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Brief History of the Piano

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced pianist, learn about the brief history of the piano and develop a deeper connection with it.

This article will give you fresh perspective on your piano the next time you sit down to play!


Mechanism of Piano


A piano is a hammer-on-string acoustic instrument that makes music when played.

The History of Pianos - Singapore Experts | Melodious Piano StudioThe History of Pianos - Singapore Experts | Melodious Piano Studio

A keyboard has keys that the player must press in order to activate the hammers.

It's possible to classify the piano as both a string instrument and a percussion instrument owing to the fact that the sounds are produced by the vibrating of the strings.



The Piano’s Ancestors

The piano's history goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, when Europe's first string instruments, hammered dulcimers, began to be played.



Monochord

A monochord was an instrument made of one metal thread stretched tightly across a hollow wood body called a resonator table.

The string was long enough to split into pieces and put across the body in different ways to produce different notes and octaves.

The monochord was used for music, but it was also employed for other purposes.

Throughout the 19th century, it was used to tune other instruments.

The monochord was the first instrument to display chords so clearly.



Polychord

Whereas mono refers to one, poly refers to many.

The term "Polychord" refers to a group of instruments that arose from a desire to attain the range flexibility afforded by the monochord in a more efficient manner.

The harpsichord and clavichord were the two polychords that had the most impact on the piano we know today.

In appearance, both resembled contemporary pianos.

These instruments were usually decorated with elaborate carvings and vivid paintings, in keeping with the period in which they were produced.



Clavichord

The History of Pianos - Singapore Experts | Melodious Piano Studio

(Source of picture - clavichord: https://www.britannica.com/art/clavichord)



However, the public desired something else: a string instrument equipped with a keyboard.


There were many efforts to do this, and as a consequence, the clavichord was made its debut in the 14th century and gained popularity throughout the Renaissance.

When you press a key, a metal rod called a tangent strikes the string, causing vibrations that produce music in four to five octaves.



Harpsichord


The History of Pianos - Singapore Experts | Melodious Piano Studio

(Source of picture - harpsichord: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpsichord)



chanically plucked by quills when the performer depresses the key.



Major Drawbacks of Clavichord and Harpsichord


There was a significant disadvantage to the harpsichord in that it was unable to regulate the dynamics (the loudness or softness) of each note. 

As a result, composers were unable to elicit the appropriate emotional response from their audiences.

With the clavichord, the composer hoped to remedy this deficiency.


As long as the key remained depressed, it continued to pluck at strings while allowing the strings to continue to vibrate as long as it was depressed.

Because of this, musicians had more control over the loudness of their instrument as a consequence.

Although the technically more sophisticated clavichord gained widespread popularity, it was not without its flaws.

Despite the fact that it enabled artists to express themselves more freely, the harpsichord's tone was much too delicate. 

Harpsichord they are mechanically plucked by quills when the performer depresses the key.


It was not well adapted for large-scale performances and was often overshadowed by other instruments during them.


Cristofori – Inventor of the First Pianoforte


By the latter part of the eighteenth century, the pianoforte, more generally known as the piano, had become a popular instrument for both professionals and amateurs in Western art music.


The piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) of Italy, which we now regard to be the first of the modern pianos. 

Although the technically more sophisticated clavichord gained widespread popularity, it was not without its flaws.


The piano was revolutionary because it was the first keyboard instrument capable of producing both loud and soft tones — in Italian, the term pianoforte literally translates as "soft-strong."


It's as easy as that; the pianoforte evolved into a unique stringed percussion instrument capable of playing from quiet to loud and back again with just a little shift in the player's finger pressure on the keys!

Cristofori had already established a reputation as a manufacturer of harpsichords and other forerunners of the pianoforte.

Cristofori was assigned Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici by the Court of Florence to care for all of the court's musical instruments less than 20 years before the pianoforte was invented.




Development of Piano


The piano experienced massive changes between the years of 1790 and 1860, giving rise to the current design.

Composers and pianists wanted a more powerful, long-lasting sound, and that's what sparked the revolution.

These resources, such as high-quality piano wire for the strings and precise casting for the construction of huge iron frames that could bear the immense strain of the strings, were suddenly accessible in large numbers due to the continuing Industrial Revolution.

It was London in the early 1800s that upright pianos with diagonal strings were developed and they were extremely popular for home music production because of their small size and low cost.

Cristofori had already established a reputation as a manufacturer of harpsichords and other forerunners of the pianoforte.


With increasing hammer weights and string tensions, felt (a more uniform material than leather) was used in hammer covers in 1826.


Composers and pianists wanted a more powerful, long-lasting sound, and that's what sparked the revolution.


The tonal range of pianos has likewise expanded through time, from Mozart's five octaves to today's seven octaves.


Major innovation (1825)


A significant innovation that contributed to the contemporary piano's strong sound is the adoption of the massive cast iron frame described before, which rests atop the soundboard. 

This single cast iron frame allowed for the use of thicker, more tension strings.



Final words on the brief history of the piano



Even today, the piano is one of the most often taught instruments to children and beginning musicians.

It is easier to learn than other instruments since the notes are set out in a linear manner and the instrument's mechanics take care of most of the fundamental skill.

Although it is one of the simplest instruments to play alone, its flexibility and distinctive tone offer incalculable value to everything from traditional orchestral music to pop songs and film soundtracks.

When considered in conjunction with its dynamic historical development, it is reasonable to predict that the piano will continue to play a prominent part in music for many years to come.

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