A Complete Guide to Piano
Played using a keyboard with depressible levers or keys, the piano is one of the most widely recognized musical instruments in the world. Music is created when the performer presses down or strikes the keys with one or both hands. Even though it is not portable, piano is definitely one of the most versatile instruments in the world.
The instrument is widely employed in classical, jazz, traditional and popular music and is one of those few that can impart diverse styles of sounds from stately to grandeur, dramatic to ancient, serene to sublime, hypnotic to reminiscent.
The musical instrument, with a wooden case is played when in the soundboard, metal strings are struck by hammers in harmony. The vibration is stopped by dampers, which regulate the length, volume or style of the sound. This is done through the use of two or more pedals.
Pianists like Anil Srinivasan and Stephen Devassy have taken this instrument beyond the horizons in India, and composers like A.R Rahman have given pianos an Indian theme. Moreover, people like Ashley William Joseph have popularized it among the masses.
Science suggests that learning the piano makes children smarter and enhances their cognitive skills, and this is why children should be encouraged to play this instrument from a young age.
The History of Pianoforte
Organ, clavichord and harpsichord have been around for centuries. However, piano is relatively new and more popular. It is often considered to be a technological innovation in keyboard instruments. Below is a detailed account of Piano’s history:
Invention Of Piano
- Wondering who invented the piano? Well, piano’s invention is credited to Bartolomeo Cristofori, who lived in Italy during the 17th-18th century. Employed by the Grand Prince of Tuscany, Ferdinando de’ Medici, Cristofori was the keeper of instruments, an expert harpsichord maker, who had refined knowledge about the stringed keyboard instruments.
- While there’s little clarity on how piano was first constructed, it is believed that Cristofori created his first piece somewhere from 1698-1700. In fact, three of his pianos from the 1720s still survive today.
- Cristofori, while designing the piano, named it ‘Fortepiano,’ later called ‘Pianoforte,’ which was later shortened to Piano. He explained that the piano was designed because clavichord was too quiet for large performances, even though it offered expressive control. Meanwhile, harpsichord offered loud sounds but with little control.
- So, a combination of these two provided optimum loudness and dynamic control to the pianoforte.
- Once pianos were developed, their popularity soared, especially after an Italian writer Scipione Maffei wrote an article about it. Thanks to their diverse sound control, they could be used for almost all kinds of gatherings and events.
- From then, other piano builders decided to create the next generation of the musical instrument. This included Gottfried Silbermann, an organ builder who created the modern sustain pedals in piano.
- Gottfried was also the one who showed the piano to the famous German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach, an organist saw these instruments but didn’t like them initially. He pointed out that higher notes were too soft for a full dynamic range.
- Gottfried used this criticism and redesigned the product, which was approved by Bach in 1747. It is also believed that Bach then recommended the instrument to others. This was also the time when some of the oldest surviving pianos were made.
- Consequently, the piano making industry began to flourish, particularly in the late 18th century in Viennese school. The pianos designed during this period had wooden frames, two strings per note and hammers covered with leather. They also had black and white keys.
- Initially, the placement of these keys was opposite of what modern pianos have. These are the instruments that Mozart used to compose his music. His pianos were primarily called fortepiano because of their more ethereal tone and less sustaining power.
- It was after the Mozart era that pianos underwent tremendous transformations. The changes happened because composers and pianists wanted more powerful sounds. This led to the development of high quality piano wire for strings and precision casting. Five octaves were modified to the 7 plus range.
- These are the pianos that both Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven worked on. This was also the time that the focus of piano making shifted from Vienna to Paris. Other improvements were made through the use of a choir of three strings rather than two, enhancing of the tones and development of different variations.
- These variations during the early periods included development of square piano, which was actually rectangular). Then, tall cabinet pianos were built in 1805. Modern upright and grand pianos were only built by the end of the 19th century.
Fun Fact: A concert grand piano weighs over 1400 pounds and is generally 8” 11′ in size.
Construction of a Piano
Fascinated by how a piano keyboard works? When a piano key is depressed, a number of things happen.
- The construction of a piano is such that each key is actually about two feet long, most of it hidden in the interiors. When a key is pressed down, the lever of that key ascends. The construction ensures that this lever activates a spring, which tosses the hammer at the string.
- These two parts are independent of each other and the string vibrates when struck.
- Piano hammers are essentially constructed to create a particular sound. The movement of hammer is essential because only then it will come in contact with the string, and thereby giving sound to the note. To let the string vibrate, the hammer then falls back down so that the string can vibrate unhindered. The design is such that the hammer cannot just bounce around.
- Hammers are constructed out of felt.
- Dampers are cushions on the string. They are constructed for a simple reason i.e. to ensure that the string vibrates for as long as the key is held down. They are raised by metal rods.
- Dampers can be raised using the sustaining pedal as well. These are foot operated levers that allow you to play the note as long as you want. In grand pianos, two or more pedals may be present.
- A piano includes pins and pin blocks as well, which are designed to raise the pitch. The bass strings are thick and coiled. A piano will also have graphite bridges with tiny pins so that no metal parts vibrate unnecessarily.
What happens when a piano’s keys are pressed?
- When the keys are pressed, a padded hammer strikes the string. Then, the hammer rebounds and the vibration of strings create resonant frequency. This leads to transmission of vibrations through a bridge to a soundboard, creating acoustic energy. The key, when released ends the sound.
- But even with the strings, piano is not a string instrument like a guitar or a sitar. Rather, it is a percussion instrument, like a drum because the sound is produced by being struck and scraped rather than being plucked.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are over 7500 working parts in each piano? That’s the enormous number of working pieces you need to create the perfect piece of music. Also, there are 230 strings required by a piano to create a full range of sound. Perhaps that’s why it is called the ‘king of instruments.’
