The Modern Piano: About the Keyboard, Evolution, Eras, Types and Sizes
The piano is the most popular and soulful musical instrument in the world. As a concert instrument and the primary musical instrument in private homes, the modern piano enjoys a long and colorful history as an essential source of inspiration and pleasure for both professional and amateur musicians. It also has a lot of benefits mentally when learnt how to play.
Centuries of anthropological evolution have led to today’s modern piano design. It has changed its shape and appearance many times, till it became what we know as a modern-day piano.
Starting with a pictorial timeline of the instrument ancestors of the pianoforte. You can find a detailed history, an introduction to the various piano sizes and types, and the fundamental characteristics of all modern pianos in this article.
Evolution of the Modern Piano: What is a Piano?
A piano is a chordophone—a type of string instrument. It is played using a keyboard which consists of a row of keys (small levers). When the player presses down or strikes the keys with the fingers and thumbs of both hands, they trigger a felted hammer to strike a string, and this hammer strike causes the string to vibrate, producing the piano sound.
The piano draws on characteristics of preceding keyboard instruments, including the harpsichord, the clavichord, and the organ. Its tone quality and dynamic range set it apart from all prior keyboard instruments. It remains the musical instrument of choice for classical concerts that highlight keyboard playing.
Several fundamental elements are essential to the design and anatomy of the piano. They are:
Unlike most musical instruments, the piano requires parts that belong in all three categories: vibrator, activator, and resonator. While the piano’s construction changed drastically over time, these essential elements can be traced back to even the earliest monochord.
A Brief History of the Piano
1. History of Piano: Baroque era
Bartolomeo Cristofori, an Italian maker of musical instruments, invented the piano in 1700. Cristofori was determined to create an instrument that functioned much like a harpsichord or clavichord but with richer sound quality and the option to play both loud and soft. Cristofori’s piano action—a series of levers that connect piano keys to the hammers that strike piano strings—made this possible. Cristofori called his invention the pianoforte, combining the Italian words for soft (piano) and loud (forte). Early pianos became extremely popular during the Classical period, replacing Harpsichords and Clavichords. Some of the baroque era’s most influential grand piano composers include Johann Sebastian Bach, Lodovico Giustini, Giovanni Benedetto Platti, and Domenico Scarlatti.
2. History of Piano: Classical era
In the 18th century, inventors John Broadwood and Robert Stodart (both Scottish) and Americus Backers (of the Netherlands) together invented a modernized piano known as the grand piano, which is known as the king of all pianos. Originally, pianos were entirely made of wood, with 61 keys (5 octaves). In 1825, the internal wood frame was replaced with a cast iron frame that could hold more string tension than its predecessor, yielding a fuller, louder sound and dynamic range. At this time, the keyboard range was extended to 88 keys (7 octaves). Their modernized pianos were sent to some of the most prominent musicians of the Classical period, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Joseph Haydn.
3. History of Piano: Romantic era
During the 19th century, the piano gained more popularity than ever in history, becoming the symbol of Romanticism. In this period, piano music paid more attention to the free expression and expression of personality, subjectivity, and emotion. In addition, the perfection of piano and the endless pursuit of piano skills make this century the peak age of piano music development. Famous musicians of this era are Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt.
4. History of Piano: Modern era
In the 19th century, German-American builder Henry E. Steinway founded the Steinway & Sons company in New York City. They revolutionized the piano with a stronger frame, more powerful sound, and more responsive action. The specialty of this variant was that it was the first to replace the jack with the hammer and included a pedal, which is the fundamental of the grand piano, upright piano, or digital piano or keyboard we play. It was the start of a new era for western music. The firm remains at the forefront of contemporary piano design to date, along with other notable manufacturers, including Baldwin, Yamaha, Kawai, and Bösendorfer.
The Evolution of The Modern Piano
The pianoforte has undergone numerous improvements in its details up to the present day. They have evolved from lute to harpsichord and ‘fortepiano’ to modern-day electric piano. Here is taking a look at the evolution of the Modern Piano.
Modern pianos can be classified into two significant categories – acoustic piano and electric piano.
i. Acoustic Piano
The direct successor of the ‘pianoforte,’ acoustic pianos are hybrid (percussion and string) instruments. These instruments generate sound with hammers covered with felt of leather hitting on the steel strings.
There are two types of acoustic pianos – upright piano and grand piano.
1. Upright Piano
When we speak of the most usual acoustic piano type, we mean upright pianos. They are visibly different from grand pianos as they are significantly smaller than grand pianos. Even the mechanism of an upright piano is different than others. The strings and the soundboard plane are placed vertically, perpendicular to the keyboard on an upright piano. Although affordable, an upright piano’s sound is warm and more compact than other pianos. Piano maker John Isaac Hawkins made the first modern upright piano around 1800.
