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  • Writer's pictureClara Sohyun Park

[Piano Basics] What is the Piano?

Updated: Aug 28, 2023


The piano is a musical instrument in which strings are struck by hammers when keys are pressed. It is a keyboard instrument, which means that it has a series of keys that are arranged in a specific order. The piano is a popular instrument for both classical and popular music.

The piano is a relatively new instrument, dating back to the 1700s. It was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori, an Italian harpsichord maker. Cristofori's piano was a major improvement over the harpsichord, which was the most popular keyboard instrument at the time.



The full name for the piano is "pianoforte." Over time, the term was shortened to “piano". The term "pianoforte" is Italian and translates to "soft-loud,"

Cristofori's primary motivation behind inventing the piano was to overcome the limitations of existing keyboard instruments like the harpsichord and the clavichord. Both the harpsichord and clavichord lacked the ability to produce varying levels of loudness and softness based on how the keys were struck. Cristofori aimed to create an instrument that could offer a dynamic range of expression, allowing musicians to play both softly and loudly with control over the intensity of sound.


The result was the "gravicembalo col piano e forte," which translates to "harpsichord with soft and loud." Cristofori's invention utilized a hammer mechanism that struck the strings, allowing for greater control over the volume and dynamics of the sound produced. This innovation laid the foundation for the modern piano and its unique ability to produce a wide range of musical tones and dynamics.


Unlike earlier instruments like the harpsichord:

• Plucking mechanism.

• Produces a consistent volume regardless of key pressure.

• Popular during the Baroque period.

Piano:

• Hammer mechanism.

• Can produce varying volumes (soft and loud) based on key pressure.

• Became widely popular in the Classical and Romantic periods.


The piano quickly became popular throughout Europe, and it was soon introduced to the Americas. The piano is now one of the most popular instruments in the world. It is used in a variety of genres, including classical, jazz, and pop.


Anatomy of a Piano: Understanding the Structure


Here are some key features and components of a piano:

Keyboard: The piano keyboard consists of a set of keys, typically 88 in number on a standard piano (52 white keys and 36 black keys). The keys are arranged in a specific pattern of white and black keys that repeat across the keyboard.


Strings: Inside the piano, there are strings that run horizontally across a wooden soundboard. Each key on the keyboard is connected to a mechanism that causes a hammer to strike one or more strings when the key is pressed.

Hammers: When a key is pressed, a hammer is activated to strike the corresponding string(s). The force with which the hammer strikes the string can be controlled by the player's touch, allowing for variations in volume and expression.


Soundboard: The soundboard is a large wooden board that amplifies the vibrations of the strings and produces the piano's sound. It plays a crucial role in projecting the sound of the instrument.

Pedals: Pianos usually have three pedals, although some models may have fewer. These pedals are used to manipulate various aspects of the sound. The most common pedals are the sustain pedal (damper pedal), the soft pedal (una corda), and the sostenuto pedal, each affecting the sustain and timbre of the notes played.

Cabinet: The piano's outer case, or cabinet, is typically made of wood and serves both functional and aesthetic purposes. It encloses the mechanical components and contributes to the instrument's appearance.

Action Mechanism: The action mechanism of a piano is a complex system of levers, springs, and other parts that translate the pressing of a key into the striking of the corresponding string(s). It also includes mechanisms for damping the sound when a key is released.

Types of Pianos: There are several types of pianos, including grand pianos, upright pianos, and digital pianos. Grand pianos have a horizontal design and are often used in concert settings for their rich, resonant sound. Upright pianos have a vertical design and are more compact, making them suitable for home use. Digital pianos use electronic technology to replicate the sound and feel of acoustic pianos while offering various features like volume control, headphone jacks, and the ability to emulate other instrument sounds.


Thoughts:

As my fingers touch the keys, I'm reminded of the piano's unique ability to translate my emotions into sound. The gentlest keystrokes produce tender melodies, while a bolder touch fills the air with grandeur. It's as if the piano is a trusted companion, translating my innermost feelings into a language that resonates with everyone who listens.

In every note, I feel a profound connection to the inventors, the craftsmen, and the musicians who have contributed to the piano's story. It's a story that continues to unfold with every chord, every melody, and every soul that finds solace and inspiration through its timeless resonance.


What truly amazes me is the intricate interplay of mechanics and artistry that defines the piano. The delicate hammers striking the strings, the vibrations resonating through the soundboard – it's a symphony of engineering and creativity that has stood the test of time.

The piano isn't just an assembly of wood and wires, it's a vessel for human expression, a portal to emotions that words alone can't convey.


So, as I lose myself in the music, I can't help but appreciate the journey that has brought this instrument to life.









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