Types of Piano
Acoustic pianos usually have two varieties; grand piano and the upright pianos. Other pianos include novelty pianos, electric pianos and digital pianos. Some of these are discussed below.
Grand Pianos: The standard, non-digital pianos have hammers and metal strings. A grand piano in particular includes horizontal strings that extend away from keyboard. Gravity is used for the action. A concert piano is anywhere from 7-10 feet long and a parlour piano is about 6-7 feet long. There are smaller grand pianos as well, which are about 5 feet tall.
Longer pianos feature longer strings, richer and sharper sound. Octaves sound pure and virtually beat-less. That is why grand pianos have brilliant singing and tone quality; a reason why they are used for concerts. Smaller ones can be used at home.
Upright Pianos: The vertical pianos are more compact with vertical frame and strings. Used in music conservatories and university music programs, these pianos have hammers that move horizontally. They may include unusually tall frames.
Electric Pianos: With ‘pickup,’ an electric piano is similar to acoustic piano except for the fact that the strings allow the sounds to be amplified electrically.
Electrical Pianos: Different than their electric counterparts, electrical pianos simulate sounds through analogue circuitry.
India and the Piano
While Piano did not originate in India, it is widely popular among Indian masses and is one of the most recognized musical instruments in the country. Lots of people enjoy playing pianos in India and a number of kids learn the instrument during schooling. The popularity allows pianos to reflect the Indian culture, particularly the growing modernism of it.
Piano is one of those instruments that have modernized Indian music to a large extent. This is because it is widely played from concerts to albums and even for Bollywood music scores. Pianos, often combined with other Western instruments are used to provide a modern touch to classic Indian music. Pianos are also used in Hindi films.
Pianists who have carved a Niche
These Indian pianists are motivational players who have carved a niche for themselves in the industry.
Anil Srinivasan: Combining Indian classical music with piano, Anil Srinivasan is one of the best pianists in the country.
Born on June 3, 1977, Srinivasan is known for his collaborative work with Carnatic Vocalists. Educated at the University of Southern California and later at Columbia University, Srinivasan has created some well acclaimed theatre projects and worked on several performances. He is also a pioneer in music education in South India.
Stephen Devassy: Born in Kerala, Devassy is a leading Indian composer and pianist working in Classical, Indian and World Music Genres. He is also the highest scorer in Piano exams from Trinity College of Music. Devassy has been performing since the age of 6 and has worked with several major bands. He has also worked as a composer for two major Malayalam films.
Neecia Majolly: An Indian pianist and singer, Neecia Majolly has given several solo performances across the globe and is well known for her brilliant flair and virtuoso. Her piano studies involved learning the instrument in Singapore and Australia.
She gave her first public performance at the age of 6. Over the years, she has been awarded with Best Graduating Pianist from Western Australian Conservatorium of Music and was also bestowed with the Edgar Fewkes Memorial Award for outstanding musician (voice).
Apart from being a singer and pianist, Majolly is also a music educator. She has taught at the Delhi School of Music and Bangalore School of Music. She is also the founder and director of Bangalore Society of Performing Arts, and has completed two choirs.
A.R. Rahman: India’s finest composer, singer, pianist and philanthropist, A.R. Rahman is called ‘The Mozart of Madras.’ Winner of two Academy Awards, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and two Grammy Awards, Rahman’s work is known for its Carnatic, Western and Hindustani Classical Music influences. His work draws upon Qawwali styles as well. An excellent pianist, A.R. Rahman has performed at concerts all around the world is one of the India’s most recognized musicians across the globe.
There are a few accessories that you would need for playing a piano.
- Basic Piano Tuning Kits: Amateur and Professionals both need a tuning kit for pianos. These kits can help in saving components of the instruments. These kits usually contain a quality tuning lever, a tuning fork, rubber wedge mutes and a temperament strip. The basic kit can also include a tuning lever tip wrench.
- Piano Wires: Piano wires are required to ensure that the instrument can operate without a hassle. These piano wires should have exceptional tensile strength and must have a uniform colour. All piano wires must have rust resistance, and should be resistant to elongation.
- Piano Lamps: Piano lamps are designed to be functional and stylish, providing extra light for playing the instrument. There are no specific recommendations for the lamp and the product must be purchased on the basis of one’s requirements.
Records For Piano
The following records are held by Indians in Piano:
- Longest Piano Recital: Delhi University’s student, Mritunjay Sharma holds the longest piano recital record in Limca Book of Records.
His first record saw him playing for 52 hours. After registering his name there, the pianist eyed to be listed in the Guinness World Book of Records. For the same, he played a piano for 104 hours. The earlier record is held for 103 days.
- Fastest Pianist: Aman Bathla is considered the fastest pianist in India. He has played 804 notes on a piano in just a single minute. His performance was recorded in Gurgaon.
- Fastest Pianist Ever: Indian American Sai ‘Psychuck,’ Manapragada is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the fastest pianist ever. He has broken three records over the years. The pianist can hit the most piano keys in a minute.During his record attempt, Sai played A.R. Rahman’s song ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’ in over 250 languages. An accomplished music composer, Sai works professionally for a banner called Psymphony. He is also an entrepreneur and technology executive for a company called Picongen Wireless Inc. and has two daughters.
The soft, feathery, bright and mellow music of a piano is perfect for every occasion. Even without the use of words, the silken sounds of music melt into the ears and makes one feel imaginative. Play the piano and you will have listeners imagining a scenario that appears to fit the best to the sounds, whether it’s sharp, smooth or soft.
The piano is an incredible musical instrument. Played using the keyboard, the Piano has a row of keys that create sounds when pressed using fingers and thumb. Widely employed in a variety of music forms, it is extremely versatile and one of the most recognizable musical instruments in the world.
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