Rodis Music - Beginner Music Learning Software
Rodis Music - Beginner Music Learning Software

Piano History

Piano History  The term “piano” comes from the old Italian term pianoforte. The name contains two dynamic terms in music: piano means soft and forte means loud. This was to indicate the capabilities of the instrument to deliver a dynamic range of sound volume. Piano is from the family of keyboards, since you have practically a board with the keys on it. In very simple terms, the keys are connected to felt-covered little hammers that strike steel strings when a key is pressed. The sound vibration is transmitted to the sounding board. Depending on how hard you press the keys, the sound will be softer or louder. Piano and violin are the most frequent instruments used for solo performance (with or without orchestral accompaniment) in classical music.

Bartolomeo Cristofori who lived in Padua, Italy in the 17th century is considered the father of the piano as we know it today. He worked for the Prince of Tuscany, Fernando de’ Medici. De Medici family was a great sponsor of art and music during that time. Cristofori was very knowledgeable about the keyboard instruments at that time and new the strengths and shortcomings of each. Mainly two keyboard instruments were popular, each with different effects and capabitlities. The clavichord had a mellow sound and could control the volume of the sound. However the sound produced was soft and could not get to bigger volumes, which made it more appropriate for small gathering type performances. The Harpsichord produced a bigger sound,  but could not control a dynamic range of the volume. The sound was also metallic and not expressive.

What Cristofori achieved is to combine the strengths of those two instruments into one: the pianoforte produced a wide dynamic range of sounds from very soft to very loud, that made a variety of musical expressions possible. The sound was not metallic, but round and robust. He invented the mechanism of the hammers hitting the strings but bouncing back so the same note can be played repeatedly and fast. Also the sound can be kept on, or sustained while you keep the key down. Although the piano further evolved later on to having more keys, even bigger dynamic range and higher quality strings and boards.  The pianos today have the color of the natural keys is white while the accidental keys are black (those are the ones that split a whole tonal step into 2 half steps). But did you know that some of the pianos in the old days used to have the color reversed? I would really get confused trying to play on that!

There were different piano building schools: the Viennese School with Andreas Stein, during Mozart’s time in the 18th century. The piano had about 5 octaves then. The Scottish School with John Broadwood build larger and more powerful pianos with about 7 octaves during Beethoven’s time. The French School of Pleyel build pianos used by Chopin and Erard manufactured pianos used by Lizst during early 19th century. More advancements came with the building of the iron frame that could support more strings and thicker strings. In the latter part of the 19th century Steinway builders in US used strings for sympathetic vibration (to amplify the vibration of the played strings) and obtained an even richer tones. Modern pianos today have 52  white keys and 36 black keys. Some grand pianos have extra keys just for the purpose of sympathetic vibrations.

Grand piano – has the strings arranged horizontally and could have a length close to 10 feet. These are used for the pianists for the concert hall performances.  Upright Pianos, also called vertical, have the frame and strings arranged vertically. They are used mostly for smaller settings and most people have those for learning and practicing.  The piano also has pedals. Grand pianos and most uprights have 3 pedals. The left one dampens the sounds making it softer. The middle one may act differently on grand pianos: it sustains only selected notes while others are played. On the upright it could also be called a practice pedal since it can lock into a position to produce much softer sounds. The right pedal is most used and it is for sustaining the sounds played so the sound keeps on for longer time after the keys are released. This can result in effects where the chords (notes play together) can ring for longer while other notes are played.

Comments are closed.