The piano has been around for about 320 years. It all started in Padua, Italy in 1709 by a man named Bartolemio Di Francesco Cristofori (1655-1731). There were many stringed instruments before the piano, and these instruments led to the piano instrument we now have today. They developed into modern pianos such as the keyboard, digital piano, and acoustic piano.
THE FIRST PIANO EVER MADE
The first piano was made in the year 1709 by Bartolomeo Cristofori.
Bartolomeo Cristofori was born May 4, 1655 in Venice, Italy. Bartolomeo was an expert harpsichord maker. At age 33, Prince Ferdinando recruited him to work as the keeper of instruments in the court of Prince Ferdinando. Ferdinando was the son and heir of Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Nobody knows why Ferdinando recruited Bartolomeo Cristofori, even though there were several qualified individuals who could have just as easily filled the position. Harpsichord manufacturers wanted to make an instrument that can produce better dynamic response than the harpsichord. Cristofori was not satisfied by the harpsichord so he developed a new instrument similar to a harpsichord but he replaced the plucking mechanism of the harpsichord with a hammer. This is how the piano was born. Cristofori was the first one to create this amazing invention. 86 years later, Beethoven wrote his first Sonata in 1795 and wrote 32 piano sonatas between 1795 and 1822
ORIGINS OF THE PIANO
1. Monochord – the monochord is an ancient musical instrument with only one string. A man named Pythagoras invented it in about 500 b.c.
2. Polychord without bridge – on a Polychord, the strings are mounted on only one side. Without the bridges, the 12 strings are tuned to the same tone. The Polychord was invented by Evangelos Tsamourtzis.
3. Polychord with bridge – on a Polychord, the strings are mounted on only one side. The Polychord was invented by Evangelos Tsamourtzis.
4. Psalterium – The psalerium is a stringed instrument that is tuned to provide drone chords. The psalterium or psaltery was invented in Asia in the 9th century BC. Though it is not known who invented it, early biblical images show King David holding one.
5. Dulcimer – The dulcimer is a string instrument, typically with three or four strings. There are several different forms including the Mountain dulcimer, Lap dulcimer, Hammered dulcimer, Appalachian dulcimer, Banjo dulcimer, Resonator dulcimer, Bowed dulcimer, and Electric dulcimer.
6. Clavichord – The clavichord is a small, rectangular keyboard instrument. It produces sound using metal blades attached to key levers, which gently press the strings. It was created by Bartolomeo Cristofori.
7. Clavicytherium – The clavicytherium is a harpsichord in which the soundboard and strings are mounted vertically, facing the player.
8. Spinet virginal – On the Spinet virginal (not to be confused with the spinet), the strings are plucked at one end. The keys are placed left of center.
9. Harpsichord – The harpsichord is a musical instrument. A harpsichord may have more than one keyboard, and may have stop buttons which add or remove additional octaves. Most harpsichords have 6 pedals, and others have none.
10. Fortepiano – The fortepiano looks very much like the modern acoustic piano, except it has two pedals. The pedals are located on the front piano legs.
11. Square piano – The square piano looks basically like the modern acoustic piano. It has horizontal strings arranged diagonally across the rectangular case above the hammers.
12. Acoustic piano – The modern acoustic piano is the newest version of piano (save for the keyboard and digital piano). It uses hammers and strings to generate sound.
THE ACOUSTIC PIANO
The piano made by Bartolomeo Cristofori is what we now call an “acoustic piano”. It uses hammers and strings to generate sound. Though the acoustic piano may look different today, Bartolomeo Cristofori’s first piano invention and our piano today use hammers and strings to generate sound. Today’s acoustic piano continues to use the same hammer mechanism that Bartolomeo Cristofori invented. The modern acoustic piano has 35 more keys (in all) than Bartolomeo Cristofori’s piano. The piano continues to develop and as you can see the pedals was a brilliant addition to this beautiful instrument. Although Cristofori invented the soft pedal (una corda) as well on his piano, Cristofori’s soft pedal was a hand stop, not a foot pedal that you will see on our piano today. This soft pedal was a knob on the side of the keyboard. When it is activated, the entire hammer action shifted to the right hitting only one string (una corda) instead of two strings (due corde). Hitting only one string produces a softer tone. By the late 18th century piano manufacturers had added more strings on the piano. Modern pianos today have 3 foot pedals.
THE PIANO PEDALS
Una Corda or Soft Pedal: The pedal to the left is called Una Corda or Soft Pedal. It makes the piano produce a slightly softer sound.
Silent Pedal: The pedal in the middle is called Silent Pedal. This pedal reduces the volume of the piano by slipping a thin layer of felt between the hammers and strings.
Sustain Pedal: The sustain pedal is the pedal on the far right. It sustains all the damped strings on the piano by moving all the dampers away from the strings, allowing them to vibrate freely. This causes the piano to continue generating noise when you lift your finger off the key.
THE DIGITAL PIANO
The digital piano is like the modern acoustic piano, except that it doesn’t use hammers and strings. It actually uses recordings of acoustic pianos in professional recording studios. It stores these recordings in ROM (aka Read-Only Memory). So you can think of a digital piano like a “digital replica of an acoustic piano”. Digital pianos look very much like keyboards, but the Digital Piano is designed to produce sound and feel like an acoustic piano. Digital pianos also have weighted keys and have pedals.
Unlike grand or acoustic pianos, you don’t have to mic a digital piano; it means you will never risk the same mishap that happened to Adele’s Grammy performance when the microphone of her grand piano had fallen and were vibrating on the strings, oppps! Digital piano was first introduced in the late 1980 and has been developing ever since. In the early stage of digital piano, it sounded electronic but by the 20th century digital piano has improved significantly, there are digital pianos today that really feel and sound like an acoustic piano. Because of this, the line between digital and acoustic piano has blurred. Digital piano is becoming more and more popular because of a variety of reasons such as a digital piano doesn’t require tuning which can be very expensive and you don’t have to risk having mics fall on the strings ;),
The first digital piano ever made was the Yamaha GS1 and Yamaha YP-40. Shortly after, the Yamaha PF series of digital pianos were released.
Keyboards are the cheapest pianos of all 3 types. Most keyboards do not come with weighted keys and/or any pedals. This isn’t much of a loss, but if you get a new digital or acoustic piano, you will have to adapt to the weighted keys on the digital piano. Pedals are not mandatory for playing songs. Like the digital piano, Keyboards don’t use hammers and strings to generate sound. They use recordings as well, which they store in Read-Only Memory. Keyboard comes with a variety of features that are fun for kids and can motivate them to play the piano after they hear all the fun tones. Keyboard don’t have the graded key like the digital piano has, so it won’t feel like playing an acoustic piano like you would feel when using a digital piano. Keyboard however is an excellent choice to start for beginners or if you want to simply introduce music to your kids. It’s very affordable, light, and doesn’t take up much space. The below picture shows our own keyboard, this has been a great start for my kids to learn the piano and learn to read sheet music.
I hope you had fun reading all the fun facts and seeing how our piano today has developed from its inception to modern time. If you have questions or suggestions, please leave them below.
Thank you and keep learning
Jen and Bree