- Invented some 200 years ago, in Italy. Based on the harpsichord, they differed in that a hammer struck the string where’s the harpsichord plucked the string.
- Incidentally the harpsichord was based on the harp.
- That change in how the note was produced resulted in a completely different instrument, which could be played loud or soft, hence its name piano forte. Which means soft loud, in Italian.
- Contrast that with the harpsichord which can only play at one level as the string is either plucked out it isn’t. There’s no in-between.
- Pianos have strings and each string has to be tuned. An intricate arrangement of pegs hold a strings under tension. These steel strings are held under huge force and the purpose is the keep the strings in tune.
- Despite that force, pianos do need regular tuning. A new piano needs to be tuned 3 or 4 times a year. As they get older twice a year will normally suffice.
- Although made with extreme precision, the main material is wood. So the tuning of the instrument is affected by atmospheric conditions. Damp and humidity are the main culprits here, causing the piano to go out of tune.
- The two main types of piano are the grand piano and the upright piano. The trade off is between size versus quality of sound. And although the baby grand piano is a compromise on the full size grand, it’s still rather large and not everyone has room for these.
- Grand pianos are also faster, which means the keys reset when half way up.on an upright the key has to fully return before it can be pressed again.
- Modern electronic pianos arrived in the 80s. These proved very popular and the sound has improved and before richer over the years. But one of the truly amazing qualities of these electronic instruments, is that their sound can be altered and they can reproduce the sound of any of the famous models of grand pianos out there.
In the world of keyboards everyone knows the piano and its derivatives, grand piano, upright piano. But we thought it would be fun to look at other instruments that also have keyboards.
Starting with the mechanical keyboards
The world comes from the french word meaning “heavenly”. It sound is similar to a glockenspiel but softer and more refined. It looks like an upright piano with four octaves. Hammers, operated by the keys, strike metal plates to give that heavenly sound.
These instruments were small in size, compared to pianos and so weren’t very loud. The sound is produced by blades striking iron or brass strings. Very popular in the 16th,17th and 18th centuries
Looking much like a piano, the harpsichord plucks rather that strike the string. Which means that unlike a piano where the pianist can play both loud and softer sounds, the harpsichord, plays with one intensity, no matter how hard one strikes the key.
This a small organ where the player operates foot pedals to pump air through the instrument. Thin metal reeds produce the sound via a keyboard, which controls the airflow.
A hand held instrument, the accordion comprises of a set of bellows which blow air over a set of metal reeds which vibrate. The player flexes the instrument which generates the sound. The keyboard down one side plays the melody, the buttons on the other side plays the base.
These use a keyboard as electronic switches. The switching is processed using microprocessors and converted into sound through a speaker, or recorded by electronic means.
Sounds or samples can be altered so that many variations are possible. Synths can mimic other instruments or natural sounds, such as whale song. Alternatively completely new sounds can be invented and played through the synth.
Just as with violins so too grand pianos have a rich heritage of master craftsman. Here we list some of them and a brief overview of their various histories.
Although many try to list the top ten or top twenty best grand pianos, a sort of pop chart for these mighty expensive instruments. It’s quite a difficult challenge. The truth is that there is no “best” or “worse”and it all comes down to personal preference and even the piece being played. Each of the manufacturers listed here is a grand master we need say no more than than that. So the listing here is in no particular order all make stunningly good pianos and it would be an honor and pleasure to own any one of their instruments.
Steinway and Sons
Founded in 1853 and located in both Hamburg, Germany and New York, United States. These are seen the world over in concert halls everywhere. Each is produced by a master craftsman and each one is unique.
Founded in 1853 and based in Berlin, Germany. Famous for setting up Wigmore hall, a concert in London where their showroom was based. A popular piano for famous rock bands.
Building pianos since 1887, Hamamastsu, Japan. Somewhat of an entry level piano but very well made and a great asset to the world of pianos as they sound good and are most affordable and a great place to start one’s journey.
Started in 1828 in Vienna, Austria. Famous for adding an extra octave to one of their ranges giving a total of 97 keys
Founded in 1978, in Sacile, Italy. Heavy and lavishly decorated, these pianos don’t come cheap. But they are exquisitely well made and are of the highest quality. They’re also a wise investment as not to many get made.
Stuart and Sons
Based in Newcastle, Australia. Somewhat of a newcomer. Their pianos are made to order and they make their pianos using rare and beautiful woods that just add to their appeal. They sound fantastic too.