lying on a piano’s soundboard would most likely ruin any acoustic properties the piano has. (The soundboard is what projects the sound at a decent volume. For instance, get yourself an elastic band, go to the nearest concert hall (or wherever you happen to be), stretch the band, and pluck it to your heart’s content and see if it ‘fills the space.’)

E) To play the piano strings (in a darkened inclosed space at close range, mind you) with spoons, you would have a huge problem determining which notes belong to which strings. For much of the piano, most ‘notes’ are caused by the striking of three individual strings, all looking identical except for length, automatically increasing the 88 keys on the piano to around 240 strings. Also the ‘geography’ of the keyboard is non-existant as it all looks basically the same.

F) You would need to hit these ‘multiple’ strings of the same note evenly with the curved spoons. Good luck!

G) I don’t know how one can operate any of the pedals while holding spoons?

H) Spoons are akin to mallets. Ergo, you’d be severely limited to probably four spoons (two for each hands) at any given time. This means four notes, whereas piano music can demand 10 individual fingers (or more!) at any given time.

In summary, the best you can do (assuming you had a piano specially made so you could fit in there) is to pick randomly at strings, making an almost completely muted metallic clicking noise.

So no, I’ve never done this, or even attempted  it for the reasons outlined above. And neither can or should you. It’s not only impractical (“but it seems so feasible…”) but impractical to the precipice of  impossibility, and saturated in the acidic rains of futility.

Bill Bailey, you have given birth to an era of misconception, and condemned those after you to a life of defensive explanations.

7/6/2012 ***URGENT UPDATE***

It has come to my attention that someone just came on this site via the following search phrase:

“does bill bailey actually play piano with spoons in black books”

May I gently point out this as proof that THIS IS WHY this post must exist.

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3 thoughts on “On Spoons: a Clarification

  1. Thank you for an informative post. I just saw Bill Bailey in concert and witnessed some amazing acts of musical talent. A while later I was thinking of Black Books and wondered if he did actually play the piano with spoons, because if anyone can, it would be Bill Bailey. Alas, it was smoke and mirrors, but an amusing one at least.

    • Ah, I’m glad it was useful! Apparently in that Black Books episode when he discovers he can play along to the radio it’s actually along to a recording of him playing, so no doubt Bill Bailey’s talented. Also there’s some great things that can be done inside the piano (eg: the Bowed Piano Ensemble) even with spoons!

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