A Guide to Pianos and Harpsichords at Thornton

General Policy for Piano and Harpsichord Use and Service 

All pianos and harpsichords* at the USC Thornton School of Music are for the use of:

  • Active university students with a Major or Minor in Music
  • Active university students who are registered for Applied Lessons and/or music classes for University-related activities only
  • USC TSOM faculty and staff

*See Rule Number 5 below for harpsichord use exceptions.


Thornton School of Music Rules for Piano and Harpsichord Usage include the following:

  1. FOOD and DRINK are forbidden on our pianos and harpsichords.

This includes any open or closed containers of any kind, including those containing water or are empty.

  1. Keep the pianos and harpsichords clear of any items.

This will help the Thornton community to protect our pianos and harpsichords by: 

    • Preventing case damage.
    • Preventing items from dropping into the piano mechanisms
    • Enabling better accessibility for FMS for any emergency facility repairs
    • Providing better accessibility to the Silent Alarm Pull to reach DPS to keep students safe.
    • Improving accessibility and reduce maintenance time for tuning or other repairs.
  1. Do not attempt to retrieve lost items from inside a piano yourself. If you have an immediate need, call Music Operations at 213-740-6444; they can locate a piano technician on your behalf (please be prepared to provide building, room number, and piano location if there is more than one piano in the space). Your timely report of an object dropped inside a piano will prevent any further damage.
  2. Report broken strings. Your swift report of a broken string is crucial. Submit a report as soon as possible via music.usc.edu/pianorequest.
  3. Permission to use TSOM harpsichord(s) for a recital or other performance or rehearsal must be obtained from the Vice Dean of USC Thornton’s Division of Classical Performance and Composition, Dr. Lucinda Carver, carver@usc.edu, via email and submit it to music.production@usc.edu and music.pianotech@usc.edu.  

We encourage all of the Thornton community to participate in conserving our pianos and harpsichords for the next generation of Trojan musicians. For any questions regarding access to Thornton spaces with our instruments please email music.operations@usc.edu. Thank you and fight on!

The photo above was taken in 2014, when a soda spill damaged all the bass strings on a grand piano in the UGW Practice Facility.

2017 spill: angle 1

2017 spill: angle 2

2017 spill: angle 3


Extended Techniques Performance Piano Use Policy

These extended technique guidelines are designed specifically for the Thornton School of Music pianos and are informed by the College and University Technicians of the Piano Technicians Guild Extended Piano Use Protocol.

The Extended Techniques Piano Use policy is centered on three pillar tenets:

  1. Activities allowed without prior consultation
  2. Activities triggering consultation with Piano Technology staff
  3. Strict preservation (no extended techniques allowed) of one concert instrument located in Newman Recital Hall (Steinway Model D #600) and one Thornton concert instrument in Cammilleri Hall managed by the Brain Creativity Institute

Activities allowed without prior consultation include the following:

  • With sustain pedal engaged: plucking, striking, and strumming of steel strings only – not copper bass strings – with dry and clean fingers, hands, and fingernails 
  • With sustain pedal engaged: Cluster-chords using hands or arms (with reasonable force)
  • Non-aggressively knocking or slapping case parts with hands or fists only.
  • “Strumming,” “Plucking,” or tapping key tops and/or tuning pins  

Activities triggering consultation with TSOM Piano Technology:

  • Any activities outside of the aforementioned will initiate the need for prior consultation with a TSOM piano technician. This includes touching bass strings. 

Contact music.pianotech@usc.edu as soon as possible.

    • Consultations are necessary so that we may better assess your needs. Thornton Piano Technology is available to make recommendations about which materials are better for physical contact with the piano.
    • In the event your techniques trigger the use of the designated substitute concert grand (also a Steinway Model D #470), we will require advance notice to coordinate moving the piano.

Strict preservation (no extended techniques allowed) of one concert instrument in Newman Recital Hall (Steinway Model D #600):

  • One concert instrument will not be available for any Extended Techniques usage so as to best preserve the nuance/detail work of our technicians and the very particular concerns/requests of some of our faculty and students: Steinway Model D #600 in Newman Recital Hall.

Extended Techniques Agreement

  1. The piano technician must approve all structural changes to any piano.

This includes removing the lid or other case parts and attaching anything to strings or soundboard to modify the sound. 

  1. Touching the strings 

If the strings will be touched by fingers or hands (harmonics, plucking, rubbing), hands should be washed first. For moderate use of these techniques, a reasonable amount (not too much) of powdered talc may be applied to the hands to help prevent the transfer of oil from skin to the strings. Thin gloves should be worn for extensive contact with the strings.

  1. Marking

Chalk may be used on the plain wire but never on the wound bass strings. Never use masking tape or any other adhesive that may leave a residue. Sticky-note paper, Post-It strips/flags are the preferred material to use for marking dampers, agraffes, or strings. To mark a string node, a thin (1/8”) strip of the adhesive part of a sticky note can be worked around the string and stuck to itself.  Other than small stickies and chalk, nothing should be applied directly to the strings. This includes whiteout, tape, crayon, stickers, nail polish, etc. The performer is responsible for removing any  stickers immediately after any performance.

  1. Dampers

Care must always be used when touching dampers as they are easily damaged or displaced. Sticky-note paper, Post-It strips/flags or small dot labels are preferred material to use for marking dampers. Never use chalk or pencil or white-out. The performer is responsible for carefully removing any stickers immediately after any performance.

  1. Malleable substances on strings

Bostik Blu-Tack, Scotch Removable Mounting Putty, or like products are the only malleable substances acceptable for direct application to the strings. The piano technician must approve all other substances.

  1. Screws and bolts (this use will automatically trigger the deployment of the Thornton-designated extended techniques Steinway D) 

In some cases, literature calls for the insertion of screws or other items between piano strings. Proper protocol must be followed when inserting screws with the instruction and approval of a Thornton piano technician. 

  1. Striking and plucking strings

Strings may be struck or plucked with fingers or guitar pick. Other devices must always be a material that will not mar or scratch strings. On steel strings only, materials that are softer than the steel string, such as brass or aluminum, may be used. Copper wound bass strings must be struck or plucked with a material softer than copper (copper is much softer than steel). Acceptable materials might include wood, plastic, rubber and felt mallets. The general rule is that the material should not be harder than the strings. Never use a steel chisel or screwdriver on piano strings (a substitute may be made from brass stock). The piano technician will help any performer in selecting materials that will not damage the piano. 

  1. Clean up

The pianist should clean up after performance and leave the piano in the same condition it was found. Nothing should be left in the piano. Do not, however, risk damaging the piano for the sake of clean up. If you need assistance removing something please contact the piano technician.   

  1. Damage avoidance using sound and prudent judgment

Most damage to pianos can easily be avoided by using good judgment and knowledge of the piano. Please consult with the piano technician before using extended techniques. If you are composing a piece using extended techniques, consult with the piano technician to ascertain what is safe. Usually alternatives to potentially destructive methods can be found to satisfy both the performer and this policy. 

All performers using extended techniques will be asked to fill out the Extended Techniques Agreement after consulting with a piano technician.  Performers will be held financially responsible for any damage that occurs on Thornton instruments when employing extended techniques.


Contact Us:

USC Thornton Piano Shop and Office
University Gateway:
UGW 116
213-821-2365
music.pianotech@usc.edu