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History of the Piano

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Published: Mon, 18 Sep 2017

Blake Stutts

The piano is a string percussion instrument which makes sound with vibrations. The cause of vibrations are the hammers inside the piano which strike the strings, and then the vibration of the strings is transmitted to a soundboard. Even though the sounding system of early and modern piano is pretty similar, there are some differences between of them. The modern piano has a cast-iron frame capable of withstanding the tremendous tension of the strings which makes a louder sound than earlier ones. Modern hammers are covered with felt, but earlier generations hammers were covered with leather. On the other hand, early piano had wood frames, and they could only lightly string. The piano is a well-made instrument that can be traced back through the centuries to create masterpieces.

The piano is the most popular instrument. It is not too much to say that more people know how to play the piano than any other instrument. The piano has been many things and performed many tasks. The history of making the piano and different piano technique has had a lot of development since the 18th century. There were many forms of piano system and techniques in earlier times. A lot of attempts and efforts since then have created a well-done and popular instrument. Many musicians used the piano to create their well-known music pieces.

These are only examples of differences between past and present pianos. In fact, there are many differences between the two kinds of instrument. The first piano was invented in Florence, Italy in 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, a craftsman who repaired harpsichords for Italy’s royal court (Hoover, Adams and Rucker). He conceived “Gravecembalo col piano e forte”, which is a harpsichord which can produce soft and loud sounds, in 1709. In the mid-18th century, the piano had become widely popular. (Ehrlich) Throughout the centuries piano occupied a dominant place in music and society from Mozart to modern day music. Piano is the origin to most music due to the fact that the piano allows you to use all ten fingers to produce ten different notes and pitches including the use of your feet. Many pianos have had pedals or levers that comes in three causing the music to become softer, longer, or louder known as the soft pedal (una corda), sostenuto, and sustain pedal (23-24).

The word piano is a shortened form of pianoforte, the Italian term for the early 1700s versions of the instrument, which derives from gravicembalo col piano e forte[1] and fortepiano (Fine and Gilbert). The piano was influenced on earlier innovations in keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord. In a clavichord, the strings are struck by tangents, while in a harpsichord, they are mechanically plucked by quills when the performer depresses the key (23-24). Over the centuries as the harpsichord developed the mechanic had shown instrument builders the most effective ways to construct the case, soundboard, bridge, and mechanical action for a keyboard intended to sound strings. A popular medium for musicians to create musical masterpieces, Pianos started to rise during the baroque, classical, and the romantic period. Well known composer and musician that used the piano to create their masterpiece are Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

There are four types of vertical pianos, which is based on the piano’s height: Spinet, Console, Studio, and the Upright. The standard width of an upright piano is about 5′ and the depth is between 2 – 2½’. The total floor space should be about 5′ wide by 5′ deep, including bench space. The height of the piano makes no difference in the floor space needed but it makes a major difference in the quality of sound the piano produces (Types & Sizes of Pianos – Bluebook of Pianos). The size is measured from the floor to the top of the lid. The spinet piano is the smallest of the vertical pianos because of the dropped action that transfers the force of striking the key to the hammer strike-ng the string. The console is the most popular of the vertical pianos due to the speed of the hammer. The additional height of the studio piano gives it a richness and tonal quality comparable to those of many grand pianos. The upright piano is the final vertical piano that is the tallest of the vertical pianos. The grand pianos is the only type of horizontal piano, but it has many sizes due to the width and length that influence the volume and the tone quality of the piano (Types & Sizes of Pianos – Bluebook of Pianos).

Having a piano is a pain in the butt to the fact pianos are very heavy yet delicate instruments. They require professional piano movers to use special techniques for transporting both uprights and grands pianos to prevent any damage. Pianos need regular tuning to keep them on pitch and regular maintenance to ensure the felt hammers and key mechanisms are functioning properly. The tuning of a piano involves the adjustment of the tensions of the piano’s strings. Aligning the intervals among their tones so that the instrument is in tune[2]. “The relationship between two pitches, called an interval, is the ratio of their absolute frequencies. Two different intervals are perceived as the same when the pairs of pitches involved share the same frequency ratio. The easiest intervals to identify, and the easiest intervals to tune, are those that are just, meaning they have a simple whole-number ratio” (Fine and Gilbert). The construction and components of a piano can be difficult because they can have an upward of 12,000 individual parts, supporting six functional features: keyboard, hammers, dampers, bridge, soundboard, and strings. Most pianos now a day the casing is made of hardwood, typically hard maple or beech.

The first electric pianos from the late 1920s used metal strings with a magnetic pickup[3], an amplifier and a loudspeaker. Pressing keys on the electric pianos has the same action as a regular piano. “Pressing keys causes mechanical hammers to strike metal strings, metal reeds or wire tines, leading to vibrations which are converted into electrical signals by magnetic pickups, which are then connected to an instrument amplifier and loudspeaker to make a sound loud enough for the performer and audience to hear” (Ehrlich). Most people think the electric piano is the same thing as the electronic pianos, but they are the totally opposite. Electronic pianos are non-acoustic; they do not have strings, tines or hammers, but are a type of synthesizer that simulates or imitates piano sounds using oscillators and filters that synthesize the sound of an acoustic piano (Dacies). Luckily with the electronic pianos maintenances is not require regularly. They are really inexpensive due to their popularity in pop and rock music in the 1960s and 1970s (Hoover, Adams and Rucker). They also allow a person to practice with a headphone on to avoid disturbing others. Digital pianos are also non-acoustic and do not have strings or hammers because they use a digital sampling technology to accurately reproduce the acoustic sound of each piano note, while connected to a keyboard amplifier and speaker to produce sound

The piano is one of the most beautiful sounding instruments that can range in sound from as low as a water well, to as high as the sky. It has evolved over time and become an amazing instrument. We can thank Bartolomeo Cristofori for his hard work. The piano was accepted very well in history and it has generated many changes in the music industry. The piano was also used a lot in society and has had many applications grow from it. Without it, many classical masterpieces as well as modern songs wouldn’t have been possible.

Work Cited

Dacies, Hugh. The New Gravoe Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Second edition). London: Macmillan, 2001. Book.

Ehrlich, Cyril. The Piano: A History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. Bool.

Fine, Larry and Douglas R Gilbert. The Piano Book: Buying and Owning a New or Used Piano (4th ed.). Brookside Press, 2001. Book.

Hoover, et al. Piano Notes: History. 2001. Web. 10 October 2016. .

Kamien, Roger. Music An Appreciation 8th Brief. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015. Book.

Pianos, Bluebook of. Types & Sizes of Pianos – Bluebook of Pianos. 2015. Web. 8 October 2016. .


[1] Pollens (1995, 238)

[2] A particular fixed set of pitches.

[3] a transducer that captures or senses mechanical vibrations from stringed instruments


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