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In the biblical days, many new instruments were developed from the harp and organ to the psaltery which are all mentioned in Psalm 150:3. As time progressed, so did many of the instruments known in those days. There were different styles and different developments that changed not only the sounds of the instruments, but also the way they were played. Many different variations of instruments formed over time (History of Piano).
According to “The Origins of the Piano”, there are three groups of instruments; stringed, wind and percussion.
These groups are based on the sounds that the individual instrument creates. The piano can fall into the group of stringed instruments or can also be labeled as percussion. Most people would probably not think of the piano as a stringed instrument, however, the sounds of the piano come from the strings vibrating. It can also be classified as percussion because “a hammer strikes those strings” (The Origins of the Piano).
There have been many great pianists throughout history such as Beethoven, Franz Listz, Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach to name a few, who had much to do with the history and development of the piano.
The piano has been around for centuries and has gone through a series of changes to become the very instrument that we all know today.
The very early ancestor of the piano is called the monochord. A monochord is just as it sounds. Mono means one, and the monochord is basically a single string attached to a sound box.
When it comes to the monochord, the public heard about it around the 5th century AD. Written record of the monochord wasn’t around until the 10th century. As time went on, the monochord went through innovation with the addition of strings. To get a better understanding of the monochord, there was a video on YouTube of someone playing the instrument. The way you play the monochord with those additional strings is to run your fingers on the strings. The sounds that it makes, in my opinion, is incredibly similar to a harp. and they both have an incredibly beautiful sound.
The Hammered Dulcimer is a stringed instrument, that is unlike both clavichord, or the harpsichord. The hammered dulcimer is in the shape of a trapezoid and it has strings all on the top. It doesn’t have any legs or anything to stand on. In order to play this instrument, you must set it down on a flat surface and hit the strings with a hammer. This is a very different and unique way of playing the piano. There are videos of people playing the hammered dulcimer, and it sounds amazing. Not many people today would even know what this instrument is if you asked them. This is because it “probably originated in the Middle East about 900 A.D. and is related to the much older psaltery” (“The Hammered Dulcimer”).
The Clavichord is an instrument where the lid is very much embellished. It looks like a modern piano, but the only difference is the location of the keys. On a modern piano, the keys are centered, whereas on the clavichord, the keys are on the left side, while the right side is just the wood. The 14th century was the time period in which this instrument originated in. It gained popularity around the 16th and the 18th century (“Clavichord History”).
Some of the advantages that the clavichord comes with is the small size, the sound is quiet, and with the mechanism, it is easy to utilize the mechanism as well as maintain it. The clavichord’s size allows it to squeeze into tight spaces. Also, with the sound of the clavichord being so low, it allows people to practice at night, without disturbing others around them. The clavichord is similar to the harpsichord when it comes to the decorations added to the lid. However, it is different in other aspects.
Besides being embellished with designs, the harpsichord has two sets of keyboards. These sets of keys are in place for the tune. The harpsichord has the shape of a box, with a big curve on the side. Then the legs on the harpsichord can differ with each harpsichord you get. Some can stand on seven legs, while others can stand on three legs. Then there are some that can stand on four legs. It is made mostly from wood.
This instrument became well known and loved around the 16th century. While the harpsichord was becoming more and more popular, the pianoforte started picking up much popularity as well. Both pianos competed against each other because the pianoforte “was capable of playing soft or loud according to the fingers’ pressure on the keys” (”Harpsichord”). The sound of a harpsichord had a different sound to it compared to the modern piano. It actually sounded like one of those modes on an electric piano that you can set it to, and it releases a different sound. It was very different from what we have today.
Now allow me to speak to you about the descendants of these instruments. In the early 1700s, a man named Bartolomeo Cristofori created the gravicembalo col piano e forte, piano-forte for short. He created this version of the piano because he wasn’t happy with the fact that the volume control could not be controlled all that much. Cristofori’s piano-forte was not as decorative as the harpsichord was, but it pretty much had the same shape as the harpsichord. It had the big curve on the side, along with the three legs. This was a much more modern version of the piano at the time, but it didn’t stop there.
In the late 1700s, the invention of the upright piano was created. However, the invention of the piano may have come later and “was developed in the year 1739 by P. Domenico Del Mela, one of Cristofori’s assistants” (“Piano Keyboard Guide”). An upright piano has a box like top behind the keys that runs vertically. Some of the tops on the upright piano have a design on them. It runs up because the plane of the strings run vertically. After this we see the invention of another piano.
This piano is called the square grand piano. This piano is very unique because of its look. The wood and the design of this piano has a decorative look. The square grand piano is very similar to a clavichord. The difference between the two is the location of the keyboard, and the finished look of the square grand piano so you can see that the square grand piano has polyurethane spreaded on it. Polyurethane is what gives it that shiny look. Perhaps, these are the biggest differences between the two pianos.
There are two main versions of the piano that we use today after the square piano. The first one is the modern version of the grand piano. This grand piano is the very piano many people use today. This piano still has the side curve and the three legs that hold it up. One of the biggest differences with this piano compared to all the other pianos listed in this report is the finish. Something else this piano has that other pianos don’t is it’s size. The grand piano is enormous. This is the type of piano that is used mainly for formal events, such as a classical concert.
The second main piano that we use today is the electric piano. This version of the piano was created by a man named Harold Burroughs Rhodes. This is a version that is mainly used by many musicians and composers, along with the grand piano. According to Russell Carson, during World War 2, society saw Rhodes create this version of the piano in order to help soldiers restricted to bed. What makes the electric piano a great invention is that it has many different instrumentals on it for people to use, it’s portable for when you want to take it inside a church or a party, and also, it has different modes where you can change the sound of the keys. Thanks to Rhodes’ invention, it offers convenience, more options, and also, with the instrumentals on it, it can be fun to use.
I do not play the piano, but my sister and my dad do. When I told them about some of the earlier versions of the piano, including the monochord and the harpsichord, they weren’t shocked to hear that the earlier versions were incredibly different, but they were very interested in the earlier versions and how it developed since then. They love history and so do I really enjoyed learning the piano‘s origins and how it developed into the instrument we all know today. For those who play the piano and truly find it riveting to play, I’m sure they would love to know this history. I’m sure many pianists would love to learn the history of an instrument they not only play, but love as well.
The piano has had a ton of history and been through many different developments and they may be new developments coming in the near future. Maybe those developments will be good, maybe they won’t be good. However, in order to move forward, it’s important that you look back so then you can learn from the past.
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