The piano is an acoustic, stringed musical instrument, in which the strings are struck by wooden hammers that are coated with a softer material.
It is played using a keyboard, which is a row of keys that the performer presses down or strikes with the fingers and thumbs of both hands to cause the hammers to strike the strings.
A piano usually has a protective wooden case surrounding the soundboard and metal strings, which are strung under great tension on a heavy metal frame.
Pressing one or more keys on the piano’s keyboard causes a wooden or plastic hammer to strike the strings. The hammer rebounds from the strings, and the strings continue to vibrate at their resonant frequency. These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a soundboard that amplifies by more efficiently coupling the acoustic energy to the air. When the key is released, a damper stops the strings’ vibration, ending the sound.
Notes can be sustained, even when the keys are released by the fingers and thumbs, by the use of pedals at the base of the instrument. The sustain pedal enables pianists to play musical passages that would otherwise be impossible, such as sounding a 10-note chord in the lower register and then, while this chord is being continued with the sustain pedal, shifting both hands to the treble range to play a melody and arpeggios over the top of this sustained chord.
Unlike the pipe organ and harpsichord, two major keyboard instruments widely used before the piano, the piano allows gradations of volume and tone according to how forcefully or softly a performer presses or strikes the keys.
Most modern pianos have a row of 88 black and white keys, 52 white keys for the notes of the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A and B) and 36 shorter black keys, which are raised above the white keys, and set further back on the keyboard. The black keys are for the “accidentals” which are needed to play in all twelve keys.
There are three pedals found on most pianos:
• the damper pedal on the right lifts all the felt dampers above the strings, allowing them all to vibrate freely
• the left pedal shifts the keyboard and action sideways to enable the hammer to strike only one of the two or three unison strings of each tenor and treble key (the bass notes are only single-strung)
• the middle pedal (generally available on grand pianos but also found on some upright pianos) usually holds up the dampers only of those keys depressed when the pedal is depressed.
There are two main types of piano: the grand piano and the upright piano. The grand piano is used for Classical concerto solos, chamber music, and art song, and it is often used in jazz and pop concerts. The upright piano, which is more compact, is the most popular type, as it is a better size for use in private homes for domestic music-making and practice. Upright pianos are also widely used in elementary and secondary schools, music school practice rooms, and in smaller churches.
The piano was invented in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700 (the exact year is uncertain).
Cristofori was an expert harpsichord maker, and was well acquainted with the body of knowledge on stringed keyboard instruments – this knowledge of keyboard mechanisms and actions helped him to develop the first pianos.
The three Cristofori pianos that survive today date from the 1720s. Cristofori named the instrument un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte (“a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud”), abbreviated
over time as pianoforte, fortepiano, and later, simply, piano.
The first time the piano was played in a public concert in London was in 1768 when it was played by Johann Christian Bach.
In the period from about 1790 to 1860, the Mozart-era piano underwent tremendous changes that led to the modern structure of the instrument. This revolution was in response to a preference by composers and pianists for a more powerful, sustained piano sound, and made possible by the ongoing Industrial Revolution with resources such as high-quality piano wire for strings, and precision casting for the production of massive iron frames that could withstand the tremendous tension of the strings. Over time, the tonal range of the piano was also increased from the five octaves of Mozart’s day to the seven octave (or more) range found on today’s pianos.
By the 1820s, the center of piano innovation was in Paris, where the Pleyel firm manufactured pianos used by Frédéric Chopin and the Érard firm manufactured those used by Franz Liszt.
The piano was the centrepiece of social life in the 19th century upper-middle-class home.
Pianos can have over 12,000 individual parts, supporting six functional features: keyboard, hammers, dampers, bridge, soundboard, and strings.
In the early years of piano construction, keys were commonly made from sugar pine.
Currently the most expensive piano available on the market is Steinway painted by artist Paul Wyse. It’s $2.5 million price tag while steep is clearly evident in the opulent details of the artwork. The name of the piano refers to the seminal composition of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky called Pictures at an Exhibition and literally reperesents the visitor’s expirience of going from one picture to the another.
The largest piano measured 2.495 m (8 ft 2 in) in width, 6.07 m (19 ft 10 in) in length and 1.925 m (6 ft 3 in) in height and was constructed by Daniel Czapiewski (Poland) and played in a concert at Szymbark, Poland, on 30 December 2010. Pianos usually have 88 keys. This record-breaking behemoth has 156 of them! Sadly, Daniel – a gifted wood-worker and friend of Guinness World Records – died on 3 Dec 2013.
The highest altitude grand piano performance is 4,946 m (16,227 ft) and was achieved by Evelina De Lain (UK) at Singge La Pass, India, on 6 September 2018.