Sound can be portrayed in many ways, some of them being artistic and some of them only functional. A functional example is the weather radio and if you want to know what the best ones are, you can read these recommendations, but the artistic ones can be more interesting and soothing for the soul.
One of the most beautiful forms of portraying sound is through a musical instrument. All instruments are fascinating, but one of the most mesmerizing and complicated ones is the piano. Even if it seems that the piano has been present in music forever, its history might surprise you.
In this article, we are going to talk about who invented the piano and how it got to become one of the most used instruments all over the world. How it influenced the development of compositions and their complexity is a journey that we are going to take together in the following lines.
A clear picture of the design of a piano
The piano is an instrument that functions on strings. Inside of it, there are 230 strings, each of them being hit by a hammer to produce some wonderful sounds. Some models may have a different number of strings but they usually have 230. A piano has 88 keys and for every key, there are usually 3 or fewer strings that are hit by the hammers.
High and medium pitch notes use three strings. The intent is to increase the volume and quality of the sounds. Every one of the three strings is hit in a different manner, even though they represent the same key.
Where did it all begin?
There have been some discussions on what the ancestor of the piano is. Some people believe that its ancestor is the clavichord, but, if we look even further and take into consideration the fact that the instrument can be classified into three categories – strings, wind, and percussion instruments – we can say that the piano’s ancestor is the monochord.
A monochord can be any instrument that has only one chord, but here we are talking about the first string instrument, an ancient instrument that is considered to be the ancestor of all string instruments. Yes, the piano is a string instrument as well as a keyboard instrument.
The organ was developed later and it used a system of blowing air through pipes for making sounds. Inspired by the organ, the clavichord was invented. It was the first instrument similar to the piano. It was invented in the 14th century and became very popular back then. It functioned by having bras rods that were used to hit the strings.
How the piano changed the history of music
The sounds the clavichord used to make were very beautiful, but the problem was that they weren’t loud enough. It was ok for a quartet for example in a small room, but if someone would have wanted to play the instrument in an orchestra or in a very large room, it wouldn’t have been a success because the sounds it made weren’t loud enough.
That is why, in the 1700 century, Bartolomeo Cristofori, who was an Italian musical instrument maker, invented the piano. This has been a breakthrough in the history of music because it changed everything when it comes to keyboard instruments.
The piano was the first keyboard instrument that wasn’t restricted by volume. A musician playing it was able to play loudly as well as at a lower volume, softly. The piano’s original name, in Italian, was ‘pianoforte’. ‘Piano’ means soft and ‘forte’ means loud. Italians still call it pianoforte.
The design of the piano, with the hammers hitting the cords, permits the musician to control the intensity at which the sound is generated. The intensity depends on how hard you strike the keys. This permits musicians to play various sounds at different intensities and allows them to play among orchestras and to finally be heard.
But it also permits the use of the piano in small rooms and in quartets without the piano covering all the other sounds, because it can also be played softly. Another important feature that was different from the clavichord was that musicians could sustain the note for a longer period of time until they let the key go.
When did the piano become a star?
Even if the piano was invented in the 17th century, it wasn’t until the 19th century that it gained its popularity. The 19th century was the time period in which the first piano players and composers became popular worldwide. Musicians like Frederic Chopin and Frantz Liszt were considered geniuses and child prodigies.
To make the piano have an even richer sound, craftsmen added a lot of other different features that made it sound even more beautiful. They added extra octaves, felt hammers, steel wire strings, an iron frame, and increased tension.
The most important feature they added was the pedals. The piano still has three pedals and each of them has different purposes. The one on the left is called a damper and it helps with the softening of the sound. The one on the right is called the sustain pedal at it enables you to sustain a note while letting the key go.
The pedal in the middle is not used that often anymore and can have a different purpose on different pianos, but the most known is the one called sostenuto, which helps the musician sustain certain notes.
How the 20th century changed the way we think about sound
The 20th century arrived with a lot of new ideas regarding keyboard instruments. Many musicians nowadays play an electronic keyboard.
In the 1960s, portable synthesizers were produced for the public and became very popular. These new electronic devices could produce a lot of interesting sounds that couldn’t have been played before.
With the rising of computers, researchers were trying to find a way for musical instruments and computers to communicate.
So in the 80s, they introduced the musical producers with the MIDI, an acronym for Musical Instruments Digital Interface, and, over time, managed to make the keyboard instruments to be able to produce almost any sound that any instrument could make, including the piano.
If all the musicians who are now considered to have been geniuses had been able to access these technologies and all the sounds that exist now, maybe the music history would have been different.
However, even if all these new technologies exist, many musicians still like to go back to the classical piano because they think it is more expressive.
The piano had a great impact on modern music because composers can play with a lot of harmonics. That is how they are able to create beautiful songs that inspire people. Over time, it has inspired jazz, blues, and classical music composers and it has revolutionized how people think about music.
Before music had been available in every home, people used to own pianos and play every day for their families. The piano was a means of entertaining the family and make homes happier. There were a lot of amateur pianists back then and playing music was the only way in which they were able to have music inside their homes.
Studying the piano was mostly encountered among women, even though they were not encouraged to follow a career in music. People were not fond of female piano players and, even though there were a lot more women learning how to play the piano than men, people used to go to concerts that involved male pianists.
However, the women were considered more attractive if they knew how to play the piano and owning and knowing how to play the piano was considered a matter of social status. Emma Wedgwood, for example, the wife of Charles Darwin, was a pupil of Chopin and never gave up playing the piano. She used to do it every day for her husband but she never became famous for it.
The piano is a magnificent instrument and because it is present in almost every song we hear we kind of take it for granted and do not realize what an incredible invention it was.
Even if it did not make a difference for the economy or it wasn’t a great medical breakthrough, it had an impact on music, which is the food for the soul, one of the most important things in life.