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Chris Jewell explains the History of the Piano

Among keyboard instruments, the piano is unique. It is the only instrument which has hammers that strike the strings and then immediately rebound away from the strings and allow them vibrate and produce musical tones.

At the very heart of this lies the escapement mechanism which lies between the key and the hammer. This releases the hammer from the key just before the string is struck, allowing it to bounce away from the string. The hammer is then caught and has to be ready for a repeated note if required immediately.

The first practical piano with an escapement mechanism was built in 1726 by an Italian called Bartolomeo Crisofori. The name piano is an abbreviation of Christofori's original name for the instument: piano et forte or soft and loud. The name stems from the fact that the instrument had a much wider range of expressive capabilities than did its predecessor keyboard instuments the clavichord or the harpsichord.

The history of the piano can be divided roughly into three periods, each overlapping somewhat with the next. 1720-1850 was the antique period in which the piano was invented and developed. Many designs were tried and various materials used only to be replaced or discontinued to make way for something better.

During the Victorian period from 1850 -1900 piano design was approaching standardisation. Most of them had certain things in common and made use of mass produced parts. They could be categorized into three types: The upright, the square grand and the grand.

Most vertical pianos were called uprights with the strings and soundboard positioned vertically. Square grand pianos were built in a rectangular shape with the strings horizontal and parallel to the keyboard. Grand pianos were made with the strings positioned horizontally and at right angles to the keyboard.

Most modern pianos produced since 1900 are produced in two distinctive types: grands and verticals. There are three types of verticals - uprights, console or studio upright and the spinet. The type is determined by the relative location of certain parts, which in turn is governed by the height of the cabinet.

Chris Jewell C&G Dis. NSC Tuning Dip

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