One of the world’s most popular instruments, the piano is a steel-stringed musical instrument comprised of padded hammers that strike the strings to produce sound. The hammers are operated by pressing keys. The piano produces an immense range of musical sounds that make it one of the world’s premier instruments used by a wide variety of musicians the world over. The piano is a major instrument in many kinds of music—particularly classical, jazz, and rock music.
Typically, the traditional piano will contain seven parts: strings, keyboard, pedals, action, soundboard, frame, and case. Most pianos boast 220 strings; each string will be tuned to one of the eighty-eight pitches. The tone’s pitch is dependent on the length of the steel string; consequently, each string varies in length between six and eighty inches. The strings are then arranged from lowest in pitch to highest. Standard pianos will contain eighty-eight keys—fifty two are white and thirty-six are black—which are also arranged in accordance with lowest pitch to highest. The action of the piano is the mechanical component that relates the playing of the keys to the action of the hammers that strike the strings to produce desired sounds. The action of a piano may contain as many as four hundred parts.
Piano pedals are located underneath the keyboard and are played by the feet to control tonal quality. The piano’s frame is essential to support the tension of the taut strings and is most often formed from cast iron. A piano’s soundboard helps to support the sounds made by the reverberating strings; it lies beneath the strings and is often made of spruce wood. The case is generally made of wood, also, and covers the action, frame, soundboard, and strings.
The modern piano has a variety of ancestors—the main ones include the dulcimer, clavichord, and the harpsichord. The two latter instruments were produced during the Middle Ages. In 1709, Padua-born Barolommeo Cristofori invented the first pianoforte—the direct forerunner of modern pianos. Today, three pianofortes made in the 1720s survive today. Cristofori’s design was later improved upon by various piano makers. By the end of the eighteenth century most of the great composers wrote classical compositions for the piano.
Today there are four main types of pianos containing a myriad of variations; these include grand pianos, upright pianos, player pianos, and electronic pianos. Some of the most famed piano makers over history include John Broadwood, Sebastien Erard, Alpheus Babcock, and Henry E. Steinway. Leading pianists through history include Franz Liszt, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Sergei Prokofiev, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.