We all know the piano, the grand, classical instrument that is well-suited for early learners across ages. The piano tunes up beautiful melodies on its own, as much as it suits to be the epicenter of a larger orchestra. As for me, the piano is not a channel solely for a creative outlet; it also holds a memorable history being the first musical instrument I ever learned.
It is an indubitably beautiful instrument, yet, have we ever wondered how the piano was made, or even the history behind it?
First of all, we all know that the instruments are categorised based on the method of sound productions. Historically, there are three categories of musical instruments; strings, winds, and percussions, and uniquely, the piano’s ancestors varied among the three. The ancestry of a piano is traceable through a diversity of instruments, the clavichord, harpsichord, and dulcimer. However, when traced even further back, the piano is also a descendant of the monochord, making it technically a string instrument. Unique, right?
Now, let me not confuse you with all these technical axioms. Allow me to explain how the piano has become one of the most unique musical instruments of all time.
It’s a stringy mechanism
The piano is classifiable as percussion because when you hit the key, the hammer behind strikes the strings. It is a little similar to the dulcimer, a musical instrument traditional to both the Middle East and South America. From the two regions, the dulcimer was brought to Europe in the 11th century, then was noted as one of the early origins of the piano.
The dulcimer’s body extends the length of the fingerboard and is naturally played on the diatonic scale. It has a resonating box with strings stretched on top of it, and when played, a small hammer is used to hit the strings. Much like the piano, no?
Clavichord, closer to the piano, but not just yet
The clavichord initially appeared in the 14th century, and its popularity grew during the Renaissance Era. Between the 1400s to 1800s, the instrument flourished, but it sort of lost popularity until the modern 20th-century people revived it (yes it’s us!). It is essentially a stringed keyboard, developed from the medieval monochord, which is rectangular in shape.
The clavichord was an improvement made after the organ, which sent bursts of air through pipes attached behind the keys to make a sound.
Pressing a clavichord key will send a brass rod, called a tangent, to strike the string and cause vibrations. These vibrations will emit sound over a range of four to five octaves.
Do you know who was the star of the clavichord? Bach did!
Harpsichord: A step closer to the piano!
Harpsichord was first developed in Italy in the 1500s, and soon gained popularity in France, Flanders, Germany, and Great Britain.
The sound of a harpsichord is so distinctive, that many musicians will instantly connect the musical instrument to the Baroque Era. It is a keyboard instrument with a system of strings and a soundboard. When a key is pressed, a plectrum attached to a long string, called a jack, plucks the string and vibrates them to make music. It is different than a piano, as the piano makes sound with a hit of a hammer. Remember, like the dulcimer?
Though it is a development from its previous version, a harpsichord is known to be a little inexpressive compared to the clavichord itself. Even the the star of harpsichord, French musician François Couperin admitted the problem of the instrument. Couperin was famous for making great music, best suited to be played on the harpsichord only.
Then, the piano!
We’re going back to Italy when it comes to the final development of our beloved instrument.
Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano. He was not happy with the lack of control and inexpressiveness of a harpsichord, and he thought he ought to make differences to improve musicians’ experience. At that time, music had been integrated deeply and imperatively into civil life, and it also signified intelligence in social classes. Cristofori switched out the plucking mechanism to a hammer - as a combination between clavichord and dulcimer, and revolutionarily rebirthed the modern piano in the year 1700s. Amazing, isn’t it?
The instrument had a unique name in the beginning; Clavicembalo Col Piano e Forte, which literally translates to a harpsichord that can play loud and soft noises. It was pretty cute until it was shortened to the term we all know and love - the piano.
I started Ensiklomusika Music School armed with my years of piano training, and my deep love for the instrument. I was pretty young when I started playing the piano, and I would not have become the person I am right now without it. I would like to spread this activity I have deeply loved with many children - or adults around the world through my school.
I have built a team of experienced musicians and educators, who will definitely love spreading the same devotion towards the piano, or other musical instruments to the world.