What is a Piano?

Whether played solo or en masse, the piano is one of the most beautiful and renowned instruments in the world, but what is it and how does it work? How did it come about?

WHY IS IT CALLED A PIANO?

Short for pianoforte, piano is Italian for ‘quiet’ and forte means ‘loud.’ It was given the name based on the sensitivity of the keys to the pianist’s touch. If pressed hard we hear a loud sound. If pressed soft we hear a quiet sound.

WHO INVENTED THE PIANO?

A piano is operated by a keyboard.

A piano is operated by a keyboard.

The piano was an evolution of the harpsichord invented by Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori in the early 18th century. He was employed by Ferdinando de’ Medici, the Grand Prince of Tuscany, to design an instrument with a clearer and more pronounced sound than the harpsichord.

HOW DOES A PIANO WORK?

The piano is operated by a keyboard. Most pianos have 88 keys. A key is pressed, which springs a hammer forward. The hammer strikes the string and a sound is produced. The reason such a crisp sound is produced is because the string is struck, rather than plucked like the harpsichord. The piano usually has two pedals, although three on some. The right pedal raises the dampers which gives each sound a prolonged, washed out effect. The left pedal has different effects depending on the make. On an ‘upright’ it pushes the hammers closer to the strings making it easier to play softly and on a ‘grand’ it slides all the hammers to the right so they can only strike part of the strings and thus giving a different sound.

ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PIANO?

There are two main types: the ‘grand’ and the ‘upright.’ The difference? The grand has its strings parallel to the floor and the upright’s strings are placed vertically.

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