There are three types of upright pianos, depending on their height:
a) Spinet Piano
Spinet pianos are the smallest upright pianos, with heights ranging from 35 to 40 inches. The spinet piano is typically wing-shaped with drop action keys and shortened strings. It was popular in American homes from the 1930s. Due to poor harmonics and tone, the spinet ceased production in the 1990s.
b) Console Piano
Console pianos are the most popular type of upright pianos. They are slightly bigger than spinet pianos. The height of a console piano ranges from 40 to 44 inches. They are easy to assemble and come with a better hammer and key coordination. With a great sound and simple nature, the console piano is perfect and a more popular type for home pianists and hobbyist piano players than professionals. Brands like Yamaha, Baldwin, Kawai, etc., manufacture the best console pianos, which are widely used in recording studios.
c) Studio Piano
The mechanism of studio pianos is a bit different than console and spinet pianos. The height of a studio piano varies from 43 to 47 inches, giving it a richness and tonal quality comparable to that of many grand pianos. The location and feel of the action are also different in a studio piano. Many of the newer studio pianos mimic the feel of a grand piano. Unlike the other two, studio pianos are heavily used in the professional sphere.
2. Grand Piano
Grand pianos are the largest, most expensive, and most majestic of all pianos. They are wing-shaped and can be approximately 4 feet 11 inches (1.5 meters) or 9 feet 10 inches (3 meters) long. A standard grand piano comes with 88-keys (52 white and 36 black). Many pianists believe that grand pianos offer the most authentic and beautiful sound. The grand piano’s signature timbre relies on the quality and craftsmanship of making and the length of its strings and soundboard.
Grand pianos produce finer tones and have the most responsive key actions. The soundboard and strings of a grand piano are positioned horizontally inside the piano case. When you press down a key, the hammer of the key hits the strings from below to produce the sound. The movement of the hammer falls back with the help of gravity, which makes the sound of repetitive notes crisp and allows the pianist better control of the keys. The soundboard’s size and the strings’ length influence a piano’s tonal quality. A larger soundboard and longer strings produce greater volume and resonance of tone.
Grand pianos are divided into 7 categories and have been given customary names according to their sizes:
1. Petite grand (4′ 5″ to 4′ 11″)
It is the smallest of the grand pianos and is excellent for tight spaces. Although it may be compact, it still delivers a very powerful sound.
2. Baby grand (5′ to 5.5′)
The baby grand piano is designed to produce a large sound in a small space. It has well market acceptance due to its rich, resonant sound quality for its size and the affordability of a grand piano.
3. Medium grand (5′ 6″ to 5′ 8″)
The medium grand excels better than the baby grand in many ways, such as stability, greater dynamic, richer and deeper tonal quality.
4. Professional grand (5′ 9″ to 6′ 2″)
It can deliver incredible dynamic, powerful tones and clarity for its size that satisfies even the most discerning performers. It is one of the more popular grand piano range
5. Parlor grand (6′ 3″ to 6′ 10″)
The parlor grand piano is also called the living room grand piano. It is a smaller-sized concert grand piano designed for use in institutions and schools. This piano is ideal for practicing and for those with limited space.
6. Semi-concert grand (6′ 11″ to 7′ 8″)
It is also known as a ballroom grand. These semi-concert grand pianos have become increasingly popular in music halls and concert venues and perform a wide range of musical styles.
7. Concert grand (8′ 11″ to 9′)
The concert grand is the largest of all grand pianos. It is a full-size version of a baby grand, with longer strings and a larger soundboard. The Concert Grand is considered the epitome of luxurious performance pianos and the pinnacle in the evolution of the modern piano. The larger soundboard and longer strings produce greater volume and resonance of tone, thus making it the most majestic of all grand pianos. It is widely used on symphonic stages, grand concert halls, and opera houses.
ii. Digital/Electronic Piano
The latest addition to the piano family is a digital piano, and it comes with slight modifications to traditional acoustic pianos. Digital pianos are well-loved by music players for their fully-weighted keys. An 88-key digital piano is jam-packed with functional keys, impressive settings, and extra features. Some digital piano models are affordable and portable, and some can even run on batteries. Although it is called a piano, many pianists and music experts refuse to consider it a piano and instead call it a keyboard.
Digital pianos can sound very similar to uprights and grand pianos, though how they produce their sound is very different. When you press a key on a digital piano, a sensor is activated, and a recording of an acoustic piano is played through a set of speakers. They have inbuilt amplifiers, which improve the sound quality. Expensive digital pianos also come with weighted keys, just like acoustic pianos. However, they don’t come with foot pedals.
Digital pianos have multiple recordings or “samples” of each note that can be played back at different volumes depending on how hard or soft you play. They have many different sounds from different kinds of pianos or instruments. They also often have recording features and play-along sequences.
Digital pianos are widely used for live concerts, recording, and composing.
A piano is a soulful musical instrument with a rich history that is extensively played worldwide. As the mother of all instruments, pianos surpass all others in the hearts of true music lovers. No matter what type of music you love, your favorite songs sound better on the piano.
This article discusses the evolution of the piano from the instrument invented by Cristofori to the modern piano of today. There have been substantial changes in nearly all aspects of the instrument, including the strings, string layout, hammers, and case, and these have changed the piano sound in subtle ways.
The piano is an excellent first instrument for kids and beginners as it gives them a solid foundation in music. In addition, kids can reap many physical, mental, and social benefits by learning the piano. Also, when children are introduced to music at a young age, their quality of life improves drastically!