About the Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard that produces sound by striking steel strings with felt hammers. The hammers immediately rebound allowing the strings to continue vibrating at their resonant frequency. These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a soundboard that amplifies them. It is sometimes classified as both a percussion and a stringed instrument. A pianist can produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the speed with which the hammers hit the strings.
Pianos are popular instruments for private household ownership and have gained a place in the popular consciousness, and are sometimes referred to by nicknames including: "the ivories," "the joanna," "the eighty-eight," and "the black(s) and white(s)," "the little joe(s)." Playing the piano is sometimes referred to as "tickling the ivories.”
The invention of the modern piano is credited to Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy in the early 1700s. Like many other inventions, the piano was founded on earlier technological innovations. The mechanisms of keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord were well known. In a clavichord the strings are struck by tangents, while in a harpsichord they are plucked by quills. Centuries of work on the mechanism of the harpsichord in particular had shown the most effective ways to construct the case, soundboard, bridge, and keyboard. Cristofori, himself an expert harpsichord maker, was well acquainted with this body of knowledge. Cristofori's great success was in solving, without any prior example, the fundamental mechanical problem of piano design: the hammers must strike the string, but not remain in contact with the string. Also, the hammers must return to their resting position without bouncing violently, and it must be possible to repeat a note rapidly.
Cristofori's new instrument remained relatively unknown until an Italian writer, Scipione Maffei, wrote an enthusiastic article about it in 1711, including a diagram of the mechanism. This article was widely distributed, and most of the next generation of piano builders started their work because of reading it. Interestingly, composer Johann Sebastian Bach did not like the first piano he was introduced to in 1730, claiming that the higher notes were too soft to allow a full dynamic range. The criticism was apparently heeded by piano builders. Bach did approve of a later instrument he saw in 1747, and even served as an agent in selling certain builder's pianos. Piano-making flourished during the late 18th century. Viennese-style pianos were built with wood frames, two strings per note, and had leather-covered hammers. Some of these Viennese pianos had the opposite coloring of modern-day pianos; the natural keys were black and the accidental keys white.
In the period lasting from about 1790 to 1860, the Mozart-era piano underwent tremendous changes that led to the modern form of the instrument. This revolution was in response to a consistent preference by composers and pianists for a more powerful, sustained piano sound, and made possible by the ongoing Industrial Revolution with technological resources such as high-quality steel, called piano wire, for strings, and precision casting for the production of iron frames. Over time, the tonal range of the piano was also increased from the five octaves of Mozart's day to the 7 or more octaves found on modern pianos.
Grand pianos have the frame and strings placed horizontally, with the strings extending away from the keyboard. This makes the grand piano a large instrument, for which the ideal setting is a spacious room with high ceilings for proper resonance.
Upright pianos, also called vertical pianos, are more compact because the frame and strings are placed vertically, extending in both directions from the keyboard and hammers. Some of the very best now approach the level of some grand pianos of the same size in tone quality and responsiveness.
Since the 1980s, digital pianos have been available, which use digital sampling technology to reproduce the sound of each piano note. The best digital pianos are sophisticated, with features including working pedals, weighted keys, multiple voices, and MIDI interfaces. Also other keyboards are made to create very unique sounds or to imitate other instruments. These sounds include electronic sound waves, voices, strings, horns, drums, etc.
The piano is a crucial instrument in Western classical music, jazz, film, television, and most other complex western musical genres. Since a large number of composers are proficient pianists, and because the piano keyboard offers an easy means of complex melodic and harmonic interplay, the piano is often used as a tool for composition."Piano." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 Apr 2008, 11:36 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Apr 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Piano&oldid=208301553>.
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